Housing and green spaces were major themes in the first all-candidates meeting for the City of North Vancouver council race.
The North Vancouver City Library hosted the online Q&A on Sept. 27.
Incumbent mayor Linda Buchanan and challenger Guy Heywood were asked what they would do to balance green spaces with development in the city.
As mayor, Guy Heywood said he would re-establish a parks advisory committee on a joint basis with the District of North Vancouver.
“Because, frankly, the line between the city and the district, it's very unnatural. Our stream courses go from the ocean to the mountains and we need to approach this on an integrated district and city way,” he said. “To take care of nature, we can't have two different governments not co-ordinating.”
Buchanan pointed to her record over the last term, with the city having begun work on an urban forest management strategy, bringing more parks amenities like benches and playgrounds and accessible trails and lighting to make parks more accessible and welcoming, along with the creation of two new parks in the Central Lonsdale area.
“These investments will bring us very close to our goal of having a park within a five-minute walk for all city residents,” she said. “As long as I'm the mayor, you can count on me to deliver enhanced green spaces and balance this need with many other priorities.”
Always a high-profile issue in North Shore municipal elections, about half of candidates were asked for their positions on new housing development in the city.
Kathy McGrenera said she would like to see older buildings refurbished and kept standing when they reach the end of their natural lives, which the city could help facilitate.
“In many times, a new development is not the way that would enhance [affordability] but sometimes it is,” she said. “I do believe that new development is one of the tools in our toolbox that we do need to use judiciously to help tackle the affordability crisis.”
Incumbent Angela Gerard noted the North Shore’s increasing reliance on workers who commute in.
“There is a housing crisis in this region; there is a pressing need to develop a range of affordable housing options both for renters, and those wanting to get into home ownership,” she said. “Housing is needed across the spectrum, from our lower-income residents, for seniors on fixed incomes, for our workforce and for families; and given this, I am supportive of new housing within the city, and particularly below-market housing.”
Max Lai said he isn’t opposed to new housing being added to the city’s stock, like he’s seen in his own neighbourhood of Moodyville, but as a 28-year-old, Lai said it’s still been a struggle to find a place that’s affordable.
“I think the main problem with development, for me, is that it seems that we're building for the sake of building rather than really trying to ask: Who are we building for?” he said, adding there should be a greater focus on rent-geared-to income projects.
Incumbent Jessica McIlroy said every city needs a diverse range of housing to accommodate the changing needs of residents and newcomers alike.
“It's not just about affordability. It's about the housing supply and the type of supply that allows our community members who already live here on the North Shore to meet their housing needs, and those who wish to call North Van home,” she said.
Incumbent Don Bell also said the city needs to focus its efforts on workforce housing, adding that he’s seen enough new high-end market strata units come online.
“I’m not worried about providing those. I think we've got enough of them right now. I think we need to really focus on people that can't afford to live here at this point. We need to encourage existing purpose-built rentals that were built in the '60s and '70s to be upgraded rather than demolished,” he said.
Incumbent Tony Valente said council’s record on housing flows from its highly vetted official community plan, and highlighted the previous council’s success in getting new below-market rentals added in virtually every new rental building.
“It's not just about the height and the shapes and sizes of the buildings, but it's also about the city that we're trying to build,” he said. “When we build rental in the city, these new buildings may start out as something that is more costly but over time, those buildings do become part of our affordable rental stock.”
A roof over one’s head is one thing. A healthy environment outside is another.
Candidates were asked what changes they’d make to the city’s bylaws governing trees. In March, a new bylaw came into effect requiring permits to remove any tree that is greater than 20 centimetres in diameter at breast height, although it doesn’t apply to single-family properties.
Shervin Shahriari said he is in favour of expanding the city’s current tree removal bylaw to single-family zones.
“I think in the city, we actually don't have a lot of old healthy trees and I think it is our duty to protect as many of them as we can,” he said, noting the benefits go beyond providing shade in the sometimes deadly heat. “There is positive psychological and mental health impact as well, that that we need to consider.”
Jeremy Cato said he would be in favour of the 3-30-300 rule, a principle that states everyone should be able to see three large trees from their window, that their city should have 30 per cent canopy coverage and that everyone should be within 300 metres of a park. Cato is petitioning for the city-owned undeveloped lot on the north side of the 100 block of East First Street to be preserved and developed as a permanent green space.
Ron Polly, who said his yard is home to the largest Douglas fir in the city, also called for the return of the parks and environment committee to help guide council’s decisions. Had the committee not been disbanded five years ago, the city would likely have more of its canopy intact, he said.
“I find contracting out for getting some of this work when we actually get people who are volunteering to do it for us is foolish,” he said.
Incumbent Holly Back described the latest tree restrictions adopted by council in the last term as “a great bylaw” but said she would be open to expanding on it.
“Our tree canopies are super important to environment and climate change, as everyone else has already said, and our staff is working on this now and will be reporting back to the new council,” she said.
For Me-An Lecaste, trees were a personal matter, being a major source of inspiration for her poetry and a big piece of her mental health through the pandemic, she said.
“I love nature, and trees are a big part of it,” she said. “I feel that the opposite of that will turn our community into a concrete jungle. I don't think that's the kind of place I want to live, or my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy.”
Anna Boltenko said that if elected to council, she would push for the tree policy to be expanded to state that all trees and shrubs removed from redevelopment of a single-family home must be replaced on a one-for-one basis.
“We need strong policies that protect the existing tree canopy,” she said. “I believe that protecting our green and natural assets is vital, since it's a key tool for municipalities to adapt to climate change, and it should be incorporated not only into the environmental strategy but also in the city's community well-being strategy.”
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