A development in the small but booming suburb of Port Moody, B.C., would increase the community’s social-housing supply by more than 50 per cent and represent one of the biggest such investments the provincial government has ever made outside of Vancouver.
But the 2,000-unit Woodland Park project, which is up for a council vote Tuesday, has prompted concerns from some local politicians about the added density and potential for increased traffic in a small area that currently has only 200 homes and isn’t well linked to transit.
Some councillors in Port Moody, whose mayor was elected on an anti-development platform, have worried aloud that the tiny suburb of 33,000 is growing too fast.
Woodland Park would see the development of four- to 12-storey buildings on almost 10 hectares of land in west Port Moody, including 325 apartments that will be turned over to BC Housing.
Developer Peter Edgar is donating $20-million in land and BC Housing has agreed to pay $160-million in construction costs for the apartments. That would dramatically increase the supply of social housing in Port Moody, which now has 576 units spread out among seven buildings.
It also represents a first for the suburban part of the region, which does not have anywhere near the levels of social housing the city of Vancouver has taken on, either currently or in the past.
Port Moody City Council’s hesitancy has raised concerns among many, including Attorney-General and Housing Minister David Eby, that the council might turn down a project that represents an almost unheard-of investment in social housing in the region.
“Woodland is an example of the challenge that is in front of city councils across Metro Vancouver,” Mr. Eby said. “They are the gatekeepers to housing that is desperately needed and I’m keen to help them get this housing built. I’m very interested in this development and its process in Port Moody because it is the kind of housing we need in a growing community.”
Mr. Edgar said he was maintaining a positive outlook in advance of the decision, adding he couldn’t imagine council rejecting such a major asset to the community.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that would say no to this amount of affordability,” he said. “If this doesn’t go [ahead], it would be tragic.”
Unlike in Vancouver, Port Moody currently doesn’t have a requirement that a proportion of any major development has to consist of affordable housing – at the moment, it’s only encouraged.
The Woodland Park arrangement came about because Mr. Edgar approached BC Housing about a potential deal, wanting to find a way to include some affordable housing in the project.
“From the outset of our purchase, our main cornerstone was to find a way to redevelop with affordable housing,” he said.
The approximately 200 households living in the 1960s-era townhouses now on the site will be offered the chance to move into a subsidized BC Housing apartment, if they qualify, or to lease one of the 132 new market-rent apartments in the development at 20 per cent below the usual rates.
While advocates for affordable housing welcome the Woodland Park proposal, concerns around increased vehicle traffic and other issues linger. Mayor Rob Vagramov said he’s worried the developer is balking at paying a community-amenity contribution as part of the project.
“My positions from last meeting regarding traffic concerns and a desire on the part of the project team to not pay the city’s Community Amenity Contributions remain unchanged,” he said Monday in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
“I consider a road that leads into our existing gridlock to be a road to nowhere, and regardless of how many Lower Mainland developers balk at this premise, I believe growth should pay for growth. Without these two issues substantively addressed, I cannot support moving forward with this project.”
Another councillor said she is waiting to hear public input, but added she also sees a big advantage for Port Moody in potentially getting such a large block of social housing.
“Port Moody is not very affordable, and we have a lot of catching up to do. The fact that they are really doubling down on affordable housing is a big plus for the community,” Councillor Amy Lubik said.
She said she is also concerned about the possible increase in traffic, but was encouraged by changes to the project design from previous versions. The project now includes almost 100 child-care spaces and a large grocery store – elements that should help reduce car trips in the area.
Mr. Edgar has recently optioned an additional piece of property that he said would be used to create a new road for the development. Some of the land from that chunk would be turned over to the city to be used for a firehall.
But if council doesn’t approve the development this week, Mr. Edgar said he will likely lose his option on that piece of land and the opportunity to build the road and fire station will also fall apart.
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