High-density, transit-oriented development will be the law of the land in British Columbia.
The Government of BC introduced new landmark legislation today to enable significantly more residential density in the areas around major transit hubs — defined as SkyTrain stations and bus exchanges.
This represents another major move by the provincial government that overrides municipal governments in a bid to combat the housing affordability and supply crisis. This densification adjacent to transit hubs will also serve to increase ridership on TransLink and BC Transit.
There will be some exceptions, however. The densification requirements will apply to residential or mixed-use residential land uses. Zoning under commercial, agricultural, and industrial land uses, as well as First Nations reserve lands and federal and safety considerations for airports, including Richmond, will not apply.
Earlier this year, the provincial government first indicated it will introduce policies to catalyze transit-oriented developments, but the specifics were not known until today.
For all SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver, municipal governments will be required to allow minimum residential building heights of up to 20 storeys for sites within 200 metres of a station, up to 12 storeys for sites between 201 and 400 metres from a station, and up to eight storeys for sites 401 metres to 800 metres from a station.
Building height is one determinant for the number of new homes that can be built near these transit hubs, but another major factor is the permissible floor area ratio (FAR) density, which is the calculation of the total building floor area size in relation to the amount of land used for the building.
For distances 200 metres or less from a SkyTrain station, the minimum FAR is 5.0 times the size of the lot. For 201 metres to 400 metres, the minimum FAR is 4.0. And for 401 metres to 800 metres, the minimum FAR is 3.0.
The provincial government’s transit-oriented development policies will also be in place for areas near bus exchange in Metro Vancouver. This includes a minimum height of up to 12 storeys and a minimum density of up to 4.0 FAR for sites within 200 metres of a bus exchange, and up to eight storeys and a minimum density of up to 3.0 FAR for sites between 201 metres and 400 metres of a bus exchange.
Similar transit-oriented development policies will also be in place within 400 metres of bus exchanges in the municipalities in the Greater Victoria and the Kelowna areas, and other jurisdictions, but with slightly lower minimum FAR density requirements compared to the stipulations for Metro Vancouver.
During today’s press conference, it was stated that this will address low-density residential uses, especially near SkyTrain stations, with the current eight-storey limitation around King Edward Station on the Canada Line being essentially described as an example of a mistake.
“Building more homes near transit is good for people, communities, and helps make the most of transit, infrastructure and services,” said Ravi Kahlon, BC Minister of Housing, in a statement.
“But layers of regulations and outdated rules are stopping this kind of development from becoming a reality in too many municipalities. That’s why we are taking action to remove barriers and deliver more transit-oriented communities, faster.”
In addition to mandating transit-oriented development, the provincial government will require cities to eliminate minimum vehicle parking requirements within these areas, which will help reduce construction costs, speed up construction, reduce emissions, and further increase public transit ridership.
Developers can instead determine the amount of residential vehicle parking needed based on demand, but commercial vehicle parking requirements will not be removed. This would further improve the financial viability of a project amidst the current challenging market conditions, with underground parking accounting for as much as over 20% of the total construction costs for some apartment projects.
“By eliminating the requirements of parking, we’re creating the right size of parking per reject. It means it won’t be some policy person dictating it, and instead there will be an analysis done by each proponent,” Kahlon told Daily Hive Urbanized.
“This policy is not only good for the environment, but it’s good policy for planning and housing, and I think it’s going to ensure a lot of housing that wasn’t going to go ahead will now go ahead.”
The provincial government expects about 100 transit-oriented development areas surrounding transit hubs will be designated in about 30 cities across BC within the first year of the new legislation taking effect. Municipal governments under the legislation will be required to change their policies for such areas by no later than June 30, 2024. A manual will be provided by the provincial government to municipalities to establish consistent standards.
At their own discretion, municipal governments can approve higher densities and building heights, but they must meet the minimums established by the provincial government. Cities such as Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, and Surrey already enable towers at least 20 storeys in height in close proximity to many of their SkyTrain stations, but this is not necessarily the case in Vancouver and Port Moody.
The measure of within an 800-metre radius is generally used for transit-oriented development, as it is deemed as the walkable distance to a transit hub.
The provincial government states the legislation optimizes the multibillion-dollar investments made on public transit infrastructure.
It is expected the transit-oriented development legislation could catalyze as many as 100,000 new homes in close proximity to transit hubs across the province over the coming decade.
Kahlon said that builders and non-profit developers have told the Ministry these transit-oriented development policy changes — exceeding the current height and density regulations of municipal governments — will have the impact of pushing their projects into the realm of financial viability. The main impact comes from offsetting the high land costs.
As well, it will support both TransLink’s for-profit real estate development division of turning its under-utilized properties and acquired lands into transit-oriented developments, and the provincial government’s $400 million strategy towards buying land next to public transit to build thousands of new additional homes within the next 15 years.
Last year, the provincial government changed legislation to enable BC Transportation Financing Authority to buy land around SkyTrain for housing, not just the land requirements to achieve infrastructure projects.
“We’re working to leverage public lands to build more affordable housing in connected, livable communities,” said Rob Fleming, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “This legislation is the next step forward to help remove roadblocks and fast-track more transit-oriented development that works for people in their communities.”
Just last week, the provincial government also provided municipal governments with a deadline to change their policies to allow up to six homes on a single-family lot, and eliminate public hearings for rezoning applications that already follow the municipality’s official community plan (OCP).
According to the provincial government, the range of measures will help individual cities reach their legislated new housing supply targets.