LAST WEEK, Kamloops City council came out on the side of a neighbourhood. There was a public hearing on a rezoning request to subdivide a lot in Dallas to allow three houses to be built on a large lot that currently is occupied by one house.
The proposal was met with stiff opposition from the neighbours. Increased traffic and densification among the reasons neighbours opposed the proposal. The neighbourhood wanted to keep their large lots and quiet streets. Council took the neighbours’ concerns to heart and denied the rezoning.
But in supporting the wishes of a neighbourhood, council also came out on the side of ever escalating prices of single family homes, on the continued urban sprawl as Kamloops grows, and on the side of increased pressure to remove agricultural land from the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve.
City council sent a very clear message to builders and home buyers that subdivisions won’t always be supported, even for the largest lots.
But Kamloops is growing. The question is how it happens.
About 100 single-family houses are built in Kamloops every year. After 10 years, that’s 1,000 new lots that are needed to build more houses on. One thousand single family homes is equivalent to an entire new neighbourhood the size of Dallas, Barnhartvale, or the West End being built every 10 years.
The limited supply of building lots in Kamloops results in higher prices. It is hard for the supply of new building lots to keep up with demand. Of 85 lots currently for sale on realtor sites in Kamloops, only 10 lots are less than $200,000. The median price being $255,000 with 44 per cent over $300,000. It is difficult for builders to find empty lots to build on, let alone affordable building lots.
Added to the cost of the single lot there are development cost charges plus more and more building code requirements. It is more and more difficult for builders to build affordable single family homes many can afford.
There are a finite number of building lots available in Kamloops. The 100 new building lots Kamloops needs each year can be created in only a few ways.
The least expensive is to subdivide existing large lots. Subdivided lots can use existing roads, water, sewer and other infrastructure. This saves huge costs of adding additional infrastructure like roads, water and sewer, as well as the ongoing costs of maintaining the infrastructure.
Subdividing existing lots reduces urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is exceedingly expensive. There are more roads to repair, more water and sewage to pump farther, and more services to provide to a more and more spread out population. It also costs us all more in time spent driving further and further as the city spreads. In the end, we all pay more when there is urban sprawl.
Subdividing existing lots helps everyone in the city.
A second option for more building lots is to build in more and more difficult terrain at the edges of the city. The majority of the current building lots are perched at the tops of hills in Juniper, Dufferin and Batchelor Hills. This is difficult terrain to build on, and it also requires brand new roads, water, sewer and other infrastructure. It is expensive to build further and further up the hills in Kamloops.
Another option is to take land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for housing. There has been ongoing pressure to do just that. For example, adjacent to Albert McGowan Park, there is agricultural land that many want to build on. In Kamloops, 46 per cent of the city is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. This is similar to other cities across the province.
Kamloops needs to preserve its farmland, not build on it. There are enough options within the developed portions of the city without weakening the agricultural sector. Taking over farmland also accelerates urban sprawl.
The more the City council capitulates to neighbourhoods who oppose subdividing large lots, the more there will be pressure for the city to sprawl outward, up hills and onto farmland. Without subdivisions, there is no other way to create 100 new building lots year after year.
It’s time for City council to rethink their priorities. They need to support affordable home ownership, to reduce urban sprawl, and to preserve farmland. It’s time council is stronger advocates for subdividing properties.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.