BEPPLE – Rejecting subdivisions means higher lot prices, more urban sprawl

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

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.

About Mel Rothenburger (8130 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

9 Comments on BEPPLE – Rejecting subdivisions means higher lot prices, more urban sprawl

  1. A young couple used to buy a home to have later in life, with it as an investment and a place where they can have a garden and room enough for children & grandchildren to play.
    Trees are great for synthesizing CO2 to produce food for the tree and oxygen for the air. Trees provide shade in the summer and a place where birds & small animals can call home. In short, trees and grass are good for a “green” environment. Concrete & gravel or blacktop replacing grass & trees is not a good idea.
    Thanks to the drug trade and incompetence in dealing with it, a beautiful family home was razed by a suspicious fire. In its place, a developer constructed 2 large duplexes, almost lot line to lot line. As one councillor put it, with a grin on his face, it gives the builder a chance to “make some coin”.
    As much as we put into our home, it is not the place where I now want to retire. Had I known what was going to happen, we might have moved 10 years ago.
    It would seem an article like this was written by someone who has not experienced such densification in her immediate neighbourhood.

    • John, that is life as it used to be. Unfortunately with the population of the world increasing, people will have to get used to crowding and loss of space. Our kids have technology we only saw in science fiction movies, but they have lost so much that we took for granted. We want growth in our cities, more and more people and commerce. Why? The photos I have seen of some of the condos people exist in in cities like Hong Kong, I have no idea how they can exist like that, spaces no different than a prison cell. I think in the future, as parts of our planet become unable to feed the people due to overpopulation, drought and other changes, more and more people will have to congregate in places like Canada, until what we consider densificiation now will be luxurious spacious living conditions.

      • John Noakes // February 22, 2020 at 5:39 AM //

        Generally speaking, it is quite a process to choose a place to live and then purchase it. Unless a person has a golden spoon in his or her mouth, it means undertaking a commitment of 25 to 40 years just to pay off the mortgage. Putting that into terms of how many days/afternoons/evenings/nights one has to work to meet the commitment of paying off the mortgage, it generally means putting one’s whole life, heart and soul into it.
        If you look at 15 places and choose one that you feel is worth that kind of commitment, then one would hope there is a commitment from the community to respect what is put into a home on a personal level.
        If a person chooses to buy half a duplex or a place in a strata complex or on a street where the places are jammed together, so be it.
        However, if you have chosen a place and commit to it because of things like a lawn, a place to have a garden, a place to have some room for kids to play, a bit of room between the houses for privacy (old fashioned thinking, I know) then a local government should understand some feelings of backlash when the choice has been made to “densify”.
        Does this make things easier to understand?

  2. In filling does have merit but there must be some limits. The Dallas one is one example, petitions and large numbers swayed the Council. Check out Fernie Rd and the in filling proposal. 16 units on a dead end street, in the middle of 10 single family dwellings, that is EXCESSIVE in filling

  3. Pierce Graham // February 19, 2020 at 4:12 PM // Reply

    When I see the postage-stamp-sized lots on Westsyde Road, I realize that the City has caved in to the builders.
    Those lots do not provide enough room for kids to throw marbles, let alone baseballs or footballs. As the contractors gain, the future citizens lose, because there will have to be a lot more rec centers and parks available. Kids deserve yards that allow them to play at home. My kids grew up with room for a pool, a horse-shoe pitch, a pond, a patio, fruit trees and a garden. That’s what homes should be.
    Pierce Graham

  4. Issues around housing are very complex, diverse and conflicting. Can’t blame the Dallas neighbours in trying to safeguard quality of life as they know it because of increase in traffic and loss of neighborhood’s character, among the chief concerns. Moreover, these are problems shared by almost all existing neighborhoods, regardless of city. Of course safeguarding agricultural land is also important but around Kamloops that land is low-yield cattle feed which is certainly not the best use for said land. Although that seems to be changing with grapes and other fruit producing conversions as of late. Ultimately, Kamloops’ situation is not unique and very many jurisdictions (in Canada and around the world) are facing similar if not worse problems. Conceding this is a tough predicament, I have not seen anything out of this (or previous) council to reassure me the situation is under control nearby.

  5. You can always go up, more floors that is.

  6. I agree Nancy, if we want to protect our agricultural lands we need to look at in-filling, densification and rebuilding our older neighborhoods with higher denisity housing. Only 5 % of BC is in the Agricultural Land Reserve and only 1% of that total are high capability lands with irrigation that can grow a wide range of crops. Kamloops completed an Agricultural Area Plan a few years ago to further identify agricultural lands within the City. We need to do all we can to keep them protected for our future.

  7. Jennie Stadnichuk // February 19, 2020 at 11:58 AM // Reply

    I agree completely with your perspective and am surprised at City Council’s decision particularly in view of their stated goal of “densification” within the city. I wonder what made this particular lot being in such opposition? I have seen subdivision of lots in all areas of Kamloops!

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