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‘About goddamn time’: Burnaby politician chastises councillor for opposing affordable housing project

Burnaby councillor says opposing affordable housing over 'process' shouldn't be the 'hill to die on.'
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A rendering of a development proposal by the BCGEU.

A B.C. union's proposed Burnaby development project that includes residential towers with affordable housing passed the next stage of the approval process but came with some fireworks between councillors.

At its regular meeting on Monday (April 25), Mayor Mike Hurley and six councillors voted "yes" to advance the rental towers plan to third reading, while two councillors said they won't support the project. 

The BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU) recently submitted plans to the city for a mixed-use office, daycare, cafe and rental housing development on Palm Avenue near Royal Oak SkyTrain station.

The rental portion will include 292 units, of which a minimum of 50% will be locked in as below-market, affordable housing. 

During a public hearing on March 29, 52 people spoke about the proposed project with the large majority in favour. 

Coun. Colleen Jordan voted against the project due to the changes required to the official community plan (OCP). 

"I stand with the folks that said we shouldn't be amending the roll-out plan at this time with such a significant amendment and with no consultation either by the city or the proponent for that matter about the change that is proposed," Jordan said. 

Coun. Dan Johnston echoed similar sentiments, noting his decision was based on "principle."

"Along similar similar lines, I won't be supporting 14433. I think it's unfortunate because I think it's a good proposal in that it addresses affordable rentals. It addresses the less advantaged in the community. But I think I have to stand on principle here," Johnston explained. 

"We have community plans in this city and we've had a traditional process of going out to the public when we need to amend them. And I know in the Edmonds community, we've actually had a series of meetings where staff go out and talk to various members of the community when we need to make an amendment or we have a public hearing regarding the amendment to the community plan. I don't think we should be making a process and I'm standing on principle here, I don't think it's right that we [should] be disobeying or disregarding our community plans." 

Johnston wanted to make it clear that he doesn't oppose the BCGEU, the building or the components of the building, but he ultimately is against the process. 

"I think that we as a community have to stand strong on this. And I don't think that amending the plan without some consultation with the community, especially those that put their heart and soul into putting that community plan together in the neighbourhood. I think it's a dangerous proposal to go down this path." 

Coun. Alison Gu had a rebuttal for Johnston, saying she was supporting the project because of her principles on affordable housing. 

"I think it's a shame that process gets in the way of progress so often," Gu said. 

"And speaking of engagement, I would love to have meaningful engagement at every project and hear from the folks that will move into that the place that we're trying to build, and who will call it a home eventually, because we can never hear from those voices because they will never have the opportunity to be consulted. 

"I think the necessity of a home, the necessity of affordable child care, the necessity of being close to transit, that's my principle and something that is an outdated and flawed process to begin with, is not the hill I'm going to die on." 

Gu took to Twitter after the meeting in a rebuttal to Johnston saying he opposed the project on "principle" amid a province-wide housing crisis. 

"We are in a housing crisis and a climate crisis and it’s about goddamn time we acted like it," she said, candidly.

"These are my principles, not adhering to archaic processes that never even adequately encompass the voices of those who in fact, will be most impacted—those who will live in the homes built." 

Mayor Mike Hurley said there's no way the city can turn its back on a partnership like the one they're seeing with the BCGEU.

"Nowhere have we had anyone come forward with this type of proposal. Nowhere have we got the support for affordable housing that this will present. 

"So I think this is an opportunity that just can't be passed up. I'm in full support of this." 

BC General Employees' Union applauds council's decision

In a statement released today (April 26), the union said the vote to approve the project is a major milestone. 

"Our union has been working on this project for more than two years," BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said. 

"This vote is a major milestone that brings us one step closer to making our project a reality and we are deeply grateful to Mayor Hurley and councillors Calendino, Dhaliwal, Gu, Hillman, Keithley and Wang for their leadership in supporting our vision."

"It's an opportunity to give back to a community we have been a part of for over 50 years. It's a chance to make real progress on affordable housing-an issue we have been actively engaged in for a long time. And Burnaby residents sent a clear message to council at the public hearing: they want to live in a progressive, affordable, inclusive city and they see projects like ours as the way to get there." 

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