B.C. looks to boost density around transit hubs, possibly signalling big changes near Moody Centre

Legislation introduced by the province Thursday could mean significant changes regarding density around transit hubs.

While most SkyTrain stations in the Tri-Cities have zoning that permits higher densities, many single-family housing blocks would also be upzoned under the new rules.

Municipalities would be required to create transit oriented development (TOD) areas in an 800 metre radius around every rapid transit station, according to the release.

These TOD areas would come with a set of provincial standards, forcing minimum standards for height and density allowances.

“Layers of regulations and outdated rules are stopping this kind of development from becoming a reality in too many municipalities,” said Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon. “That’s why we are taking action to remove barriers and deliver more transit-oriented communities, faster.”

The density requirements are based on a tiered approach: at least 20 storeys within 200 metres of the station, 12 storeys within 201 to 400 metres, and eight storeys within 401 and 800 metres.

Residential parking minimums for these developments would also be scrapped, though cities will still be able to enforce disability and commercial parking requirements.

Housing supply and affordability has been a major focus of the provincial government this fall, as this new policy is one of several bills unveiled in recent weeks.

Other bills include heavier regulation of short-term rentals, allowing multi-unit buildings on single family properties, and updating how community amenity contributions are negotiated.

While some B.C. communities have built high-density areas around transit hubs, other developments have been slowed by restrictive zoning bylaws, parking requirements and delayed approvals, according to the provincial release.

This new policy could lead to the development of approximately 100,000 new units in these TOD areas over the next decade, according to an estimate from the province.

The province’s investment in transit infrastructure is meant to yield denser communities, according to the release.

A total of $394 million was committed in the 2023 budget for acquiring land near transit hubs to build affordable housing over the next 10 to 15 years, the release added.

A policy manual for municipalities will be released by the province next month.

What this means for the Tri-Cities?

The immediate 200-metre radius around SkyTrain Stations in the Tri-Cities are mostly already zoned to allow density at, or near, the proposed provincial standards.

The second and third-tier radiuses, however, would significantly upzone several single-family neighbourhoods.

Zoning on numerous single-family blocks to the southeast of Burquitlam station, directly south of Coquitlam City Centre and Inlet Centre stations, and northwest and east of Lafarge Lake-Douglas stations would be affected by the increased density standards.

But Moody Centre Station would likely see the biggest changes from the legislation.

A TOD already exists in the area – contained between St. Johns Street to the south, the SkyTrain tracks to the north, Buller Street to the east, and Moody Street to the west – but the new proposed radius would significantly expand its scope.

The allowable density for properties within 400 metres of the station would effectively be doubled.

With the 800 metre radiuses of Moody and Inlet Centre stations, eight storey developments would be permitted on all properties in the city south of St. Johns Street and east of Gatensbury Road.

Port Moody Mayor Meghan Lahti’s approval of the new legislation was included in the provincial release, but she added she hoped municipalities would be able to “retain the ability to approve proposals based on their existing policy frameworks.”

Density around Moody Centre station has been a point of contention between the city of Port Moody and the province in recent years.

In the summer of 2022, a warning letter by several provincial ministers was sent to the city, threatening to withhold rapid transit investment over the former council’s consideration of lowering density around the Moody Centre TOD area.

Former mayor Rob Vagromov had been trying to get the city to conduct a feasibility study for a third SkyTrain station in the city between Moody Centre and Burquitlam stations at the time.

In response to the announcement of the proposed provincial TOD area, Port Coquitlam Brad West, who chairs the TransLink Mayors’ Council, said there is a need for increased provincial and federal investment into transit to accommodate the growth.

While approving of the new legislation, West said transit funding in Metro Vancouver is “frozen” at 2019 levels.

“The fact is, you can’t have transit-oriented development without transit, and TransLink’s current system is unable to keep up with growing public demand for services across this region,” West said. “This legislation represents one of the most significant changes to land use and zoning policy that we’ve ever seen in this province, but it won’t succeed unless our three levels of government work together to deliver better transit in this region.”

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch