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[UPDATE] New Westminster council supports three-bedroom units in new developments

Urban Development Institute supports concept but offers recommendations for city's consideration

The City of New Westminster is striving to be a bit more friendly to families.

On Monday, council gave third reading to a bylaw to require family friendly housing by mandating a minimum percentage of two- and three-bedroom units in new multi-unit residential dwellings with more than 10 units. The bylaw will require new strata residential developments provide a minimum of 30 per cent two- and three-bedroom units, with at least 10 per cent of the total units having three or more bedrooms. As well, the bylaw will require new rental residential developments provide a minimum of 25 per cent two- and three-bedroom units, with at least five per cent of the total units having three or more bedrooms.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said he’s proud that New Westminster will be the first city in Metro Vancouver to mandate a percentage of three-bedroom units in new buildings, as it’s “an important first step” in the creation of family-friendly housing. He noted that multi-family ground-oriented suites and amenities that meet families’ needs are other components of a family-friendly community.

No one spoke to the new policy at the May 25 public hearing, but the city received a letter from the Urban Development Institute, which stated it supports New Westminster’s goal of increasing the family housing stock  and believe the new supply of three-bedroom apartment units will help make housing more attainable and affordable in New West’s urban neighbourhoods.

“The industry’s primary concern with the proposed policy is that current market conditions make three-bedroom units in apartment buildings more challenging to sell or rent,” stated UDI president and CEO Anne McMullin in a letter to the city. “The impact of this policy could make projects in New Westminster unviable and deter development, including rental projects. We are particularly pleased that staff will be monitoring the impact of this policy as it is implemented.”

The Urban Development Institute offered a number of recommendations to the City of New Westminster, such as: encouraging the development of ground-oriented family housing in addition to the policy for apartment buildings, as this type of housing is heavily sought after by people with children; enacting a grandfathering period under the new policy for all instream applications; allowing the review process of applications to consider exemptions on the basis of financial concerns; and making units with three bedrooms to be exempt from development cost charges and floor area ratio.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said some in-depth analysis done by a consultation showed the three-bedroom units may not sell as quickly as smaller apartments, but it wouldn’t be detrimental to developers. He also suspects larger units would be less attractive to speculators who buy condos and have them sit empty rather than move in.

“I think it’s a good move,” he said. “I think it’s a good policy.”

Coun. Patrick Johnstone said the city is taking a leadership role on several issues in the region, with family-friendly housing being one of them.

Coun. Bill Harper said the bylaw is another step in the city’s goal of creating a family-friendly community. He noted the city previously changed directions and sought to create a more family-friendly neighbourhood in the downtown, instead of the entertainment district that had been planned for the area for many years.