Capital Daily

Mountainside Westhills Development Property Meets Backlash Online

Episode Summary

A new development property for sale on the mountainside in the Westhills of Langford is receiving many complaints online. For Municipal Monday, we speak to an expert to find out if the criticism is fair and analyze densifying versus sprawl in Greater Victoria.

Episode Notes

A new development property for sale on the mountainside in the Westhills of Langford is receiving many complaints online. For Municipal Monday, we speak to an expert to find out if the criticism is fair and analyze densifying versus sprawl in Greater Victoria.  


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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Monday, June 14. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. A potential development opportunity in the Westhills in Langford is receiving lots of backlash online. Some residents are arguing that the city needs densification instead of developing mountainsides for single-family homes. Today we explore those concerns. In the Facebook group Langford Voters for Change, you'll find a post about the real estate opportunity at 2920 Irwin road. The Westhills property is directly beside Mount Wells Regional Park and consists of 68 acres of undeveloped forest land on the side of a mountain. The members of the Facebook group largely expressed their concerns that the area should not be developed. And instead, there should be further densification in the city. Today, we take those concerns to Leo Scott Holt, owner and analyst at Leo, thank you so much for joining the podcast. 


Leo: Thanks for having me, Jackie. 


Jackie: What can you tell me about this development?


Leo: I don't have specifics about this exact lot. It's just another continuation of the type of development we've seen in Langford. Increasingly, in the last few years, right, some of the Greenfield lands, the easy to develop land is being used up, and now we're seeing the difficult to develop land that is now becoming attractive and economical to develop such as hillsides, mountainsides, forested areas, that kind of thing.


Jackie: And you say that we've seen this hidden Langford, this kind of development isn't unique. Are there similar ones that you can point to or that exist currently?


Leo: Yeah. I mean, if you drive out there, you see it all over the place. I mean, the expansion on Bear Mountain, you know, the property across from the Costco, there are a lot of very common types of characteristics, there is a lot of blasting required. You have level ground, and you put a lot down, and you surface it. It's a lot of money and a lot of work to prepare these for actually, you know, development for housing. 


Jackie: Is that why it would be more beneficial to make these expensive single-family homes instead of more dense housing?


Leo: Well, to me, it's very simple. Nobody should be surprised that this is happening. If you look at the growth rates for the Victoria municipalities. It's Oak Bay, Esquimalt, and Metchosin. They haven't grown for the past twenty years. Sidney, they're growing at about 0.5% a year. And Victoria is about 1% a year. The problem is the regional growth rate is one and a half to 2% a year. So if those core municipalities don't allow the growth, where does it go? Langford. Langford has been growing at 4% a year for the last twenty years. So, it's not surprising eighteen people a day move to Greater Victoria. That's the average over the last five years. If the core municipalities say, "look, we'll take six people," and no more than that means twelve people are going out to the West Shore.


Jackie: This specific development has received a lot of attention on the Langford Voters for Change Facebook group. People want densification and not forced to mountainsides to be clear-cut for single-family homes. Is Langford really in need of cutting down these trees for this kind of space? Or are there alternatives that could create more housing to meet that demand?


Leo: There's absolutely no shortage of land to build families suitable housing in the core areas already built up. It's just that the process is so difficult. Right now, the majority of the land in the core municipalities is reserved for single-family homes. If you want to build anything else, whether that's a townhouse, a duplex or a small apartment building, it goes through rezoning. That process takes years and often gets defeated in the end, you know, many projects take years to do a consultation, and then they get voted down anyways. So for a developer, you know, if you go out, you develop a large Greenfield plot of land, and that process doesn't exist. In Langford, the rezoning process is easier, but there are no neighbours that will say no. 


Jackie: This kind of comes down to the incentive for developers to clear mountainsides for single-family homes instead of anything else because it takes too long. So that's a municipal issue, then.


Leo: Absolutely. If we don't let developers densify, then they will build-out. And this property is just one of many properties. It's going to happen; this pressure to sprawl will increase as the price of homes go up; suddenly, people are going up and creating new subdivisions out on the Malahat and Shawnigan Lake and out towards Sooke. That means people will be pushed further and further away. So, whatever happens on this property, that's not the end of it. But we can decide, let's reduce the pressure to sprawl by making a bit more room inside our existing cities. And that's just not happening. I mean, I think there are so many projects that we can talk about, but, you know, we see these developments and such as 902 Foul Bay that was fiercely opposed. There was a townhouse development that went all the way to the Supreme Court a few years ago. So you think about how difficult it is to build this metal myth missing housing. That means we get sprawl; that's the natural consequence. Nobody should be surprised at that.


Jackie: It's interesting that you bring up 902 Foul Bay because in the Oak Bay local Facebook group, there's a post about this that was calling out the hypocrisy when it comes to accepting densification. Certain people of the Oak Bay Area cut a lot of slack over being opposed to dense development. But looking out to the West Shore, developers are clearing hillsides to bring in brand new single-family homes. Do you think it's fair to say that everyone needs to get on the same page about the type of housing needed?


Leo: I believe so. We can't stop people from coming here. So what we can do is decide how we want to house them. And I think Victoria, in general, is on the same page that we want to house them in the most sustainable way that we can close to where they work, close to active transportation infrastructure, and close to transit, and not at the top of a mountain somewhere in what used to be your houses that used to be a forest. 


Jackie: It seems that Victoria proper is getting more on board with densifying and the surrounding areas. Do you think that other areas need to follow that?


Leo: I think Victoria has made some progress. Also, Saanich, if you look at the results of the last election, we've had more pro-housing pros, densification councillors elected. But the reality so far has still been that most of the people voting in municipal elections are already owners who are not facing those housing challenges. And so I think if people want to change that situation, then it has to come at this municipal election.


Jackie: I was actually looking into the North Saanich Community Plan that the municipality is going through right now. And there was some concern from a group that the city was allowing input from people who weren't currently living there. Is it important to get feedback from people who had the intent to move to an area as opposed to people who already are there?


Leo: I think it's a real problem that right now, the loudest voices are those that are already there. I think the correct way to do it is to definitely acknowledge that we are building for new people who will be coming and know that demand is there. I think it's also very important to look at it from a neutral evidence perspective. So say where do we have the amenities to support density and where do we have the parks and the act of transport and transit and all that kind of infrastructure? And then say that is our main consideration. Let's put the density there; let's allow it to be built right where we can support it and not wait so heavily. Who has time to show up for a four-hour public meeting? 


Jackie: One of the conversations on the post in the Lankford Voters for Change group was about traffic in the area. Langford already has a congestion problem, and people aren't happy about it. Is this something that the city can actually support without adding more infrastructure?


Leo: I think it can be supported, but it's also at great cost to the rest of society, that, you know, the increased pollution, the increased congestion, the increased, you know, infrastructure costs, that at the beginning, they're paid by the developer, but eventually, that all has to be maintained by the taxpayer. And it's most expensive, where the density is least. So this kind of far-out flung subdivisions. That's where that kind of storm sewer and all that kind of infrastructure on roads is most expensive. And if we could take a little bit of the pressure off, putting the housing closer to where the infrastructure already exists would be a lot more efficient.


Jackie: That's interesting that these areas are the least cost-effective.


Leo: Kelowna did an interesting analysis for their development and looked at where it costs us more as taxpayers than we're actually bringing in from tax revenue. And they saw that the denser areas of the city, that's where they're actually covering their costs, especially on hillsides where the infrastructure is expensive. The rest of the city is subsidizing those developments.


Jackie: So we're missing out on potentially, the city is missing out on other amenities that could benefit everybody, because everybody's cutting, or everybody's making up for the cost of these incredibly expensive areas.


Leo: Yeah, and it's something that they won't see until further down the line. Right at the beginning, the developer pays for all of that infrastructure, right? And then it's brand new, and those maintenance costs don't come up until 50 or 60 years when all that infrastructure has to be replaced. But this is something that we are planning for those 50, 60, or 100 years. We're not looking in the short-term that will eventually hit the region.


Jackie: Bear Mountain is similar. And we mentioned that one, there was a lot of controversy over whether or not it was a successful development. Would you consider it successful or an example to go forward with?


Leo: I have a hard time saying whether it was successful or not. I'm sure the people who have homes up there would say yes, it's successful. I have a home I otherwise would not have had a home. Would I prefer that to be the model? No, I think we should do better at housing people closer and then in more sustainable ways.


Jackie: Leo, thank you so much.


Leo: Thanks, Jackie.