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Rob Shaw: Kevin Falcon on the same page as the NDP on housing, but only once

On two legislative moves on housing, Falcon declares 'they're not going to work'
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BC United Leader Kevin Falcon agrees towers should be built near SkyTrain stops, but criticizes other elements of the NDP housing plan.

Premier David Eby’s new plan to allow condo towers around transit hubs has picked up the endorsement of Opposition BC United leader Kevin Falcon.

Falcon, a former housing developer with Anthem Capital, said the idea of mandating density around SkyTrain stations and bus exchanges makes perfect sense.

“Overall, I’m broadly very supportive,” he said in an interview. “I’ve been out advocating for this kind of thing. And the fact they are bringing in something I’ve been talking about is very positive.

“I’ve always said if there’s good legislation I’ll be the first to say it’s good and support it.”

If passed, the legislation would authorize condos up to 20 storeys at SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver, up to 10 storeys near bus exchanges in mid-sized cities like Victoria and Kamloops, and up to six storeys near bus exchanges elsewhere in the province.

Municipalities would not be allowed to reject the towers, under the bill. They would also not be allowed to impose minimum parking requirements on the developments, which could potentially delay projects and drive up costs.

“This legislation, combined with all the pieces we've done, will actually create more affordable housing in our communities,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

Falcon said he’ll be urging the government to provide as much detail as possible on the legislation, including explaining how it arrived at its particular number of permissible storeys.

“You want to have the ability to work with the local cities, and 20 storeys may be the right number, but it could be less or more,” he said. “You want to have some flexibility there.

“So I’m a little concerned about the province dictating from Victoria what exactly it should be.”

Falcon pointed out that some developers prefer to build rental housing at six storeys, for example, using wood. Larger buildings can be more expensive, and have higher per-unit costs, he said.

Falcon said those are the kinds of “unintended consequences” he’ll be canvassing in the NDP legislation.

“It’s easy to get into the weeds on this, but I think it’s important to say on a high level I like the idea a lot,” he said.

“It’s something that has been very important to me, as someone who has a background in the sector.”

Falcon’s support makes the transit density bill one of the few pieces of housing legislation this session in which the governing NDP and Opposition BC United are on the same page.

Premier Eby’s bill to restrict short-term Airbnb-style rentals is opposed by Falcon, whose party tried to unsuccessfully amend it to allow people to have one short-term rental in addition to their principal residence.

BC United also opposes the NDP legislation to replace single family zoning with quad-plexes in urban areas, and the government’s bill to add a new form of community amenity financing.

“Just know this, they’re not going to work,” Falcon has said.

The NDP’s broader transit density policy coincides with a plan to spend up to $400 million to purchase land around future SkyTrain and bus stations, in order to give government first crack at developing affordable housing at the sites rather than private speculators.

“We have $6.8 billion worth of concurrent SkyTrain extension projects, Broadway, Surrey, Langley Skytrain in particular — this represents a 27 per cent expansion of the existing SkyTrain network, and with that tremendous opportunities to to do transit oriented development opportunities, which in the past under previous governments were squandered or simply ignore,” said Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.

Fleming pointed to “missed opportunities with the Canada Line” — a shot at Falcon, who as transportation minister in 2007 overrode local mayors (who wanted a different line built) and got the SkyTrain extension built in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Falcon said he’s also supportive of the province acquiring land around transit hubs to help boost housing around areas where taxpayers are spending billions of dollars on new transit.

“I’ve been calling for that ever since I’ve been leader,” he said. “Absolutely it makes sense.”

Falcon said he will unveil his own BC United housing plan before the end of the year, which he has billed as a practical real-world way to boost the construction of affordable housing in the province.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. rob@robshawnews.com