#PoMoVotes2018: Livability and affordability dominate PoMo debate

Livability, affordability, and even a microphone that had a knack for cutting out every time Port Moody council candidate James Robertson spoke, were at the fore of an all-candidates meeting hosted by the Glenayre Community Association last Friday.

Fortunately for Robertson, his big voice doesn’t require amplification.

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In a full gym at Glenayre elementary school, the city’s 14 candidates for council and the two vying for the mayor’s job laid out their visions for Port Moody’s future in one-minute sound bites.

All the candidates agreed Port Moody is a wonderful place but they diverged on whether it would remain that way.

Mayoral candidate Rob Vagramov, who currently sits on city council, painted a grim picture of Port Moody’s direction as it moves to fulfill its growth projection of 50,000 residents by 2041. He claimed the pace and scope of proposed and rumoured development projects will far exceed that, creating hardships on the city’s infrastructure and diminishing it’s livability.

“We have the ability to take a sober look at where we’re heading,” he said.

Mayor Mike Clay, who’s seeking a third term in the position, said that’s fear-mongering. He pointed to the city’s modest growth rate (1.6% between the 2016 census and 2011, according to Statistics Canada) under his leadership is actually managing growth cautiously and responsibly.

“We have to be proud and move forward,” he said.

But several candidates raised the alarm that however much Port Moody grows, living in the city is becoming more difficult every year — particularly for seniors. They pointed to the very neighbourhood where the debate was being held as one ripe to help keep the city financially within reach through innovative infill housing solutions such as laneway homes.

Council candidate Sharleen Karamanian said the city could designate an area within the mostly single-family home neighbourhood as a pilot for the construction of small carriage homes that would allow downsizing seniors to stay in the community, or provide a start to young adults or families looking to set roots.

“If it works, it’s a good alternative,” she said.

Jimmy Malamas, who’s also vying for a seat on council, said, “If they can do it in Vancouver, we can do it in Port Moody.”

But council candidate Amy Lubik cautioned that the neighbourhood would need better and more frequent transit service as it densified.

And Robertson spoke of his concern about the neighbourhood’s lack of services like stores and coffee shops, something that would have to be corrected with rezoning.

Incumbent Coun. Zoe Royer said any reworking of the established neighbourhood should require extensive consultation with its current residents. “We have to work closely with the community to find something that really works,” she said.

Mayor Clay agreed, adding infill housing could take all kinds of forms, such as secondary suites in basements or above garages, as well as carriage homes.

Though none of the half dozen questions challenged the candidates on the future of fire hall and public works yard sites that is the subject of a non-binding referendum question on the Oct. 20 ballot, several weighed in tangentially and pointed to the site as a flashpoint of Port Moody’s growth, affordability and livability issues.

Council candidate Steve Milani said the site should be retained by the city for seniors' housing and the expansion of the library, something Lubik said could be achieved with partnerships rather than an outright sale of the property.

Tasha Faye Evans, who’s also running for council, said she is angry about the way the referendum question — which asks whether the city should retain the properties or sell, partially sell or lease them — is being asked. It’s more nuanced than that she said, noting, “Council needs to listen and collaborate with residents.”

• The Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce is hosting an all-candidates debate in Port Moody tomorrow (Thursday) at the Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Dr.), from 7 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and questions can be submitted online. Go to www.slido.com and enter the event code "PoMo."

mbartel@tricitynews.com

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