Rob Vagramov says he has seen both sides of living in Port Moody.
As a young person who grew up in the city, then returned after his third year of studying political science at the University of Ottawa, he knows how tough it can be to set down roots in his hometown with rental accommodation scarce and expensive. The 26-year-old said the rent for his Moody Centre apartment is “pretty high for what I get” and takes him three jobs to be able to pay for it, and he said home ownership is likely “out of reach for me for a very, very, very long time.”
But as a city councillor the past four years, Vagramov also knows the pressures of building enough homes for the people who want to live in Port Moody and developing the kind of homes they will be able to afford can exert on a city and the quality of life it offers residents.
He said Port Moody is failing on both counts, which is why he’s running for mayor in the Oct. 20 civic election.
Vagramov said the zeal with which the city’s current council has embraced growth to take advantage of the opportunities that come with the arrival of SkyTrain and fulfill its obligation to the region’s growth strategy has become disconnected from the reality of living in Port Moody. The results, he said, are development that isn’t suitable or is still financially out of reach for many families and a lack of regard for preserving the lifestyle that makes the city a coveted destination like parks and recreation services.
It’s not the kind of city he hoped to have a hand in creating when he was first elected to council in 2014.
“I was a little doe-eyed,” he said. “I was excited to see how democracy worked.”
The reality of the past four years have quelled his youthful exuberance, Vagramov said, but they haven’t doused his determination to set Port Moody back on the path that earned it a silver award in a United Nations-sponsored livable communities competition in 2004, including a first place in the planning for future growth category.
Vagramov said he has no problem with growing Port Moody but that growth has to be at a measured rate so the city can keep pace with its amenities, preserve greenspace and natural habitats, and have infrastructure in place to keep it and its residents moving smoothly. He said that was the intent of the official community plan that was adopted in 2014 after several years of public consultation with residents.
That plan, which is due for renewal in 2019, projected Port Moody’s population to grow to 50,000 residents by 2041.
“We have a very ambitious growth plan,” Vagramov said. “That is what we should be focusing on: How do we maintain our quality of life while achieving the agreed-upon target?”
The answer, Vagramov said, is negotiations with developers that focus on attaining affordable units for young families, renters, seniors on fixed incomes or just people who want to stay in the same city where they grew up, as well as amenities like park space and community centres in return for density considerations.
“These are all the things that make a city livable,” Vagramov said, adding he wants to make the next OCP specifically address quality of life in the city. “This will be a good time to reassess where we’re at."
A particular flashpoint is former old fire hall site at Ioco Road and Murray Street as well as the nearby public works yard. Vagramov said Port Moody needs to retain the properties as a public asset, rather than potentially sell them to a developer, so they can be a possible landing spot for amenities like city hall and library expansion funded by development elsewhere in the city.
“We’ve gotten to a place where we’re considering selling the last of our city lands because there hasn’t been proper planning in place,” Vagramov said, adding his role on the board and then as the vice-president of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association has given him an insight into the planning and processes of 33 communities from Pemberton to Hope.
Vagramov said his regional experience, along with the four years he has served on council as well as his political science studies, qualify him to take the next step up the political ladder.
“I see a city that is a gem among this major urban area,” he said. “The direction we take is going to be up to whoever gets elected.”