NORTH DELTA â€” Thirteen electoral hopefuls tried their luck at appealing to voters in North Delta Tuesday evening, discussing a variety of issues from transportation to marijuana grow-ops.
The first divisive topic of the evening was the MK Delta Lands proposal to build 1,100 residential units of town homes and apartments at Highway 91 and 72nd Avenue. Some were adamant there can be no building on what they believe is part of the environmentally-sensitive "lagg" of Burns Bog.
Incumbent Coun. Sylvia Bishop said if it were not for the man-made highway separating the land from the contiguous mass of Burns Bog, it would be part of the ecological conservancy today.
Many others agreed. Lori Mayhew said Delta needs to work with the Burns Bog Conservation Society to protect the land from development. Jennifer Thoss was even more direct: "This is an easy question. No."
Nicholas Wong, the youngest candidate on the ticket at 24 years of age, said his environmental convictions are strong and would be opposed to building density on any green space in Delta. Incumbent Coun. Jeannie Kanakos cited the different iterations of the project indicating the public isn’t interested in development there.
"What’s you’re looking at is a significant project that seems to be moving in the wrong direction," she said.
Others had more practical reasons for their opposition. Ron Calliou said no to development, citing increase in traffic and accidents.
"Just because you can, doesn’t mean you necessarily should," he said.
Johann Ackermann, meanwhile, said building on the bog could be risky because if anything goes wrong then Delta will be on the hook for approving the development, echoing similar criticisms made about building the Southlands development on a floodplain in Tsawwassen.
Some candidates, like incumbent Coun. Ian Paton, were more neutral in their stance, saying they’ll wait until the proposal comes before council before jumping to a decision.
Incumbent Coun. Bruce McDonald said the developer has the legal right to come before council despite the difficulty they might have getting it through. Fellow incumbent Coun. Robert Campbell pointed out that the proposal has changed significantly since 2013 and developers have the right to follow through.
"You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes," he said. "You’d want your chance to appear before council."
Rod Binder said MK Delta Lands already have the right to certain land uses that might be worse than what the developers are proposing, adding the project has changed based on public feedback. "This appears to be a land owner that listens," he said, citing the challenge of finding housing in North Delta.
Peter Mattoo said he doesn’t want to see the bog increase in size, adding that just as people wouldn’t want housing encroaching on the bog, the bog should not encroach on housing.
There are few, if any, areas left in North Delta to develop, he said. If elected, he would carefully review what’s being proposed and look at the pros and cons.
Heather King had perhaps the most interesting idea of all. She said people in Delta will always be worried when a developer owns environmentally sensitive land.
She proposed a land swap between MK Delta Lands and the municipality that would allow the developer to acquire Paterson Park in Delta.
Another topic that generated a great deal of discussion was housing for seniors and those on fixed incomes.
While not offering any concrete suggestions, Calliou said it makes sense to take care of those who took care of us.
Many candidates, like Binder and Thoss, talked about needing a greater "diversity" of housing options and increased density in North Delta. Mayhew said seniors want to stay in their homes and community, which means redevelopment of lots allowing for more houses on the same footprint.
Mattoo said he’d like to see more seniors centres built in North Delta and then develop housing options around those locations.
Wong said it’s important to first consider what seniors need, which is accessibility, mobility, and social opportunities. While acknowledging the paradoxical situation in Delta where people don’t want high-rise apartments, nor sprawling development, Wong suggested the municipality needs more low-rise apartments and townhouses to increase density.
Ackermann said it’s not about bigger or smaller houses, suggesting this is an opportunity for citizens to get involved in decision-making through resident associations.
"Then we will get the grassroots telling the city what we need," he said.
Bishop said developers would like to build social housing but only when partnering with a non-profit society. However, she said there are currently affordable housing options for seniors in Ladner with legal secondary suites and coach houses.
King rejected the notion that seniors want higher density, saying the people she’s talked to in Sunshine Hills â€” most over the age of 60 â€” don’t want an increase in density. She suggested the problem is in restrictions to what developers can’t do in Delta that they are allowed to do in other jurisdictions.
"I would look at our building code," she said. "I think there’s a lot that would be expressed there."
Paton said developers want to build to the highest and best use, and unfortunately those options tend to be extremely expensive.
"There’s no easy answers for seniors housing."
McDonald said housing is an issue for senior levels of government, adding any seniors housing needs to be considered in partnership with developers that step forward.
Campbell said he sits on Metro Vancouver’s Housing Corporation Board and the discussion on the issue is always about where the money will come from.
"It’s not Delta’s job to get into social housing business on any level," he said.
Kanakos said seniors need housing that will be affordable enough to stay in the community, which means offering serious, specific incentives to developers.
"We don’t need to reinvent the wheel," she said, adding other communities already benefit from this.
Tsawwassen resident Peter Van Der Velden filed his papers to run for council but announced Oct. 17 he was withdrawing from the race.
There is another all-candidates meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Cedar Park Church (5300 44 Ave.) in Ladner.