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Q&A with Victoria councillor Matt Dell on housing, 'missing middle,' clean streets and Victoria's future
Q&A with Victoria councillor Matt Dell on housing, 'missing middle,' clean streets and Victoria's future
Ten on the 10th
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
Ten on the Tenth's August, 2023 segment features Matt Dell, a municipal councillor in the City of Victoria and 2022-2024 council liaison for the Fairfield Gonzalez neighbourhood, serving his first term through 2026.
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd like to hear from you.

A pro-housing agenda is arguably one of the key factors that helped yourself and multiple other first-time councillors win seats in the last election. Now that you’ve had some time in the role, are you able to speak to any obstacles that you’ve encountered which could make approving new housing more challenging, compared to an outsider looking-in perspective?
Although I ran on a pro-housing platform, I’m dismayed at how many challenges there are to meaningfully address the affordability crisis. We’re truly 20-year behind where we should be, and it’s going to take a while to catch up. I think one key challenge is getting buy-in from existing communities and neighbourhoods. So many people want to see more housing and affordability, but not in their neighbourhood, and without changing the city. We need to tell a better story about growth – new housing and growth means new neighbours, more parks, families staying closer together, walkable neighbourhoods, and new restaurants. Community push-back still remains the biggest challenge. 

Are there factors or requirements in the development process that you think are unnecessary, or should be removed, with the goal of accelerating housing construction?
I’ve been on council for nine months now, and as a non-biased outsider, I think the development approval process is overly complex and time consuming, and I can see a variety of ways to accelerate the process. Councils need to delegate more decision making to staff, and implement policies that give staff more power to work with developers. Parking is a great example – staff should have full capacity to recommend car-light, or car-free buildings, without having to recommend they be rejected. There should be an accelerated process for community input too, such as optional CALUC (community association) meetings, or reverse-onus public hearings, which I hope will be coming to Victoria soon. 
What about planning reports, and how they impact council decisions? Is there more room for council to depart from planning recommendations, such as with the Belton Avenue proposal that council recently approved, which staff recommended not be approved?
We have incredible staff at the city, and working with them has been one of the highlights of this job. Staff’s job is to implement existing policies, so they have very little ability to step outside these parameters and recommend innovative housing or building options that don’t align with existing policy. We’ve approved a number of housing projects that staff didn’t recommend, often because they didn’t include enough parking, or didn’t hit design guidelines. Council’s goal should be to update city policies (e.g. more flexible parking changes), so staff can actually recommend good, car-lite projects, or innovative buildings.

Will car-free housing and design become a bigger theme in future years? What is council doing to achieve this vision? 
Victoria is a small city, and we need to choose if we want more people, or more cars. We simply don’t have room for both. I think many people here love that Victoria is a walkable city, with great biking networks, and people appreciate living close to small village centres. Unfortunately, our parking requirements are very outdated, and still push a car-centric design. We will be updating the parking requirements, so developers can opt to provide strong alternatives to parking, such as large bike parking amenities, transit passes, and car-share memberships. I’m optimistic that more density, based around walkable community hubs, will make Victoria a greener and more vibrant place to live in the future. 
Downtown revitalization is top-of-mind for council in this term, following challenging times stemming from COVID-19. Can you talk about some of your hopes for the downtown core as a result of council’s recent Our Downtown plan and other parallel agendas?
Downtown revitalization is one of the key goals for our current council. Collectively, we want to see a revitalized inner city that competes with some of the greatest cities in the world, built around fantastic culture, art and music, great food, and beautiful public spaces. The pandemic really took a toll on the core, especially with remote work and the homelessness crisis, but we have the ability to turn things around. We created a new $980,000 annual Downtown Revitalization Program, which will be used to spruce up old buildings, support more arts and culture, enhance cleaning, and provide more safety measures. Next is revitalizing Centennial Square, to create a world class pavilion in the city. My hope is we also keep approving housing in the core, to ensure there are more people and positive energy on the streets.

There are downtown businesses that want to leave the core, due to increased social issues, street disorder, or problems on the street. Is this still a concern, and what is the plan to address this? 
Yes, the pandemic took a major toll on the downtown core. The status quo is not acceptable, and we’re 100% committed to fixing the issues in our downtown. While some businesses have left, many new ones have decided to open-up downtown. We have new restaurants opening weekly, offices coming back downtown, new furniture stores, and more. Things are improving downtown, and I’m bullish about the future. We’re approving new buildings to replace vacant lots or run-down buildings, we’ve invested $1 million annually into revitalization efforts, we paid to have police and bylaw walking the beat, and things are rapidly improving. As Jeff Bray regularly says: downtown is clean, it’s a great place for business, and one of the best mid-size downtowns in the world.  
It is great to see that Victoria has a council heavily committed to revitalizing the downtown core, and building the housing stock. At the end of your first term on council, what do you hope will be achieved, or in other words, where do you feel the most ground work can be laid for the subsequent term starting in 2026?
I’m focused on achieving big policy changes on housing and neighbourhood design, so that after 2026, the city will still continue growing in a positive direction. We’ve already transformed city policies on housing, and are currently undertaking the 10-year official community plan review, which will be a new road-map for future growth. I’d like to see much more density in our traditional neighbourhoods, with walkable villages throughout the city. I’m also hoping to achieve three big capital projects by 2026, which all are already underway; a new Crystal Pool, new downtown public library, and a revitalized Centennial Square.
One of the biggest issues in the election was the Missing Middle Housing Policy, which many people had high hopes for, but hasn’t quite worked out as intended. What’s the plan for that policy? 
Yes, I was one of the big champions of the Missing Middle policy, as I firmly believe that we need more housing in our traditional neighbourhoods. The policy was designed with the best of intentions, but unfortunately, the previous council wanted to add every possible requirement on, and it became too much. It’s too restrictive, and I’m focused on making it much more flexible this fall when the six month check-in happens. We likely need to increase the allowable height, reduce set-backs, remove the rental requirement, and likely some other tweaks. My hope is that Missing Middle housing will be more viable to build than a single family home – then we may finally see a shift in building patterns. 
For a long time, bike lanes were the biggest theme of local political controversies. Do you still hear much about bike lanes, and will Victoria continue expanding the protected bike network?
Times have certainly changed on the bike lane narrative. While they were divisive back in 2014-2018, when people said then-Mayor Helps was crazy for building them, they are now widely accepted and loved by the general public. The bike network in Victoria is incredible, and we have plans to continue rapid expansion of the network. It’s hardly controversial any more, and I rarely get a message about them. One of the biggest changes is the e-bike revolution. In particular, seniors and young families are buying e-bikes and they love the safe bike network in Victoria. So many seniors are exploring the region on e-bike, it’s wonderful. It brings people downtown, it’s great for tourism, and it just makes people happy. 
Victoria was always known as the land of the “newly wed and nearly dead,” a place full of Colonial reminders of a former time. Is this still Victoria’s image, or are things starting to change? 
It is hard to emphasize how much Victoria is changing right now, and it’s incredibly exciting. There has been a massive influx of new residents, who are all optimistic and excited to live here, and love the expanded cultural and economic opportunities the city offers. The local economy is booming, the tech industry is growing, and our restaurant and arts scenes are thriving. We truly are becoming a global destination, and I think this presents incredible opportunities for local residents, business owners and builders. The mid-size, walkable, green, ocean-side city is a dream. We need to continue adding new housing and commercial density, especially with buildings that provide some social purpose to the community, whether that be a great pavilion, space for new businesses, or donations to community amenities. Overall, Victoria has never been better in my opinion, so I’m excited about the future. C

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 Article resources

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  • 2018
    • October, 2018: Reed Kipp of Devon Properties talks about Victoria's rental housing industry
    • November, 2018: Business Development Bank of Canada's Chris Boissevain talks about interest rates
    • December, 2018: Aryze Development's Luke Mari and Ryan Goodman talk about real-estate development
  • 2019
    • February, 2019: Phung Horwood's My Phung talks about real-estate appraisals
    • March, 2019: Luke Mills of Megson Fitzpatrick Insurance talks about the insurance industry
    • April, 2019: Greg Damant of Cascadia Architects talks about architecture in Victoria
    • May, 2019: Real-estate development with Robert Fung of The Salient Group
    • June, 2019: Rental housing industry Q&A with David Hutniak of LandlordBC
    • July 2019: Harris Green redevelopment Q&A with Mark Chemij of Starlight Investments
    • August 2019: Land remediation Q&A with Harm Gross of NEXT Environmental
    • September 2019: Business banking Q&A with Raj Wirk of Coast Capital Savings
    • October, 2019: Real-estate development Q&A with Mike Miller of Abstract Developments
    • November, 2019: Real-estate development Q&A with Byron Chard of Chard Development
    • December, 2019: Interest rate and commercial mortgage brokerage Q&A with Dave Ganong of Canada ICI Capital
  • 2020
    • January, 2020: Real-estate development costs Q&A with Doug Foord of Invictus Commercial Investment Corp.
    • February, 2020: Private lending and the mortgage industry Q&A with Len Shorkey of Shorkey Mortgage Corp.
    • March, 2020: Strata insurance premiums Q&A with Luke Mills of Megson FitzPatrick Insurance
    • April, 2020: Rental housing and COVID-19 Q&A with David Hutniak of LandlordBC
    • June, 2020: COVID-19's impact on Victoria's real-estate Q&A with Jordan Milne of GMC Projects
    • July, 2020: Multi-unit residential and commercial building fire safety services Q&A with Tim Lindsay of the Vancouver Island Fire Protection Association
    • August, 2020: Royal Beach Q&A with Georgia Desjardins of Seacliff Properties, developer of the 134-acre Colwood project
    • September, 2020: Victoria real-estate development Q&A with Sam Ganong of Curate Developments
    • October, 2020: Real-estate development Q&A with developer Dan Cox of Cox Developments
    • November, 2020: CRD affordable housing and CRD parks services Q&A with Stephen Henderson of the CRD
    • December, 2020: Real-estate values, wine and housing market Q&A with Johnathon Sipos of Cielo Properties
  • 2021
    • January, 2021: Mass timber construction, the Mayfair District and junior hockey Q&A with Edward Geric of Mike Geric Construction
    • February, 2021: Excavating industry, sewage treatment pipe and COVID economy Q&A with Trevor Mann of Don Mann Excavating
    • March, 2021: Victoria industrial sector investment opportunities Q&A with Brent Sawchyn of PC Urban Properties
    • April, 2021: Northern Junk, Capital Iron lands and Victoria real-estate development Q&A with Jon Stovell of Reliance Properties
    • May, 2021: Victoria housing delivery and affordability Q&A with Adam Cooper of Abstract Developments
    • June, 2021: Institutional investment in Victoria's rental housing market Q&A with Alex Messina of Nicola Wealth
    • October, 2021: Mortgage products, interest rates and inflation Q&A with Gagan Lalli of CMLS Financial
    • November, 2021: Future of Tillicum Centre, real-estate trends, and industry outlook with Jordan Carlson of Anthem Properties
    • December, 2021: Commercial real-estate market recap and a look to the future with Jason Kiselbach of CBRE Vancouver
  • 2022
    • February, 2022: Downtown Victoria's largest rental development, and more, with Andrew Browne of Starlight Developments
    • March, 2022: Alberta developer shifting gears to build in Victoria, with Namrita Rattan of Aquila Pacific
    • April, 2022: Post-COVID Victoria office market and development outlook, with Robert Jawl of Jawl Properties
    • May, 2022: Residential housing market and supply, with Island Realm Real Estate's Tony Zarsadias
    • June, 2022: Meeting community and municipal expectations of new housing with Chris Bradley of TLA Developments
    • July, 2022: Changing mortgage rates and the 2022 lending environment with Peter Fast of ICI Capital
    • August, 2022: Victoria's changing rental housing market with Renee St. Germaine of Devon Properties
    • September, 2022: Delivering 'missing middle' housing to Victoria's West Shore with Kyle Ryan of Formwell Homes
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    • November, 2022: Real-estate development in Greater Victoria with Denciti's David A. Fawley
    • December, 2022: Victoria real-estate market recap and 2023 insights with Jason Kiselbach and Paul Morassutti of CBRE
  • 2023
    • January, 2023: 'Parking-free' missing middle housing development in Victoria with Julian West of Urban Thrive
    • February, 2023: Victoria's 2023 market outlook and success in the real-estate industry with Ross Marshall of CBRE
    • April, 2023: Citified's Mike Kozakowski on BC's new housing policies and overcoming supply roadblocks
    • May, 2023: Royal Beach's Georgia Desjardins on the project's future homes, parks, a ferry to Victoria, and more
    • July, 2023: Victoria's housing market history and an outlook with Deane Strongitharm of CitySpaces Consulting
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