Donations, influence, growth and taxes dominate Port Moody council debate

Topics ranged from the global climate to the traffic on Murray Street as 13 candidates jousted for six seats on Port Moody council.

Growth, housing and taxes

Challenger Kyla Knowles emphasized the need to: “get Port Moody’s finances back on track without further raising your taxes or cutting basic city services.”

Rather than a wall of towers, Port Moody should pursue “smart development,” Knowles told the Inlet Theatre crowd.

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“[Smart development] should preserve our heritage, minimize traffic and impacts to the environment and ensure that any development comes with robust funding for our arts communities, greenspace, and upgraded city amenities.”

The city should look at development proposals that have gotten stuck in the pipeline, according to challenger Richard Biedka.

“I think there’s projects and ideas coming to the City of Port Moody but your current council has done nothing to move those forward.”

The city needs to provide a greater range of housing, according to Biedka.

“Definitely, we need to build more, and we need to build more different forms of housing so that people have choices.”

Samantha Agtarap also focused on streamlining the application process.

“We do need to move things forward efficiently and in a way that we aren’t stalling projects like Coronation Park,” Agtarap said.

Port Moody should pursue “thoughtful densification,” according to Dustin Chelen.

“No one wants ugly skyscrapers like you’re seeing in Lougheed or Brentwood,” Chelen said. “We need buildings that fit in with our natural environment, not that stand out.”

Buildings should be designed to maintain Port Moody’s “sense of small community,” he said.

The city should grow and that growth should come with expanded parks and an influx of jobs, according to Callan Morrison.

“Our council needs a plan for our children and our seniors to have places to live in Port Moody,” he said.

Both challenger Haven Lurbiecki and incumbent Hunter Madsen reminded the crowd of the cost of added density.

“How are we going to handle this growth? Our roads, our parks, our city services, and how are we going to pay for it?” Lurbiecki asked.

The city should focus on affordable housing, not luxury condos, Lurbiecki said.

Madsen reiterated his previous concerns about what he called: “the development community’s plans to turn our downtown into a jam-packed mini-Yaletown.”

Touting her previous work in housing, Dawn Slykhuis said she was well-equipped to advocate on behalf of Port Moody to senior levels of government. However, the final decision would rest with Port Moody, she added.

“The province does not get to dictate what is best for our community, the community members do.”

While making development decisions, it’s imperative that council considers impacts on both health and the environment, according to incumbent Amy Lubik.

“I wanted to bring that health and equity lens to our decision-making,” Lubik said. “As Port Moody grows, development can be done well or it can be done poorly and that’s up to us.”

Growth and taxes

Discussing concerns about an increasing tax burden being left to homeowners, Johann Contreras noted the advantages of growth.

“It is important to make sure that there are enough of us to pass around the burden,” he said. “The more people here, realistically, arguably, the less taxes we may pay.”

Discussing the same issue, incumbent Diana Dilworth talked about the city’s options as well as its limitations.

“The city cannot build space for economic development. What we can do is develop policies and programs and support so incoming businesses and current businesses can flourish,” she said.

Dilworth noted that she’d pushed for the hiring of an economic development manager at city hall in order to better support local businesses. The city would also benefit from crafting a long-term tourism plan and promoting activities in which businesses can better establish themselves, Dilworth said.

“The first thing we need to do to attract more businesses is to ensure that everyone knows we’re open for business.”

Later in the evening, during a discussion on what should be done with the vacant firehall site, Dilworth underscored the need to work with partners to pay for amenities like new libraries.

“If we want to support amenities and we want to support affordable housing we have to work in partnership with other levels of government, with builders, with non-profit organizations that provide housing.”

Park space and parking spaces

Port Moody has an opportunity to expand Rocky Point Park – but it will likely mean approving a development in the area, said former councillor Barbara Junker.

“We are going to have to work with developers to be able to expand that, and that is going to mean that we are going to have to accept some density in that area,” she said.

Over the long-term, the city can expand Rocky Point Park by buying nearby properties as they become available, Lubik said.

“We really need to expand our parks and our green space, not only for people’s use but also for habitat expansion and protection,” Lubik said, highlighting the importance of cooling tree canopy and rainwater retention.

As the conversation shifted to traffic problems, David Stuart pointed to Coquitlam’s large-scale development plans near the municipal border.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know that there’s a [traffic] solution out there. We are a conduit,” he said.

Stuart added that there may be consequences to approving developments with ample parking.

“If we just keep adding parking spaces we’re going to add cars and it isn’t going to get better – I’m going to be really honest with you – it’s going to get worse,” Stuart said.

It’s crucial that the city concentrate housing around transit while guarding against urban sprawl, said Junker.

“We’re going to have to look for a regional solution on this,” she said. “We can’t make our roads bigger.”

Depending on what neighbourhood you live in, going without a car can be a challenge, noted candidate Dawn Slykhuis.

“We do not have a grocery store in Moody Centre,” Slykhuis said. “We need to look at what amenities are within walking distance.”

However, adding new bike lanes – particularly if it results in fewer parking spaces – can be very challenging, Stuart said.

“Active transportation is very expensive, it’s very difficult to achieve, particularly where you have limited road space,” he said.

The city can foster active transportation by helping create “vibrant business hubs,” Morrison told the crowd.

“Creating vibrant hubs that have all the essentials and amenities that we need close to our homes . . . where we can use active transportation options is a great solution.”

On the subject of supporting small businesses, Agtarap noted her past work running and promoting small businesses.

“Local doesn’t mean walking across the street to Starbucks,” she said.

Campaign donations

The evening featured a spirited discussion on the issue of campaign contributions, with Madsen voicing concerns about the “undue influence” of donations from developers.

“Donations are allowed,” Morrison responded. “They are allowed as long as they are from people, not from corporations, not from unions, not from other special interest groups.”

Morrison added that – while no donations were being made – some candidates could be swayed by support from special interest groups.

Morrison asked Madsen about his voting record.

“It seems like you’ve been against pretty much all development growth within this community . . . and even voting down things like affordable housing,” he said.

“That’s a preposterous mischaracterization of my record,” Madsen responded. “I’ve actually OK’d thousands of housing units.”
Madsen asked Morrison about his campaign donors, specifically inquiring if any of his supporters had “land development interests.”

“I have accepted every donation that has come into my campaign and I haven’t looked into the background of every person,” Morrison replied, adding that he’d taken donations from a range of residents who supported his vision.

The Sept. 28 debate was organized by the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

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