Urban vs. sprawl? Metro Vancouver to study infrastructure costs for housing densification

Apr 26 2023, 10:20 pm

It’s one thing to catalyze new residential density to help address Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability and supply issues. It’s another thing to ensure the density is properly served by utilities and infrastructure, particularly when the developments are located in lower-density areas.

That is why Metro Vancouver Regional District is performing a study to identify the costs of providing infrastructure and services to different forms and densities of housing.

This includes exploring the costs for roads, water, sewage, and public parks, as well as services such as policing, fire, sanitation, and recreation.

The study is being framed as a comparison between “urban” vs. “sprawl” forms of development forms in this region.

Planners with the regional district will identify the costs and revenues for different development forms, including the “hard” and “soft” municipal and regional capital and operating costs of infrastructure for different residential forms, densities, and locations of housing, and comparing it to property taxation/utility and user revenues.

“This project will provide data specific to this region that will help inform the discussion about the possible financial benefits and drawbacks of different forms of housing development within existing urban/high density (infill) areas vs. expanding housing development to new suburban/low density (greenfield) areas,” reads a Regional Planning Committee report ahead of a meeting earlier this month.

It is noted that the study will not address non-residential forms of development, make recommendations about changes in levels of municipal service, property taxes, or development-driven revenues, and compare costs and revenues by municipality. The consideration of housing supply and demand implications and the impacts of land use policies on housing costs are also outside of the study’s parameters.

The final study will be made available to municipalities and the general public, and used to build on the regional district’s Metro 2050 plan objectives, including intensifying the region’s urban centres and catalyzing more transit-oriented developments.

Earlier this year, City of Vancouver planners identified sewage capacity limitations in single-family neighbourhoods and the associated high costs for upgrades as one of the driving reasons why they are proposing gentle densification in such areas, such as multiplexes. City staff stated the cost of replacing every one-metre segment of underground pipe is between $4,000 and $10,000.

Existing studies around the world show urban density generally carries lower operating costs given the economies of scale of more users utilizing infrastructure and utilities, which maximizes use and spreads the costs to more users.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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