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Council should work with communities as partners

CITY OF VANCOUVER CITIZEN CENTRED PLANNING PROCESS

 

Bill McCreery

15 November 2015

 

Vancouver is a city of neighbourhoods. These diverse communities have a history of neighbours working together to achieve common objectives. Vancouver has become one of the world’s most admired cities in part because of its ‘livable city’ planning process. But, the process has broken, and is no longer working. Council should work with communities as partners using an updated citizen centred ‘livable city’ planning process to create thriving, sustainable, walkable neighbourhoods. All community and business stakeholders have important roles to play in making this process work.


Firstly, much greater certainty and trust must be built into the process. To accomplish this, changes in the planning and development process must address the following concerns:


A. Community Amenity Contributions (CAC’s) should be pre-set costs and be publicly available. These costs will be established on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis as the cost to the developer for providing required additional community services. The portion of these amenity costs that are to be born by future taxes will also be publicly available.


B. The site by site CD1 ‘spot rezoning’ practice employed in Downtown Districts, is currently being implemented in various neighbourhoods around the City. This is resulting in significant local community pushback. It is also contributing to high-risk speculation and does not create a stable real estate market. One of the consequences of this practice is higher land costs.

 

This ‘spot rezoning’ approach, when combined with the ‘let’s make a deal’ practice of negotiating CAC’s with developers on a project by project basis and excessive density bonusing, is not working for the neighbourhood. It results in higher new housing costs, a shortfall in required community services and out of scale intrusions into the existing community fabric.


C. These practices must stop and be replaced with a citizen centred local area planning process that provides greater certainty to the neighbourhood and to the development industry. Individual projects should be processed within the limitations of the existing or interim preapproved Neighbourhood Plan zoning by-law requirements via the Development Permit process as opposed to the more costly, longer and uncertain rezoning process. It also must be recognized that exceptional or very large projects within neighbourhoods may require special rezoning from time to time. Such projects will be processed by changing the Neigbourhood Plan in a transparent manner that includes neigbourhood input.


D. The arbitrary powers given to the Director of Planning to over-ride existing zoning regulations should be terminated. In addition, Development Permits that are approved by the Director of Planning alone will be limited to small and outright use applications. All other Development Permit Applications will be approved by the Development Permit Board.


In order to establish and maintain trust with Vancouver’s many, diverse communities it is essential that the planning process be open and crystal clear, and that the priorities and values of each community be respected and reflected in the approved neighbourhood plan. To achieve this the planning process must reflect both neighbourhood and citywide needs.


Modern technology allows for many of the technical aspects of the planning process to become accessible to citizens so that they can participate in the processes that assist in planning decision-making. In this way planning decisions are taken from the back rooms to the neighbourhood Round Table. A key result of this is that the community more directly makes its own decisions, and they have ownership of the outcome. This process will also eliminate much of the conflict and lack of trust between City Hall and neighbourhoods.
 

Building on the successful ‘City Plan’ community visioning process used by the City until recently, the following process will work best for individual neigbourhoods:


1) ‘Neighbourhood Round-Tables’ will be established that represents the community in each of Vancouver’s 23 neighbourhoods, and will work in partnership with the City. Community stakeholders and interveners will be Identified. Community Centre and Neighbourhood House boards, local area councils, churches, BIAs, and other businesses, etc. will be encouraged to participate in the Round-Table. Identify cultural and geographic sub-neighbourhoods within a neighbourhood and ensure they are included in the process.

When a new neighbourhood planning process is underway, the Round-Tables will perform the function of the City Plan “Vision Implementation Committees” as well as be an ongoing citizen centred forum for the local community to better manage and coordinate their particular affairs and liaise with the City.


2) The Planning Department in partnership with the Round Table will conduct comprehensive neighbourhood inventories of existing developed and unutilized zoned housing, retail, office, industrial and services capacities, as well as determining the existing capabilities of transportation, employment, open space, recreation amenities, and other neighbourhood ingredients.


3) The Planning Department in partnership with the Round Tables will conduct Citywide and neighbourhood discussions to establish and blend together Metro, Citywide and community values, goals, and priorities for the City as a whole and for each neigbourhood.


The importance of considerations such as neighbourhood character, heritage buildings, business viability, social goals, market, existing rental, new affordable and social housing, transit, pedestrian, cycling, parks, recreation, and cultural values will be defined.


Environmental, economic and social sustainability thresholds and rate of change objectives should be established.

 

Fair and inclusive internet based interactive technologies should be employed together with traditional outreach methods such as the City Plan Choices Survey to maximize citizen participation. Survey results will be transparent and publicly available.


4) The Planning Department, in partnership with Round Table then may develop a mutually acceptable Interim Neighbourhood Plan that may vary somewhat from the existing planning and zoning requirements in order to move toward updated, City and community goals to guide and regulate the development process while the neigbourhood planning process is being completed, but which do not limit final Neighbourhood Plan options. This interim plan is to be specific and publicly available.


5) A local area planner / facilitator / advocate will be assigned in each community. This local area planner works with the community and the Planning Department to create and evaluate various community plan alternatives with respect to building densities and heights, transportation methods, and available housing, retail, office, industrial and community builtform options that reflect the individual values and priorities unique to each neighbourhood.


6) The Planning Department will provide the community with planning data as part of the planning alternative process, including the catchment counts required for essential community retail and services, and the overall numerical analysis of growth objectives. The Planning and Engineering Departments also provides zoning, density, transportation and built-form alternatives and analysis to the community to assist them in understanding the implications of the various planning alternatives being considered.


7) The community vision will be finalized, including appropriate neighbourhood-wide and Neighbourhood Centre uses, densities, heights, character, amenities and other considerations that are consistent with the above community needs, priorities and growth allocations. Coordinate new growth and densities with transportation services. In doing so establish the positive and negative effects changes in built-form and population growth will have on the existing neighbourhood, as well as the resulting required community, business and transportation support services.


8) A final Neighbourhood Plan will be developed in partnership with the City and the Round Table, including design guidelines and zoning by-laws to guide and regulate the development process.


9) The Neighbourhood Plan becomes a mutual understanding between the community, through the Round Table, and the City. It must be adhered to in order to maintain mutual trust and respect. Local area notification for all Development Permit Applications should be required, including laneway housing, other than for outright use applications.


10) A modification process will be implemented to update and modify the plan. Changes must follow a neighbourhood based transparent process. Why and when changes may be required, and when a new plan will be necessary will be established.

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