Council Decides: Neighbourhoods and Development
Ron Bolin — August 8, 2010
At a public hearing on July 10, two items were of particular interest to me for different reasons. I described one of these items in a posting here on July 11: “What Price Progress”. At its Monday, August 9, Council meeting at the Shaw Auditorium starting at 7pm, Council will give their decision on these and other matters.
Since that time Council has been prevented by legislation from receiving any input from anybody on the issues which were dealt with at that public hearing and thus have had a month to consider them in the splendor of their isolation. Their decisions on Monday should, therefore, represent their true and carefully thought out concepts concerning their roles in representing us, their constituents.
The primary issue which I raised in my July 11 posting dealt with the application for a multi-family development on Hillcrest Avenue on a parcel zoned for single family residences. In the best organized presentation that I have seen at a public hearing, the local homeowner families pleaded that to allow this single lot to be rezoned for multi-family would destroy their neighbourhood. This presents a classic confrontation between the many neighbours who asked in person, by letter and by petition that the rezoning be denied and the one developer who lives elsewhere and wishes to cash in on the neighbourhood.
In “What Price Progress” I wrote of some of the issues involved which will be decided on Monday by our Council. How they deal with this issue will tell a story. In my opinion if the time is ripe for redevelopment in this area as Staff seems to think –and change does come over time to neighbourhoods as to individuals- then the only fair way of dealing with it would be to rezone the entire area so that all current owners, and not just outside block busters, get the benefit of the rezoning.
The second issue raised at the hearing which I fixed upon was not unique but happens all the time and provides a focus for its discussion. This relates to the amount of time which is given to developers and others to perform the service which, by their request for rezoning or related decisions, they purport to undertake. Decisions of this nature can add millions to the value of a developer’s holdings and, when the approved plans are carried out in a timely manner, can also be quite valuable to the municipality. But how much of our future should be gambled on such ventures?
In the case of the rezoning which has been requested to permit a high-rise development on the Port Place Mall site, the only time frame that I heard for the development of the high-rise was 15 years. Should we be mortgaging the cities future 15 or more years in advance? Shouldn’t we be providing specific time frames for our approvals which would require developers to be more circumspect about their requests and preserve for the public the freedom of an unseen future? Defined and foreseeable time frames of say, two to five years, should be associated with city grants of development rights to preserve the city’s interests as well as those of developers who whould need to use it or lose it. Developers are important and valued players in the life of any community, but we should be working with them and not for them.
“In my opinion if the time is ripe for redevelopment in this area as Staff seems to think –and change does come over time to neighbourhoods as to individuals- then the only fair way of dealing with it would be to rezone the entire area so that all current owners, and not just outside block busters, get the benefit of the rezoning.”
For now I just want to respond to this part.
Right now city planning is rewriting its zoning document to conform to the OCP. This was mandated by council about a year ago. There is a draft of the written part of the document available from the cities’ web site. As yet there are no maps.
Once this new document has been accepted by council, in effect, the whole city will be rezoned. If the process proceeds as planned, the document will be ready for approval sometime this fall.
From my initial read of the draft document I’m inclined to post a favourable review. The document is clearly written and easy to understand. The format, which is mostly a series of tables, is concise and clear. Compared to the previous zoning document, and other zoning documents that I have seen, this represents a great advance. In my view, the authors of this draft should be commended for their efforts so far.
Of course the meat of the matter has yet to be done. The maps will tell the story. No doubt the OCP maps will be used. Unfortunately, the OCP maps are very crude, and the justifications for each line drawn remain extremely week.
However, my experience with the Southend Community Plan, leave me optimistic.
The neighbourhood plan recommends several ‘tweaks’ of the OCP maps. These ‘tweaks’ allowed the community to harmonize its aspirations with the OCP. Also, it gave the OCP some much needed specificity, which will strengthen the credibility of the city document.
I’ll be watching to see if the changes recommended in the Southend Community Plan are incorporated into the new zoning maps.
Its worth noting that the same ‘tweaking’ process was part of the the Newcastle/Brechin Hill neighbourhood plan. Judging from the last report released by the city, that effort has being derailed and all but abandoned.
The city would do well to listen to the neighbourhoods on this matter, but I see little light at the end of that tunnel. Those neighbourhoods need, right now, our attention and support. The draft document for the Newcastle/Brechin Hill neighbourhood plan is been written right now.
The input of the neighbourhoods would go a long way towards improving the OCP, fine tune the new zoning regulations, and securing the future of the city as a whole. Matters this important deserve our full attention.
It was a pleasure last night to see all Council members present (Holdom, Kipp and Sherry were absent) reject the Hillcrest rezoning. I too see much to like in the new zoning bylaw and hope that it can live up to expectations.
The problem with cases like Hillcrest lies in spot rezoning, i.e. changing the zoning for a single lot in an area. In extreme examples this is called “block busting” and can lower values in a neighbourhood, thus opening it up to scooping up properties cheaply as locals run from the unwanted invasion. There is money to be made in block busting and it is prohibited in some places.
While I do not wish to suggest that the Hillcrest case was an example of block busting, intent does not matter to those involved. For them it is simply a case of taking value from some and giving it to others whether that value is real or perceived. It is said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The Hillcrest folks were vigilant. We too should beware of spot rezonings.
Hopefully the concordance of the OCP and the zoning bylaw will relieve this problem for some time.
Before responding I did a little research and asked knowledgabe people a few questions. It is my understanding that Provincal legislation and consequently municipal empowerment does not permit or provide the ability for a municipalitiy to put any kind of ‘sunset’ clause on a zoning approval. They either approve or don’t. I am not suggesting this is right or not right, just that it exists that way.
With respect to derived benefit, the benefit to the municipality (i.e Port Place rezoning) is more immediate. I am advised by persons more in the know than I that the property assessment for Port Place will reflect the value added for the rezoning in the 2011 assessment irrespective of what is built at that time. The new higher assessment will generate more tax revenue for 2011 and beyond but, you are right, the total benefit is not seen until the buildings are built, assessed and become tax paying properties themselves.
Wally: I have heard the story about the inability to “sunset” zoning approvals, but no one has given me Chapter and Verse from the LGO or CC. Certainly Building Permits are sunsetted. Do you have the citations?
And of course what is upzoned can also be downzoned. I have tried for some time to get a rule of thumb about the changes to assessment as a result of upzoning alone, but have thus far had no success. It would be useful to have such figures.
In any event, I do not think that it is good public policy to mortgage the future on speculation alone.
Have not talked to a municipal lawyer therefore do not have the verse etc. That is way I said I have additinal info but not fully sustantiated. I am going to continue research on this one as I am very interested to know.
The Community Chapter empowers the municipalities and the court interpretation as I understand it is unless the Charter says you CAN do it, you cannot. Where it is silent, that helps no one figure it out. Of course zoning can be up zoning or down zoning so there could be a net gain or a net loss. My experience is where a person wants development they want to up zone. Where a person wants to try and reduce taxes they try to downzone. THat is not in any way suggesting their only motive is to reduce taxes,. It well could be preservation.
I will be interested to hear what you learn about the interpretation of actions unspecified in legislation. The interpretation that what is unspecified is permitted is a hallmark of democracy. The other way around, where one can only do what is specifically permitted, is a definition of totalitarianism.
With regard to up and down zoning as actions in themselves, no one would upzone until they are ready to use the new zoning unless one of two situations is in place: either the cost in taxes of the upzoning is so low that it makes no real financial difference,or; one worries that a later Council might not be as amenable to the upzone so take the opportunity when it presents itself.
The same case holds for downzoning, i.e. one would save so little that it is not cost effective, or; it might not be feasible at a later time.
I, too, like the draft zoning bylaw – and the mapping will definitely be an interesting process to watch. The new OCP gives much greater development opportunities within the ‘Corridor’ designation – do they intend on bestowing a ‘Corridor’ zone to each of those properties?
With regard to the Neighbourhood plans – please, please City staff – get moving on the plans and get them incorporated into the OCP. We are already 2 years into this new, shiny OCP – it would be nice to see some good direction before we need to rewrite the damned thing! Neighbourhood plans not only give clear direction to Council and developers – it should be a document the residents can depend on. That way they know what’s coming down the pipe – and they can plan for it!
In the meantime we continue with the “block busting” form of spot rezonings which ignore or nullify any benefits which the OCP might bring. A Public Hearing this Thursday, Sept. 2, will continue this malignant process. See the thread on the Pittance received from developers for a case study.