eMail Exchange with Planner Tucker re: Sept 14 eMail
Frank Murphy — September 17, 2010
The first of the emails is my response to Andrew’s email. You may want to read his reply to my September 14 email first which appears second in the thread…
Subject: Vancouver’s Oakridge redevelopment
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2010 12:39:51 -0700
From: Frank Murphy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Andrew Tucker <Andrew.Tucker@nanaimo.ca>
CC: Mayor&Council <Mayor&Council@nanaimo.ca>, Ted Swabey <Ted.Swabey@nanaimo.ca>, Al Kenning <Alastair.Kenning@nanaimo.ca>
Andrew — As on numerous occasions in the past you’ve responded to my questions promptly and in detail and it’s appreciated.
I anticipated that you would quite rightly point out that there is a dramatic difference in scale between the proposed Oakridge redevelopment and that of Nanaimo’s Port Place. I doubt you’d disagree though that the scale doesn’t preclude the application of the principles of inclusion involving the concerns and aspirations of each of the 3 stakeholder groups.
You have understandably addressed my concerns by recounting official policy and offer the point that these policies were developed with a certain amount of public input. If I understand correctly, I am to accept that this fulfills Council’s and the Planning Department’s responsibility to to engage in an inclusive and collaborative process on individual redevelopment applications to obtain the best possible outcome for all stakeholder groups.
In a nutshell, here’s the reasons I have been given by yourself and your department to my concerns in regards to how the Port Place redevelopment proposal unfolded.
1. We didn’t seek further public input from stakeholders such as the immediately adjacent neighbourhood associations because we were under no legal obligation to so.
2. It’s difficult
and now 3. We’re guided by policies which originally had some public input.
Governed by the same provincial legislation the City of Vancouver initiated a proactively inclusive process which offers a model for future development proposals which will find their way to your department. The model in place that guided the Port Place plan will result in mediocrity and will not meet the needs of all stakeholders.
Any reasonable, objective review of the list of Downtown Plan guiding principles would conclude that with the exception of an arguably improved linkage between downtown and the waterfront, it fails to make any progress on the other 5. I include reluctantly even the additional housing stock proposed. I know Council was understandably swayed by the promise of increased housing on this site but the harsh reality is that we have established that simply building it isn’t enough. Many existing residential units sit unsold and several projects have been abandoned. Do we really believe that First Capital will build housing for which there is no market? I wouldn’t. While creating market demand for housing isn’t a core responsibility of the Planning Department, this harsh reality has to be stared down before we can realistically expect an increased residential population downtown. It will take innovative economic development, affordable efficient transit, cultural amenities, etc. There is no progress made on these goals contained in First Capital’s Port Place plans.
I offer this scenario even as just a talking point: if it was determined that the City required an access road between Terminal and Front aligned to where the Gabriola Ferry currently docks, an expropriation process should have been initiated. The whole landscape of this project suddenly changes. Add to that the prospect that the City is considering replacing what’s now the Annex facility on Wallace Street. First Capital enters into negotiations with a partner and the project is the subject of a design competition. Top architects from anywhere in the world are invited to develop innovative creative solutions to this key inner city site. They are of course bound by the fundamental requirements of each of the stakeholders high on the list being the contractual obligations to the much valued anchor tenants already in place. Other major players may or may not be in a position to participate: the Snuneymuxw, the Port Authority… Coastal Community Credit Union, VIU…
You would also be aware of the approach to city core redevelopment taken by Surrey BC: http://www.townshift.com/competition/context.php
It’s not lost on me that this lands squarely in the “easy for me to say” category, but that’s also why I think it’s important to say it. Where we have no disagreement is that we want the best for our great little city. Thanks again for engaging in this conversation.
On 15/09/2010 10:58 AM, Andrew Tucker wrote:
Thank you for your recent email regarding the Oakridge Centre Policy Statement that was approved by Vancouver City Council in March of 2007. Oakridge is the largest shopping centre in Vancouver (687,000 sq ft of retail, 195,000 sq ft of office and 921,000 sq ft of residential) and serves the entire city south of False Creek. The proposed expansion was to add 330,000 sq ft of retail, 200,000 sq ft of office and 1,200,000 sq ft of residential). Approximately 12,700 people live within a 10 to 15 minute walk of the then proposed Canada Line station. At that time, the City was looking to develop the Canada Line station, acquire a 1.1 acre parcel for non-market seniors housing and a 2.8 acre parcel of parkland on the 28 acre site. Obviously, the proposed development would change the face of this part of Vancouver and is of a scale not found in Nanaimo.
By way of comparison, the existing Port Place Mall is 117,000 sq ft on a 10 acre site. The proposed redevelopment (Phases 1 & 2) will result in a total of 125,000 sq ft of retail, 18,000 sq ft of office and 94,000 sq ft of residential (61 units) not including the high rise component.
In Nanaimo, we have made extensive efforts to engage city residents in the planning of Downtown. There was an extensive public consultation program in the development of our Downtown Plan (2002) which recognizes the Harbour Park (Port Place) site as a distinct precinct and allowed for high rise development. Action 1 under that precinct is to “encourage the owners of the Harbour Park to develop their lands for a major retail centre with an integrated high density residential community”. The Plan contains six guiding principles:
1. Encourage living downtown. Increase residential development making downtown a place for seniors, singles and families, living throughout the downtown within safe healthy neighbourhoods where residents feel a strong sense of community.
2. Improve and stabilize the downtown economy by generating new and expanding businesses. A stronger development climate and an ever increasing population base will attract more business and investment to the downtown.
3. Integrate and coordinate arts, culture and entertainment facilities and programs. Arts and culture are important to the quality of life in Nanaimo and are particularly appropriate located downtown where they are readily accessible to everyone, contribute to the attractiveness and livability of downtown and contribute to its economic stability.
4. Provide better linkages within downtown and the waterfront emphasizing orientation to the waterfront with enhanced accessibility and pedestrian and cyclist pathways.
5. Conserve and enhance the scale and historic character of Commercial Street.
6. Provide convenient public transportation by improving and increasing transit use between downtown and other parts of the Island and the Lower Mainland and making it a more convenient and practical means to and from the downtown.
I would suggest that these principles are similar to those found in the Oakridge document. Following the Downtown Plan the City prepared the Downtown Zoning Bylaw (2005) which created the Harbour Park C-29 Zone specifically for what is now the Port Place site and the Downtown Design Guidelines(2008). All three of these policy documents involved extensive public consultation between landowners, residents, the Downtown Nanaimo Partnership and the City over the eight years that it took to develop them. The Development Permit that Council recently considered is not a public process but is required to reflect the principles and guidelines already established through the policy documents and processes noted above. Again, I would argue that the Port Place Development Permit meets the intent of the Downtown Plan and the related policy documents that were developed through public process.
I hope this clarifies the link between policy development and the administrative review of Development Permit applications. Thank you for your continued interest in the City’s efforts to revitalize downtown.
Director of Planning
City of Nanaimo
Size doesn’t matter but style does. The comparison between the two projects as offered is irrelevant. Both projects are mall redevelopments, both are mixed use projects, both have vehicle access through the development site. The planning frameworks for these projects are however quite different and this is where style does matter.
There are several points to be made in the case of Oakridge Mall;
• All major projects in Vancouver are required to provide 20% non-market housing and to provide park space at a rate of 2.75 acres per 1000 population. These obligations are non-negotiable.
• The Oakridge Policy Statement does not confer development rights or height allowances, these rights will be the subject of a future project based public re-zoning process, followed by a Development Permit process.
• The City will require a road dedication as a condition of re-zoning and this also is not negotiable.
• The Oakridge Policy Statement is the result of a very public process. It is a design process characterized by negotiations between the proponent’s urban design team and the Cities’ own staff urban designers. (Urban Designers are trained both in architecture, planning and increasingly in sustainable development principles and strategies.)
• The public process for Oakridge Mall required the presentation of a 1:500 scale physical model that included the surrounding context of the project. Slick video presentations were not allowed.
• It is made very clear through this design and consultation process exactly what is being proposed and what a citizen can ultimately expect to see built.
Port Place Mall is a very different story;
• The Downtown Plan 2002 articulates 6 guiding principles for the downtown. Unlike the Oakridge Policy Statement which deals with a single project the Downtown Plan 2002 is not specific to Port Place Mall.
• The Downtown Plan 2002 creates Character area 10, Harbourpark and denotes the area as a high rise zone, and further defines high rise as 6 stories or more. I seriously doubt that any citizen would realize that this means just about any height you like, regardless of the so called extensive public consultation.
• The Downtown Zoning Bylaw 2005 is 273 pages long and it contains a single line in section 22.214.171.124 “for those properties with a sub-designation ‘h’, the height of a building shall not exceed 87 metres (285 feet)”. Again I suggest that this is hardly an appropriate public consultation process.
• City Council conferred the “h” designation on its own “hotel site” without consultation.
• The recent Port Place Mall rezoning application is the most recent site to receive the “h” designation a few weeks after public presentation of First Capital’s proposal. Again hardly a consultation process.
• The Downtown Design Guidelines 2008 illustrate 6 stories of development at Port Place Mall. It is difficult to see how this document could possibly inform the citizen of what to expect in terms of high-rise development. It is more of a ruse than anything else.
• The proposed road through the site is not a dedicated road at all but rather a parking lot masquerading as a public street and a poor imitation of one at that. Neither the City nor the citizen has any public right to use this so called road.
• The City of Nanaimo failed to negotiate any significant public benefits in exchange for the right to permanently shadow public space and park space while at the same time permitting the demolition of existing indoor public space of cultural and historical value. (Yes, it’s privately owned but it is public in nature and function.)
The essential problem with the planning process in Nanaimo is that it is not design based, it is not project based, and it is not meaningfully consultative even if it took 8 years to establish a few lines of public policy. There are no urban designers, landscape architects, or architects on staff at the City of Nanaimo. There is no one prepared to protect the public realm at city hall and that is the difference in style………………………………..
And there is no long range planner, despite offering re-zonings to projects which are far in the future. Because we have been used to providing subsidies to downtown, nobody wants to spend their own money without them -and I don’t blame them. Our “yes massa, no massa, three bags full massa” approach to planning does not inspire confidence in any predictable vision which might protect the longer term viability of any costly project. We present ourselves as losers, and sure enough …..
A lot of energy is being consumed sparring with a planner on a design concept that will not be changed.Andrew Tucker is a mere pawn in the process and takes his marching orders from Al Kenning and Ted Swabey.To change the direction of this City it is necessary that the fosssilized Council members be replaced,including visionless Mayor John ( “it’s so difficult”)Ruttan.The elected should be providing leadership and direction rather than being led around by their noses,as they now are,by staff and C.U.P.E.
I agree with you Wayne. I believe that the voters really missed the boat last election by not keeping Korpan and replacing the rest of council. Instead they just replaced the Mayor. Unfortunately we need a better Mayor than John Ruttan before we replace council unless we go whole hog and just replace everyone!
Of course, if the majority of council vote for any increase in Taxes this year, not a single one of them will get my vote.
Wayne, nice to hear from you. I do understand the frustration but I think the discussion is important. If we understand the working of the process we can be better prepared to mount more effective opposition to it in future. The comparison to the Oakridge project illustrates that the process in place is very faulty and when it’s applied to the Assembly Wharf lands and a multiplex and high rise proposals on Stewart Avenue and in Maffeo Sutton Park, it will result in the same faulty results.
It’s a bit of a shock to realize that the Mayor and his Council for the most part don’t understand how the process works or what constitutes best practices elsewhere. The better we understand it the better we can understand what talent and skills are needed at the Council table.
Which leads to the question: why aren’t people with the skills and tools required interested in running for municipal councils? The accountants, the architects, the successful business executives, the lawyers (!) etc.
A pediatric surgeon with an MBA announced last week that she’d seek the Conservative nomination in an Ontario riding and a letter-to-the-editor wit wrote that what a failure our education system must be that it produced someone who would do such a thing!
Council is led around by the nose because they are amateurs (this is not necessarily bad), and on top of it they have no time to do the kinds of research and debate that is required by complex situations. Thus the professional Staff almost always win as they are paid to do their homework and the recommendations they make, while helpful, will never be at odds with their own well being. To challenge ideas or change the direction of an organization requires time and effort and the way the game is played, Council finds itself with neither.
While political parties are not an ideal (they may be the worst except for all the other options), they can organize the kinds of backing in time and experience which can give Councillors, and thus the voters who they represent, at least a chance in developing the policies and procedures which can bring out the best in a talented and professional staff as well as the best for the whole city.
This town has many retired accountants, lawyers, designers, planners, transportation experts, engineers, etc. who can provide expert advice to Council if it were organized rather than trying to call out over a cacophony of individuals. In fact the city, through Commissions, Advisory Committees, etc. do just this, often very well, but they do tend to be seen as tools of the administration.
City staff are organized. They pay 12 full time professionals just to take care of staff. It is no wonder that a Council made up of 9 people who are not professionals is overwhelmed if they have no solid backing elsewhere other than the companies or unions who pay their election bills and the good hearts who always live in hope of the coming of heroes. This town has more to offer than is presently on view. How can we improve? Got a better idea? Please put it out for discussion.