Size Doesn’t Matter But Style Does

Blog reader J.Olson contributed this comment to Dan Appell’s post Draft: Newcastle + Brechin Neighbourhood Plan. Posted here for further discussion.

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 “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………………………………..