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 18.104.22.168 “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………………………………..
I can’t properly compare the differences between the planning process for a mall in Vancouver to mall development here. i know next to nothing about the process in Vancouver, and I know nothing about that mall. I wouldn’t know if there is a difference in style or substance.
If you say that the process in Vancouver is better, then I am willing to hold that thought until I can see the results. But, since we don’t have a real planning process here in Nanaimo, I can easily image anything is better then what we have got.
I don’t think the problem is one of style, its the problem is one of policy. The policy we have here is hidden. The policy is to operate always for the benefit of developers. We allow any building to be built at the convenience of developers. Everything else we do is to limit the backlash from the voting public.
I object to the fact that this policy is hidden. It overrides all other stated policies and it undermines public input into the planning process at precisely the point where public input is needed. The public should be able to debate the merits of the policy and make a determination as to whether or not it is acceptable.
The other objection is that we continue to produce, at great expense, fake urban plans. They look like urban plans, but they don’t actually get us anywhere. The OCP is a fake plan, the downtown plan, and all the neighbourhood plans are all phoney. They are meant to look like the planning department is doing something important for our benefit, when, in fact, they are all just shills for developers.
I do believe urban planning is a good thing. I wish we would do it.
I think urban planning professionals can make a valuable contribution to our community. I wish we had some working for us.
“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………………………………..” J. Olson
In a word, the process is ad hoc.
Dan: We do have urban planning professionals working for us, but they need vision, leadership and backing from above. They are not autonomous. Our fragmented leadership approach may play well for administration but it isn’t worth a damn for development.
The Oakridge redevelopment clearly offers an example of what genuine inclusiveness looks like. The spelling out of the fundamental interests of each of the stakeholders was entirely missing from the Port Place process and will continue to be missing in future developments. Not a single voice on Council spoke up for the neighbourhood’s or the City’s best interests when the Development Permit was issued and only Councillor Pattje offered any opposition to the height variance in the Redevelopment Permit. That the Design Advisory Panel signed off on this is a matter for further investigation.
In other cities the Planning Department — and the Design Advisory Panels — have been known to take a proactive high profile role in educating the populace and the politicians on the benefits of 21st century urbanist ideas over the exclusive focus on the short term commercial interests of landlords and developers and the hoped for increased tax revenues for the City this is expected to deliver.
Slight correction offered here for the record.
The design advisory panel did not sign off on the tower component of the project. The tower component would have to be reviewed again by the panel when the applicant is ready to present it.
The design panel has signed off on the first part of the project; which is a small building on the corner of Nicol and Esplanade and the mall remodel with the road through it.
Council signed off on the rezoning to allow for a tower with the support of the planning department.
This means that when the tower is presented to the DAP they cannot object to the building because it is too high, or in the wrong location. They can only object to things like colour, materials and other rather inconsequential things.
Also, when the tower is presented to the Plan Nanaimo Advisory Committee, they can’t object to anything significant either because it conforms to the guidelines that council has already changed to accommodate the tower.
Our one hope is that by the time the applicant is ready to present the tower for DAP approval, the panel will have the strength and courage to insist on a superior design, or continue to reject it into oblivion.
It would be good if the DAP could take on the larger role of public education, but I think in a city like this that is a very daunting task and I fear that may be asking too much of mere mortals.