Overzoning, Development, Risk and Planning
I believe I’m coining the term ‘over-zoning.’ At least I haven’t come across its use in the planning literature I’ve been reading. So I must define it — ‘over-zoning’ is the practice of providing for a projected population well beyond the foreseeable future. It’s a lot like planning a wedding reception for 500 people when you know only 250 are going to show up. The inevitable result is a lot of waste.Nanaimo has had a fair bit of experience with ‘over-zoning.’ It could be argued that all most all our development since the 1960s has been affected by this practice. When we expropriated large sections of land in the north end, we created a huge area ‘over-zoned’ for single unit residential. Fifty to sixty years later we still haven’t completed the development of these areas. While this process is incomplete we have recognized the folly of this type of development, and we have changed policy to encourage more density, making the infill in that area even harder.
The effects of ‘over-zoning’ are evident in almost every part of the city. Roads will stop somewhere, and begin again somewhere else. Or roads narrow, then widen, then narrow again. Sidewalks stop and start in the middle of blocks. Lately, we’ve been getting bicycle paths that start somewhere and end somewhere else for no apparent reason. Bus routes look like they were determined by someone throwing spaghetti at a map. Development happens here, then over there and in between becomes increasingly harder to fill. The city itself tends to look half-empty, rather than half-full (as a result a lot of opportunity is overlooked).
With the current and proposed zoning, developers get to develop whatever they want, whenever they want, and a critical component of urban planning is lost. We have a planning department that is geared to serving the random needs of the development industry, instead of providing the coordination, integration and intelligence necessary to make a city progress. We are getting the appearance of planning, but no real planning.
There is an irony here; ‘over-zoning’ is a way for the planning department to talk themselves out of doing the work we need them to do. The more planners advocate for this type of zoning, the harder it is to justify their employment.
Also, this means the paid officials get to do the easy stuff associated with planning such as “growth management.” The hard stuff, such as; advocating for better neighbourhood plans, better architecture and better organization of city services, is almost always done by unpaid citizens.
To further complicate the situation; planning is the only city department that is almost fully funded by fees. Very little from general revenues goes into the planning department. Developers pay their fees, and the planning department works for them. This relationship requires constant clarification. We have hired these people to protect and advocate for our interests, yet the development industry pays for their service. Increasingly, planners use this nebulous position to allow us to believe they are working for the city, when, in fact, they are only advocating for a certain developer.
Not always are the interests of developers and the community at odds, but in the case of Brechin Hill the opposition is extreme and, clearly, the planning department is working against the interests of the community to the greatest benefit to the developer. There is no balance here, there is no rational, there is no real neighbourhood plan; simply, the neighbourhood is being forced to accept a risk without compensation, because that is what a certain set of developers want.
The idea of risk is significant here. It was a term introduced to me by Frank Murray although I was well aware of the concept. Every development progresses with the assumption of risk. The risk is built into the cost of financing the project. In the case of developing in the waterfront the risks are relatively low, because we sense that demand for such property is high.
However, if a waterfront development is built in front of another property, the real effect is to transfer the risk associated with development to that other property. In effect, a portion of the cost of development is borne by the other property, which receives no benefit or compensation. This other property is subsidizing the development in front of it. Brechin Hill is in this position. The city is trying to force the whole community to provide a form of subsidy, for development to house rich people.
Often a planning policy is required to mitigate these special circumstances. A policy adopted by a lot of communities, is to require height restrictions. The closer a property is to the water the lower it must be. While this reduces the benefit of developing by the water, it means less risk is transferred to other properties.
This policy has a number of other benefits as well:
- The scale of waterside development becomes very comfortable. As the pleasure of a water side lifestyle is increased, value is added to these properties (this value tends to be retained despite the general condition of the economy).
- Waterside development becomes less capital intensive. This means the demand for financing is decreased and more developers can have access to capital. More waterfront development can be completed faster. Instead of one development over here, and another over there with it becoming increasing harder to develop in between, we get a more continuous pattern of development, with less unfinished gaps.
- Development is distributed throughout the community. Because more capital is available, it is easier to develop other parts of the neighbourhood. In the case of Brechin Hill, there would be more incentive to develop along Terminal Ave. where the risk of development would almost always be retained by the developer, and the advantages of development can be shared by the whole community. The plan, in its present form, actively discourages such development.
- More capital can be directed towards the quality of the architecture. Large scale projects in this economic environment are still constrained by the demand for capital. This means that building design tends to be given less consideration. We tend to get buildings designed more by bankers then by architects. The result is second rate and third rate architecture built in prime locations. Instead if getting buildings that retain their value, we get buildings which have a value determined by the prevailing economy or are inclined to decline in value.
If we had a real planning department, with enough skill to produce real community and neighbourhood plans, and enough professional integrity to advance the cause of this city despite the insistence of certain developers, then real progress could be made towards improving our lifestyle, managing our resources, and creating financial stability in this region.
Real planning can make a real difference. I would recommend it.
What we need are moe win-win plans and fewer win-lose plans. How do we get there?
We need a Director of Planning who has some planning vision and the ability to lead a strong planning team. We are planning by reaction rather than having firm, rational neighborhood plans in place that give developers the tools they need. Staff need to let developers know that these are the rules … And if you don’t want to play by them – then develop elsewhere! Variances to the regulations should be minor only – and you better have some good rationale for asking for a variance. Although we have an active design panel – they are trying to make silk purses out of sows ears. The plans presented to them are pretty well a fait accompli. The design guidelines are pretty generic and are easily manipulated. They are only “guidelines” after all. We need a planning department that has strong leadership and a staff that is excited and forward thinking. What we have is apathy and little vision.
Nanaimo needs a new Mayor and Council.As far as the current planning department is concerned,this is a result of the quality of past and current elected officials.If you want better staff,elect better people.
Our OCP is supposed to define our vision, but it seems to be used with as capricious and fleeting interpretation as are variance in our zoning bylaw. An example of what is coming soon to a Council meeting near you can be seen in the following Agenda for PNAC, Council’s advisory arm on planning:
planNANAIMO ADVISORY COMMITTEE
TO BE HELD TUESDAY, 2010-NOV-16 AT 5:00 PM
BOARD ROOM, CITY HALL, 455 WALLACE STREET
1. Call to Order
2. Adoption of Minutes from 2010-SEP-21
3. Approval of Agenda and Late Items
6. Information Items
a. Drinking Water Regulations
b. Previous Rezoning Applications
i. RA238 – 6000 Thyme Place (formerly 6090 Hammond Bay Road)
Rezoned from RS-1 to RM-5 to facilitate a multi-family development.
PNAC recommended approval 2010-FEB-16. Council adopted 2010-SEP-13.
c. Previous OCP Amendments
i. OCP052 – South End Neighbourhood Plan
PNAC recommended approval 2010-SEP-21. Public Hearing held 2010-NOV-04.
7. Old Business
8. New Business
a. Rezoning Applications
i. RA259 – 6553 Portsmouth Road
To allow for a mixed use commercial and multiple family residential development.
ii. RA262 – 2469 Labieux Road / 2368 Barclay Road
To allow for a 12-unit multiple family residential development.
iii. RA258 – 421 Milton Street
To allow for a 5-unit multiple family residential development.
b. OCP Amendment Applications
i. OCP058 – 421 Milton Street (in conjunction with RA258)
To allow for a 5-unit multiple family residential development.
ii. OCP064 – General Amendments (ie. Parks Mapping, Steep Slope DPA)
iii. OCP062 – 1985 Island Diesel Way
To facilitate a mixed use commercial and multiple family residential development.
iv. OCP063 – 1060 Phoenix Way
To allow for a comprehensive mixed use commercial, residential and recreational resort development.
c. Neighbourhood Plans
i. OCP053 – Newcastle + Brechin Neighbourhood Plan Update
d. Zoning Bylaw Review Update
9. Next Meeting
The next regular meeting of PNAC is scheduled for 2010-DEC-21.
Please note: The regular meeting will begin at 5:00 pm in the City Hall Board Room. This will be followed by the PNAC Christmas dinner at The Rendezvous.
Re ammendment for 1060 Pheonix way! Adjacent to the Cable Bay trail.
Island Timberlands have been courting certain members of Council over this for some time.
It’s another marina dangling carrot proposal.
There seems to have been some fall out with the Ocean View people from Calgary; fronted by Roger McKinnon.
It boils down to yet more urban sprawl..
Right on Melvin. The real downfall, however, was brought on by a previous Council when they virtually wiped out the urban containment boundary which protected us from such egregious sprawl. It is difficult to understand that development possibilities on this property which was zoned industrial and had access to the water for heavy transportation was re conceived for the asking and will now, I aver, move further along the process with no guaranteed schedule. Another case of frittering away our future possibilities in exchange for precisely nothing but a promise with no tangible backing.
Wayne: We need more that new Councillors. We need some mechanism other than simply election funding to turn our nine loose cannons into a group which has enough cohesion to present and preside over a coherent vision of the city. We have seen what happens when you take individuals who, while generally good people, have nothing but chance encounters and preconceived notions to motivate them during the course of their terms in office. We hear them on the hustings but after election, the signs and the campaign promises disappear as do the web sites and even, on most issues the debates at Council, as each individual, with occasional surprising exceptions, hide their thoughts and motivations from public scrutiny.
It is my contention that, as much as I might despise the party system, it is there for a purpose and that purpose is to get a vision implemented and things done. A party can keep the cannons firing on the walls rather than thrashing about the deck. I do not believe that electing 9 alternative loose cannons will help much.
If you want a better cabinet,send me better wood,ie:the current mayor of Surrey (and her team,which is a party system is it not?).