The Value of Planning Information – “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em”

Ron Bolin: Nov. 20, 2010

The pithy quote above comes from a treatise on “honest graft” and other political insights by an early 2oth century Tammany Hall political operative by the name of George Washington Plunkitt.  The opening paragraphs of the book are as follows:

“EVERYBODY is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft – blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. – and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

Just let me explain by examples. My party’s in power in the city, and it’s goin’ to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that’s honest graft.”

This work and its insights were brought home to my attention as I attended a meeting of PNAC, the city’s Plan Nanaimo Advisory Committee last Tuesday. The latter part of the meeting dealt with the attempt by the city to bring the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the zoning bylaw into congruence. This has the potential to be a very useful exercise which can reduce this city’s constant deferral to OCP and zoning amendments and to provide citizens with a better idea of what kinds of changes may be coming to their area and to the city in future years so that, if necessary, they can take the appropriate actions.  The world changes with time and Nanaimo is no exception.  We used to have a thriving downtown and then decisions were made which brought that situation, which we have since been trying to rectify with considerable money and only middling success, to an end.  The same is true of residential neighbourhoods. They begin, they age and they are either reinvigorated or transformed.

The changes contemplated will have significant ramifications for those who find their residential areas being designated as corridors or zones in transition as most such properties will effectively be up-zoned, thus providing multifamily or commercial opportunities. Thus the property will be made more valuable and will  lead to increasing assessment value, (though this may be somewhat offset by the reduction in the rate of commercial property taxation relative to residential rates.)

The bad news is that your neighbourhood may be changed wholesale rather than, as currently happens, retail, with spot rezonings. The good news is that the increased value should accrue to the homeowners rather than to the developers who may realize considerable unearned value in the spot upzoning process.

It should also be noted that this process as it is currently progressing has not yet taken account, as best I can tell, on the situation of parcels or subdivisions which may be affected by covenants on the property. Covenants do trump rezoning and if you are concerned about whether these changes may affect you, after, that is, you have access to the maps which show the contemplated areas of change, you may wish to examine your title.

As indicated, I support the move. I think it is in the right direction, is long overdue and should eventually provide some stability in an OCP/zoning environment which currently provides very little room for peace of mind concerning future land use decisions.  What I do wish to emphasize, however, is that the rezoning maps, albeit in preliminary form at this time, need to be available to all, rather than simply a few planners at City Hall and a few business and neighbourhood representatives at PNAC. Plunkitt is undoubtedly alive and well and living in Nanaimo.  His access to confidential land use information which is not available to all should be cut short.  We should all have our opportunities. Contact our Planning Department, PNAC and our Mayor and Council to ensure transparency for all in the development of our city.  The proposed OCP/ zoning maps should be available on the city’s web site now.