Nanaimo’s New Clothes: But do they fit?

Ron Bolin: June 24, 2011

The Public Hearing on Thursday, June 23, represented the final chance for public input before the new Zoning Bylaw goes to Council for third reading.  For such a momentous event –in an opening statement the Planning Department noted that this bylaw would change the circumstances of virtually every lot in the city in some way- the crowd was both relatively small (the auditorium was less than half full) and generally subdued.  It came to me during the hearing that this was because the document is so all encompassing and so full of unidentified specifics that no one, including Council or indeed the very staff that had worked on it seemed to have a complete grasp on all its details.  Changes to one major downtown site were apparently overlooked in the process and one can expect that this is not the only case.  This instance was only caught because the agent of the property looked closely at the changes.  How many other such problems will be found among our tens of thousands of land parcels during the implementation if the new bylaw is passed?

Good intentions often run a cropper in the details and this bylaw, in one grand chunk, is beyond the capability of anyone to simultaneously comprehend at the detail level.  Perhaps next time it would be wise to break such documents as the OCP and the Zoning Bylaw into smaller pieces which can be digested and then put together into a grand scheme.  The all-at-once task is too daunting.  That being said, the intentions of the bylaw are good ones.  It is the details that need further examination.

A couple of speakers raised the issue of property covenants and land contracts which may make the bylaw moot in many of the newer areas of the city.  No response was given to these issues thus leaving the question of which areas of the city will actually be subject to the changes and which will not, in limbo.  Also raised was an example whereby conditions in the new bylaw would permit a subdivision to take place without recourse to Council, even though Council had only recently rejected it.  The number of cases which will be removed from the oversight of citizens through their Council and transferred to Staff was unsaid.

Perhaps the greatest number of speakers as well as the most time was taken by speakers concerned with urban food gardens, a topic which can be understood by all.  The city seems to feel that it has finessed the question by indicating that there is no limit on the area of a parcel that can be used for food production.  The area used for growing food for sale, however, is to be limited to 600 square meters.  While this policy seems to be enlightened in view of the current municipal environment, I would venture to add that it not practically enforceable: who can prove that the food being sold is from the 601st square meter rather than the 600th?  Further, I cannot help but ask who granted any agency the power to limit the ability of a man or a woman to grow food on, and distribute food from, their own property if the operation is free of accompanying offenses.  Has our hubris grown so great that we can now put limits on basic human rights?

The meeting ended, as did the world in T.S. Eliot’s poem, not with a bang, but a whimper.