Lobbying Council

Gord Fuller: August 20, 2011

So, many of us have always thought developers have had an upper hand when it comes to lobbying council to get their agendas met.  In my opinion there is nothing wrong with this, if the opportunity is there then use it.  The reality is Neighbourhood Groups and individual Citizens also have that same opportunity, if they so choose to use it.  The sad reality is that more often than not they either don’t or wait until it is too late.  

I received the e-mail at the end of this post, the names of the innocent or not so innocent have been removed, from a friend who thought it would be nice if the neighbourhoods were aware of the context of the e-mail and call to action by the development community.  As you can see from perusing this e-mail was sent out as a result of council’s decision to put forward an amendment to the new zoning bylaw to keep maximum height in single family residential to the old standard 8.25m as opposed to the new 9m standard.  

I have forwarded the e-mail, without names, to neighbourhood representatives in hopes that they would be willing to pass it on to their lists and galvanize folk, on an equal footing to those the original was sent to, to speak out.  I have encouraged people to e-mail council and appear at the upcoming council meeting if they wish to retain the old 8.25m height restriction, speak out.   

I have also offered, as chair of the Neighbourhood Network, to take their concerns and appear as a delegation to speak to the issue.  To date I have received 6 e-mails back thanking me for the information, the Brechin Group will be meeting to discuss and, as can be seen on the agenda for the meeting, NOCA have already put forward items including this that they would like to see amended in the zoning bylaw.  August 22nd Council Agenda

 One other concern sent to me was council’s predisposition for “flip flopping” on items brought before them.  Examples being, the Westwood Lake R.V. park, the 7-11 in the South End, and also recently moving the borrowing of funds for the Water Treatment Plant to referendum and then at the next council meeting waffling and taking it to the Alternate Approval Process.

It seems too often that citizens do nothing when informed but complain openly once council has gone in a direction they do not wish.  The information on this has been sent out to Neighbourhoods and it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

The following are excerpts from the Staff Report on Monday’s agenda:

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“Staff does not support the amendments respecting reducing residential building Heights….. “  “The height issue, in particular, was debated at length by the community as part of the Zoning Bylaw review. It is acknowledged that a review of this nature usually is not inclusive of all neighbourhoods in the community, however, there were significant discussions surrounding the changes.”  

“At the Public Hearing of 2011-JUN-23, two people spoke in favour of the height increase. Since the close of the Public Hearing, residents opposed to the height increase have sent emails to Council on the topic. Since Council passed its motion directing the height change be rescinded, Staff has received numerous inquiries from the development industry questioning why the change is being rescinded. Given the process that was undertaken to develop the new height restrictions, Staff does not support the proposed change back to the height restrictions found in Zoning Bylaw 4000..”

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Admittedly there were public open houses on the new Zoning Bylaw.  This though, because of the sporadic citizen attendance usually accompanying open houses, cannot be considered debated at length.  It also has to be admitted that a couple neighbourhoods did have more contact with City Staff on the Zoning Bylaw. 

During the work to complete the bylaw the South End Community Association(SECA) did have city staff contact on a number of occasions as they were also in the process of developing their Neighbourhood Plan.  As part of SECA developing their plan I learned far more about zoning than I ever thought I would but because of the complexity of the bylaw I would in no way say I became an expert in  all its many parts.   

This said it cannot be expected that a mere citizen attending an open house is going to pick up on all the nuances of a plan.  After all even the City which developed the bylaw is proposing 19 general text and mapping revisions at Mondays Council meeting.   If those that developed the bylaw can’t catch everything then how can they expect ordinary citizens to?

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Another amendment to the bylaw of note on the agenda:

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“Rezone the property located at150 Comox Roadfrom the Comprehensive Development Three (CD3) Zone to the Parks, Recreation and Culture Three (PRC3) Zone in order to reflect the existing park use of the property and clarify that the City no longer intends to construct high density multiple family dwellings on the property.”

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This is something many of us have been waiting for as these properties were originally used to bait a developer into building a hotel for the convention centre.   

The following E-mail is developer driven and was put out to a list to galvanize the development community to try and get the following amendment squashed: 

3. Amend the maximum allowable height of the principal building within the Single Dwelling Residential (R1/R1a) Zone to ensure that the maximum allowable building height within these zones is the same as what was previously permitted within the Single Family Residential (RS-1/RS-1a)) Zone.

 

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E-mail:

Sent:Friday, August 12, 2011 11:36 AM

Subject: URGENT….. New Zoning Bylaw Height Reversal

Hello everyone,

Last Monday Aug 15th the City of Nanaimo adopted their new Zoning Bylaw 4500.
Included in the bylaw is a new 9m (29.53′) height restriction….which we’ve been fighting for years to have done. A group of us worked with city staff to come up with a 9m height and city staff fully supports this increase.

HOWEVER….seconds after being adopted, City Council immediately voted in favour to proceed with an amendement to Bylaw 4500, reducing the height restriction back to 8.25m (27.06′).

This absurd motion came as a result of one or two people who complained to council that the view from their homes would be affected by a higher height restriction.  Councillor Bill Holdom, in his motion, stated that individuals seeking a higher height can simply apply for a variance.

The Amendement is going to 1st & 2nd reading on Mon. Aug 22nd then
Public Hearing on Thurs. Sept 8th at 7:00pm at the Shaw Aud. in the Conference Center.  We must all attend to fight this and also send emails to the council.

WARNING….As a compromise, some are now asking that the new 9m height apply only to future subdivisions. I feel it would be very impractical to establish a zone for just the new lots to take advantage of a 9m height restriction. There are many areas of Nanaimo that have vacant lots and lots with very old (knock down) houses on them that would not afford the opportunity to take advantage of a higher height.

Some background….Years ago we looked at the possibility implementing an increased height restriction for new lots which resulted in the Schedule “H” area using steeper roofs.
Unfortunately, this was not effective and rarely was it possible to take advantage of the higher heights. The new bylaw (4500) has abolished this and a 9m height was implemented.

As for “views being protected”, it should not be the City’s responsibility to protect views…it should be done (and is done) by the Developers. This is the rationale other cities who defend their increase in height restriction. See the doc enclosed that lists the heights of comparable cities in BC (and NOTE: some of these cities measure to the mid-point of the roof which can easily add more than 1.2m to the heights shown).

Most existing subdivisions in Nanaimo, including many older ones have Building Schemes (by developers) with reduced height restrictions to protect view corridors. These would not be affected by a new 9m height restriction.

The height restriction in Nanaimo was 30′ (9.14m) up until 1980 when it was reduced to 27′ (8.25), where it has remained until the present. Progressively since the 1970’s, the size of houses have continued to increase. Ceiling heights have jumped from 8′ to 9′ (& higher). Also, the architectural styles of buildings have resulted in steeper roof lines. Secondary Suites have made houses bigger too. All of this has resulted in buildings that are practically impossible to keep at, or under 27′. The building industry has been crying out for an increased height restriction for years and it’s time for change.

As for the argument that individuals can apply for a height variance if their house is higher than 27’…. as we all know, this is not accurate because to get a variance the applicant must prove “hardship”. Size of the building or architectural style of a building can not be used as an argument and will not be granted a variance for height. I’m a home plan designer and been designing plans for 30 years and I’ve had many clients get rejected in this exact situation even when they weren’t in view corridor areas. Therefore the Board of Variance argument is not valid.

I strongly suggest you all look at the Doc enclosed to see how other municipalities have progressed to work with the building industry to adapt to the change in architecture that has resulted over the years.
You will notice that even a 9m (29.53′) height restriction will still be lower than most on the list. I view Kelowna as a similar city to Nanaimo with respect to size, terrain and view corridors. Kelowna has a 9.5m (31.17′) restriction which is also measured to the Midpoint of the roof. This can result in maximum roof peak heights in the area of 10.7m (35′). Kamloops is 15m (49.21′).

When the members of our industry along with City staff discussed an increased height restriction we decided on a fair height restriction of 9m, even though there were many in our industry that wanted an even higher height restriction.

Many of us in the construction industry have fought for a higher height restriction for years…always getting rejected by council who sided with the neighbourhood committees.
This must now be OUR TIME! We must band together and fight to keep the 9m (29.53′) and pressure council to reject the proposed amendment.
This could be our last chance to finally get a higher height restriction…let’s not blow it.

If you’re in favour of a 9m height restriction make your voice heard…don’t take it for granted that there will be enough support.
Also, forward this email to everyone you know to get as much support as possible.

I recommend you send emails to the Mayor & Council AND also, click on the Public Hearing link to strongly voice your support…..click on BOTH links.
We are “supporting the 9m height restriction as outlined in Bylaw4500 AND rejecting the proposed amendment to reduce the height to 8.25m”

Mayor&Council@nanaimo.ca
http://www.nanaimo.ca/PublicHearing/Default.aspx

Also, I am looking for volunteers to be part of a small delegation to attend the Mon. Aug 22nd meeting (where it will go to 1st & 2nd reading)….if you’re interested, please contact me.
NOTE: I would still like everyone to attend the public hearing on Thurs. Sept 8th.

If you have any questions or need any clarification please contact me.

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