new tools needed

An item in a report to the GVRD Housing Committee (April 12, 2006) reminded me of a problem described to me by our Planner and CAO a few years ago. The report lists conclusions from a dialogue in the Sustainable Region Initiative series.

“There is a major problem in the planning process; the initiative is left to developers to make proposals in which they have to invest considerably and have no certainty of succeeding. The planning process and planners have been reduced to focusing on negotiating public amenities, servicing and other contributions to the municipality as a condition of success. This is a costly and uncertain process which discourages the needed densification process.”

“We need to put the planning back into planning. Municipalities need to identify and pre-zone areas suitable for densification and then charge the appropriate development fee.”

It sounds like there is a need for the province to provide better tools for cities. Zoning should be about land-use and building form, but cities are using the zoning process to ensure development pays for community amenities or changes to the surrounding area.

Things might work better if zoning was really about zoning and there were other methods or mechanisms available to cities for acquiring public amenities. The whole process would be much more deliberate and less confusing while providing greater certainty for both the community and developer.

Using the rezoning process to obtain public amenities is a clever trick that’s become institutionalized out of necessity, but that’s not really what it’s for. Unfortunately it seems that using it for this end is compromising its real purpose — to encourage and provide direction for development — to move toward implementing the land-use principles in the OCP.

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