July 9 PLUC Summary & Observations

It was a big agenda for the planning and land use committee this Thursday but they worked through it (video here). I must say its been interesting watching Mayor Helps evolve in her role as chair, this morning in particular, I quite appreciated how she kept requiring the Corporate Officer (Mr. Woodland) and other members of Council to read out motions and amended motions as they came on the table. Their doing so made the whole thing much easier to follow.

Says the person who is heads down tweeting the whole time!

So what happened this morning?

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Statue Donation and Site Approval

This was a late addition to the agenda and the staff report only turned up this morning so I doubt that anyone other than Councillor Thornton-Joe (as the Chinese community rep & member) really knew much about it. This was further illustrated in how staff did not have the to scale drawing of the proposed statue that Councillor Thornton-Joe passed around the table.

All told, it took them 25 minutes to work through an item that Mayor Helps had tried to place on the consent agenda. The motion that ended up getting passed was that Council:

1. Accept donation of the statue and base and approve installation in Capital Regional District Square.

2. Accept the recommendation of the Art in Public Places Committee to reduce the height of the base as much as practicable and review of the interpretative text by a historian.

3. Direct staff to work with The Sun Yat-Sen Foundation for Peace and Education and local organizing committee to install and unveil the statue.

Councillor Isitt as Councillor Isitt does then suggested that the CRD square (e.g., the awkward area outside of Starbucks on the corner of Government and Fisgard) be renamed Dr. Sun Yat-Sen square. Everyone seemed to agree that doing so might be a good idea, but that today was not the time. All in all, the best part of the round about discussion this morning was when Councillor Loveday inquired about the status of the Council policy for consideration of statue and memorial requests, that has been under development for a long time now.

He was told that staff are still working on it.

Density Bonus Policy Report

The consultant from the company (Coriolis Consulting Corporation ) who wrote the draft City of Victoria Density Bonus Policy Study started this item off with a ppt presentation (here) and the man obviously knew his stuff. So much so that a number of Councillors tried to ask him questions afterwards on issues of city process that obviously are far out of his private industry domain.

Of note is that the same company prepared the 2010 report entitled Proposed Density Bonus System for Victoria’s Downtown Core Area Plan. Mind you, it wasn’t really talked about this morning, but presumably previously endorsed by Council. In fact, the pathway as I understand it is that this 2010 report was probably seen as a mechanism for encouraging more development downtown.

But I don’t know?

This would have then filtered into the relevant Density Bonus policy provisions of the Plan Administration Chapter (19) of the 2012 Official Community Plan which provides for the following:

DENSITY BONUS

19.7  Consider and strategically use the statutory authority for density bonus provision in exchange for one or more of the following conditions:

19.7.1  Provision of an amenity;

19.7.2  Conservation of an amenity; and,

19.7.3  Provision of affordable and special needs housing;

19.8  Voluntary amenities and other commitments secured through rezoning applications must be established through a covenant right-of-way, security or other agreement and should accomplish the following, subject only to extraordinary conditions or circumstances:

19.8.1  advance the goals and objectives of this plan;

19.8.2  Provide amenities that are identified as desired in a local area plan, or that have a public benefit for the broader community; and,

19.8.3  Provide for maintenance in perpetuity, where applicable, such that any public costs are minimized or eliminated.

19.9  Consider the creation of a density bonus system as a component of local area plans, that is fair and transparent, and that does not interfere with the purposes for the density bonus system in the urban Core [See also Section 6 – land Management and Development and Section 20 – Local Area Planning].

I’m assuming this was then operationalized in the approved amendments to the Density Bonus provisions of the Downtown Core Area Plan in early 2013  which were all presumably encapsulated within the DCAP Density Framework chapter.

But what does this all mean?

Just that current process at the City is to consider Density provisions at sites within the downtown in accordance with development heights and densities as outlined in the Official Community plan and not the existing site zone. This was illustrated back on May 14th when Council approved rezoning the property at 960-62 Yates Street to allow for an 18 storey residential building in place of the then existing 1.5 storey retail space.

If you check out my summary of that meeting, you’ll find the Public Hearing recap at the top where neighbours expressed concern with the drastic height increase and my questions on such process at the bottom of my post from that meeting.

Related to this, Councillor Isitt asked a series of questions during this meeting about the differential impact of calculating a community amenity contribution based on either OCP values or zoning values (which are typically much lower) and the response from the consultant was that it doesn’t matter how you go about it because in the end, you can only require amenity contributions to a finite point.

Otherwise redevelopment projects become infeasible.

This was something the consultant explained in some detail when he talked about how

All staff really said was that a fixed rate system was explored to provide the development community with fair & standard expectations for price and process of development. Before such a fixed rate system can be explored however, staff recommended that Council allow them to take a more fulsome review of the landscape now that the new (since 2013) commitments to things like affordable housing and inclusionary zoning and what not have been made. Their recommendation was that(see the 8 page report):

  1. Receive the City of Victoria Density Bonus Policy Study, March 2015 for information;
  2. Direct staff to consider the appropriate community amenity contribution approach based on the following:
    1. The amount of development growth envisioned within the Official Community Plan;
    2. The findings of the Density Bonus Policy Study respecting the limited contributions predicted to be available;
    3. Housing affordability objectives within the Strategic Plan, 2015-2018 (see objectives #6 & 7); and
    4. Actions arising out of the Mayor’s Housing Affordability Task Force related to developer contributions to affordable housing (e.g. inclusionary zoning or similar mechanism); and
  3. That staff report back to Council in the fall of 2015 with a proposed approach to community amenity contributions including proposed public engagement.

Using the map shown below which neatly displays 4 possible types of redevelopment across the City the consultant spoke of in-depth analyses completed by his team to determine the financial viability of projects up to density maximums anticipated by the OCP:

Map of OCP Density

Apparently 26 sites were looked at across the 4 development  regions identified in  the City and the first step was to estimate value of land under current land use and density. From there, they then looked at how much the developer could pay for the site up to the bonus density identified in the OCP but in absence of a Community Amenity Contribution (CAC). This is necessary to do because Council always has to be careful to not restrict land supply.

These were all themes that were explored in the provincial guidelines (available here) that are cited in pages 7-9 of the report with an emphasis on the need to be consistent, transparent and strategic in collection and requirements of community amenities.

In just my 6 months observing Council I’ve seen none of this.

Where traditional practice has the city negotiating rezoning on a site-by-site basis and requiring that developers pay into the Heritage Buildings Seismic Upgrade Fund and Downtown Core Area Public Realm Improvement Fund, Council has recently been pushing for contributions to the Housing Reserve Fund instead.

In general the consultants were recommending that the City establish a fixed rate Bonus Density system for outside of the downtown core for what are considered simple rezonings, while a site-by-site approach can continue to be used for large scale rezonings due to a difficulty in being able to predict City costs for servicing and community impact – which is to say, when larger Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) are required.

I have observed the city on multiple occasions make various last minute changes to established requirements.

Council Discussion on Bonus Density

Isitt seems to have the most practical interest in promoting a standardized system for Council consideration:

It was because of his efforts that a tandem requirement to assess City Development Cost Charges (which haven’t been updated since 2004) be reviewed at the same time that establishment of a set bonus density system is explored. All told, the final recommendation that was passed and then endorsed by Council later that day was that Council:

 1. Receive the City of Victoria Density Bonus Policy Study, March 2015, for information.

2. Direct staff to consider the appropriate community amenity contribution approach based on the following:

a. The amount of development growth envisioned within the Official Community Plan.

b. The findings of the Density Bonus Policy Study respecting the limited contributions predicted to be available.

c. Housing affordability objectives within the Strategic Plan, 2015-2018.

d. Actions arising out of the Mayor’s Housing Affordability Task Force related to developer contributions to affordable housing (e.g. inclusionary zoning or similar mechanism).

e. Consultation with neighbourhoods on the type of amenity desired in neighbourhoods.

3. That staff include consideration of a fixed rate bonus density calculation in the downtown.

4. That staff be directed to report back on the Development Cost Charges (DCC) review process.

5. That staff report back to Council in the fall of 2015 with a proposed approach to the community amenity contributions including proposed public engagement.

This had the support of everyone but Councillor Madoff who was was worried (based on the map shown above by the consultant and not part of the OCP as far as I know) that additional and unnecessary density will be foisted on the community of James Bay if and when Council moved forward. Even after being “reassured” that the densities shown only represented density levels envisioned by the OCP, Madoff did not yield.

It was interesting to watch because she is very conscientious. She is also far more active and consistently engaged then her fellow long-term Council colleagues.

1237-1239 Oscar Street Strata Conversion

This is an application to authorize a contribution to the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund as a condition of the application.

Review of Licensee Retail Rezoning Policy

This is a report to propose changes to the City’s Land Use Policy that relates to liquor stores. This report follows up an previous decisions made at a March 12 GPC meeting and recommends:

That Committee forward this report to Council, and Council consider the following changes to the Licensee Retail Stores Rezoning Policy:

“The Licensee Retail Stores Rezoning Policy be amended as follows: • The distinction between private liquor stores and government liquor stores be eliminated, and that the policy be renamed the Liquor Retail Store Rezoning Policy to provide clarity that the policy applies to all liquor retail stores, regardless of the operator.

• The recommended store size be increased to 275 m2 .

• References to primary, neighbourhood or district centres in the General Characteristics section of the policy be replaced with references to Large Urban Villages or Town Centres to reflect the terminology within the Official Community Plan.”

Of note is that I checked the minutes for the May 12th Council meeting where the relevant previous motion was approved and found the following text (see page 11):

That Council:

1. Direct staff to bring forward an amendment to the Business Licence Bylaw for Council consideration that will align the City’s minimum drink prices with those established by the Province,

2. Direct staff to review and report back to Council on the amendments made to the District of Saanich, 2004 Zoning Bylaw, related to Liquor Retail Stores, and

3. Consult the Liquor Distribution Branch, Island Health, Victoria Police Department, Centre for Addictions Research, Victoria Chamber of Commerce, Private Liquor Store Operators and Neighbourhood Association Representatives for each of the neighbourhoods with a Village Centre within the City of Victoria, and report back to Committee within eight weeks.

Well they certainly failed to meet the eight week report back!

All told, it was a lengthy and unstructured conversation yesterday and I attribute this largely to the poor communication skills of the planner responsible for this file. I must say that from the perspective of my own ego, I enjoyed watching PLUC deal with this item yesterday because they spent a lot of time going round and round about on an issue that I thought needed clarity 4 months ago.

So 4 months went by and they’re no closer.

Or maybe they are because Council approved the following motions last night related to Review of Licensee Retail Rezoning Policy:

That Council consider the following changes to the Licensee Retail Stores Rezoning Policy: “The Licensee Retail Rezoning Policy be amended as follows:

1. The distinction between private liquor stores and government liquor stores be eliminated and that the policy be renamed the Liquor Retail Store Rezoning Policy to provide clarity that the policy applies to all liquor retail stores, regardless of the operator.

2. The recommended store size be increased to 275m² and larger stores to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

3. References to primary, neighbourhood or district centres in the General Characteristics section of the policy be replaced with references to Large Urban Villages or Town Centres to reflect the terminology within the Official Community Plan.”

Of note is that Young was opposed to the Grocery store related bullet and Isitt and Loveday were opposed to all 3 bullets.

Closed Business

Closed business yesterday was for matters related to land acquisition or disposition and a Master Development Agreement (MDA), which is also presumably subject to “solicitor client privilege”. My thought on this, is that it is probably related to Dockside Green for the assorted changes they are requested for their MDA and so based on this, I’m thinking Dockside will probably be up on the next PLUC agenda.

Consent Agenda

This consisted of the 1284-1298 Gladstone Avenue DP (an application to authorize the design of a rear yard garbage and recycling enclosure in the Fernwood Neighbourhood), the 1362 Dallas Road Development Variance Permit (an application to authorize the conversion of ground floor commercial space into apartments in the Downtown Neighbourhood) and the 755 Caledonia Ave DP with Variances (an application to authorize the conversion of ground floor commercial space into apartments in the Downtown Neighbourhood).

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