March 5 PLUC Early Thoughts

Looks like a small agenda for PLUC tomorrow.

Development Application Reports

1486 Dallas Road Development Variance Permit

According to the agenda faceplate this is a report regarding a development permit with variances application to authorize the enclosure of an existing covered deck to create an addition to the second storey in the Fairfield neighbourhood. The variances are related to increasing the combined floor area and increasing the number of storeys. A hearing is required prior to Council making a final decision on the application.

Here is correspondence received from owners of the property.

Here are the development plans.

PS: If you read the correspondence you can easily see that the work being proposed was already done by the applicant 2.5 years ago because they had a realtor who told them: “plenty of people did minor renovation without building permit”.

Staff note in their report that the applicants have complied with the City’s Clean Hands Policy for Development Approvals in cases where “illegal construction” has occurred. Given that the applicant’s letter is dated Jan 15, 2014 I wonder: a) what has taken so long for this item to come before Council; b) who reported them to the city, and; c) if there is public opposition at the recommended hearing, could the City possibly require them to undo the work they did to enclose a porch?

470 Belleville Street Heritage Alteration Permit

According to the agenda faceplate, this is a report regarding an application to install exterior lighting to the north and east façades of the CPR Steamship Terminal. It is noted that this proposal is consistent with Development Permit Area 9: Inner Harbour.

CPR

Why this item has been deemed significant enough to require formal Council approval I honestly do not know – yes I get that it is a requirement of the land use procedures bylaw, but still.  I am assuming however that Mayor Helps will be passing it through as a consent agenda item – which means it will get passed without discussion.

Policy Report

Official Community Plan Amendments

Subdivisions Exemptions and Administrative Amendments

The agenda faceplate for this item introduces it as “a report to provide housekeeping amendments to the Official Community Plan” with a recommendation to forward to Council for consideration and approval”. If you look further within this report however, you will see that its purpose is to present:

“Council with proposed amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) to clarify the conditions under which a Development Permit Application is required for subdivisions in Development Permit Areas and Heritage Conservation Areas, and to enact minor amendments correcting clerical and mapping errors in the OCP.”

OCP Amendments

More specifically, the:

“proposed amendments would exempt most DPAs and HCAs from requiring a Development Permit for subdivision of land, except in DPA 15B: Intensive Residential – Panhandle Lot and in DPA 13: Core Songhees, as follows:

1. For DPA 13: Core Songhees, subdivision will require a Development Permit if proposed subdivision is not in accordance with the Design Guidelines for the Dockside Area (2005), the Railyards Development Guidelines (2002), the Roundhouse Design Guidelines (2008) or the Policy Plan and Design Guidelines for the Songhees Area of Victoria West (2008), as applicable. As site layouts were proposed as part of master planning for a number of sites and reflected in design guidelines, deviations from these layouts would require a Development Permit.

2. For DPA 15B: Intensive Residential – Panhandle lot a Development Permit will continue to be required because the lot configuration created by subdivision may have impacts on the compatibility of future development with the surrounding neighbourhood.

A separate bylaw will also be considered by Council as part of the proposed Rezoning and OCP amendment related to the Capital Park project, exempting subdivision from application for a Development Permit in DPA 12: Legislative Precinct, within the portion of the South Block subject to the proposed Capital Park Urban Design Guidelines, only if the proposed subdivision is in accordance with the Capital Park Urban Design Guidelines.”

[March 5 Update]

Staff explained during the presentation that DPA 15B actually only covers the area shown in white on OCP Map 32 which is a composite of Development Permit Areas and Heritage Conservation areas.

OCP Map 32

So what does this mean and why should we care?

The first thing to care about is that the process behind the report recommending OCP amendments up for consideration on Thursday has been very lengthy. It is a response to GPC recommendations passed by Council on January 30, 2014 (see page 3). It is noted that the report presented on Dec 12, 2013 was entitled Proposed amendments to the OCP bylaw and recommend that Council:

  1. Simplify the conditions under which a Development Permit application is required for demolitions in Development and Heritage Conservation areas;
  2. Clarify the conditions under which a Development Permit application is required for subdivisions in Development Permit and Heritage Conservation Areas;
  3. Correct clerical and mapping errors.

As evidenced in the minutes to this meeting on December 12, 2013 (see pages 6-10) approval was readily granted for making the minor clerical and mapping errors and direction was given for staff to come back with guidance on Development permits associated with subdivision applications.

So why did it take more than year to come back?

And why did it come back without the amending bylaw that is required to make the necessary changes to the OCP? Lastly, why has a report on subdivision approval processes been brought forward for consideration in absolute absence of any statistics on subdivisions proposals currently before the city, on future agendas for consideration, and or even subdivisions successfully completed over the past few years?

Regarding the staff request for Council guidance on demolition permits, it was referred by committee for more study – if you search demolition permits on the city’s website you’ll find a simple demolition permit application is currently being required as a form of building permit.

So what is a subdivision?

For municipal purposes, the requirements of a subdivision are set out within the BC Land Title Act and subdivision applications are approved by a City staff person known as the Approving Officer, who in the case of Victoria appears to be a man named Jeff Mitton.

A quick and easy summary of what is required in granting approval for a subdivision is available from the Langford Land Development Department – check it out!

Subdivisions are approved in accordance with relevant municipal subdivision and servicing bylaws which in the case of Victoria appears to be Bylaw 12-042 Subdivision and Development Servicing bylaw. And as noted on the city’s website, your subdivision may require prior Council approval if the property first requires rezoning to permit the increase in density/lot coverage that typically comes with a subdivision.

This is to say, that whereas a Development Permit Area is typically established to ensure that an assortment of development objectives are met, because developers who want to subdivide in Victoria so often require rezoning so that they can subdivide and rezoning come with public hearings where the public gets to weigh in on the various merits of a proposal so as to ensure that such objectives are being met.

But then, as noted above because the staff report provided to PLUC for consideration does not provide any development statistics (e.g., such as a frequency count on how many subdivisions in 2014 included a rezoning ), it is impossible to effectively predict if that is an accurate assumption. The best that we can get is a list of Major Development applications being dealt with by the Sustainable Planning and Development Department in the 4th quarter of 2014 (see pages 22-23).

That this department does not track useful permit metrics is consistent with a Service Delivery Review and Organizational Analysis commissioned by the  City of Victoria in 2013 (see pages 4-21 to 4-23) where it was noted that the Planning and Development department was “tracking little to no performance metric data”.

So again, why should we care?

The recommendation before PLUC tomorrow, is that the requirement for Development Permits to accompany subdivision applications – in compliance with the Local Government Act –  be relaxed. This is to say that staff are recommending taking out a step in the subdivision approval process.

Further, even though it is not clearly or accurately explained from a legal perspective tomorrow’s recommendation is also proposing to exempt Developers from the requirement to obtain a Heritage Alteration Permit – despite it being required by s. 971(1)(a) of the Local Government Act – when attempting to subdivide land designated by the City of Victoria within a Heritage Conservation area.

The one clearly identified map of HCAs in Victoria 

Heritage Conservation area

What isn’t mentioned in the report for tomorrow (which is largely a simple copy of the original November 19, 2013 report btw) is that the “unanticipated consequences” which are alluded to but never defined, were all likely the result of the City putting its entire boundary  under  DPA 16: General Form and Character under the OCP.

Lastly, it should be noted that there seems to be an underlying expectation that policy considerations and requirements such as the Small Lot House Rezoning  application process will be seen as the primary subdivision precursor going forward – which it should have been in the first place.

All and all

The more I look into and learn about land and property development in Victoria, the more I start to understand the possible reasons for why I so frequently complain, when live tweeting development related meetings, about how our mayor and Council seem to be making up land and property development procedures up as they go.

I say this because:

  • Land use and development motions made by PLUC/Council seem to take a very long time to come back to PLUC/Council (1 year+).
  • Staff reports to PLUC are not easy to read – for many reasons.
  •  The City’s Land Use Procedures Bylaw is vague and jumbly.
  • You need the patience of a saint and the tech skills of a programmer to navigate through the City’s website to find pertinent development info since it is actually split between Engineering and Public Works and Sustainable Planning and Community Development.
  • What should be easy to understand, is often made so damn hard as a result of the failure by development staff to clearly explain and educate Council on the various legal requirements of and other details of proposals before them for consideration.
  • I spent 4 hours on this write up.

I will conclude by saying that there is a reason for why the Minister of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development has a Local Government Division and that the Division has a stand alone expert Planning division that is chock full of all sorts of guidance and best practice support that is available on demand.

That said, some will argue that large municipalities like Victoria have their own experts and don’t need provincial support. Others will argue that the BC Local Government Division has been starved for funds (ancient website much?) and is in no position for to adequately establish or ensure that best administrative practices are followed. Perhaps that is where the Planning Institute of British Columbia attempts to fill the gap?

TL:DR

There is a proposed Official Community Plan amendment before PLUC for consideration. It is a proposal to take something out of the OCP that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place, more specifically they want to relax requirements for subdivision applications. According to staff, doing this will “correct some unintended consequences and streamline the development review process, and are consistent with past practices” (see page 4).

However it is all rather unclear because no actual data is provided on what these consequences are or what the current process is. Further, no stats are provided whatsoever on the number of developments impacted by the issue or the recommended solution.

How can you decide on something if you don’t know what it is you’re actually supposed to be deciding?

 

 

 

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