(Updated 17:30, changes in blue text) City of Vancouver planning staff were on hand to answer questions on the recently introduced “Interim Rezoning Policy” at an information session on Oct 17, 2012 at City Hall. The policy was approved by Council on Oct 3 by a 7-3 vote, along with 14 other staff recommendations arising from the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability. A bulletin that outlined the application process was released the next day (4-Oct-2012). The briefing session was well attended by the development community, a few journalists and residents were also interspersed in the audience. The briefing was targeted at prospective rezoning proponents. The City had not provided any advance announcement of the meeting to neighbourhood associations or the general public and has not announced any other information sessions for the public.
A number of questions were raised about the extend of land base affected by the policy. Staff also confirmed that the map published on the front page of the Vancouver Sun on Oct 4 is indeed correct (see video clip below):
At this point, we must remind readers that the “Interim Rezoning Policy” is an “enabling” policy for what the City says is initially limited to 20 proposals for rezonings to 3.5 or 6 storey buildings (details below). We also note that many citizens and neighbourhood associations had asked Council for more time before adopting and implementing the policy, as none had been consulted in advance, and the public had only three business days to review the relevant staff report.
At the briefing, City staff clarified some details that had not previously been made clear. The locational criteria for zones permitting 3.5 storey developments would be 100 metres from the property lines along the city’s identified arterial streets map. The requirements for 6-storey sites were stated as being 500 metres from the edge of a local shopping area along an arterial that is served by transit. Potential sites for 6-storeys would have to front an arterial, and the arterial must contain or bisect a local shopping area. The 500 metre range also applies to neighbourhood centres (although it was noted that the boundaries for the centres are only roughly delineated).
Brian Jackson (Vancouver’s newly-hired General Manager, Planning and Development) stated that for applications to be considered in this inquiry stage they would also have to meet one of the following “affordability” criteria:
- 100% of residential floor area secured as rental housing
- Market condos sold at least 20% below market price, secured so that savings are passed on after resale
- innovative housing forms (such as co-housing)
- community land trust
The main ‘point-man’ on the application process, Doug Robinson, stated that program was not a prescriptive process and did not have a lot of rules. He said it was an “iterative” process with a pattern of incremental rezonings taking place over time. The review of applications of interest will begin on November 15, 2012 and take around 30 days to process. The 20 initial rezoning proposals would be selected after another 60-90 days.
One of the questions from the audience was about geographic distribution to avoid concentrations of rezonings in certain parts of the city (notwithstanding the stated maximum of two rezoning applications per 10 blocks along an arterial street). Staff responded that they would try to make a more even selection for the distribution of chosen projects (than the problematic STIR developer-incentive program for example). The height of 6 storeys would be enforced as a maximum; but no target heights (in metres) have been specified. Nor has the City mentioned any density figures in terms of Floor Space Ratio. (CityHallWatch believes that this vagueness is problematic — It gives a developer-funded civic party maximum fexibility and could benefit developers, but creates uncertainty and and puts existing neighbourhood at a disadvantage.) Mr. Jackson did note the component of a “transition” away from arterial that should be incorporated into a design (e.g., toward single family housing).
The criteria to assess “market value” was raised, as this impacts the definition of “affordable.” Planning staff will need to find some mechanism to demonstrate that the affordability targets are met (such as third party appraisals, best practices in other jurisdictions, etc.). Proposals creating affordable market and market together would be open for consideration with the objective of having a substantial share of affordable units.
Planners provided a very cautious answer about proposals that may arise on sites that fall within a community in the midst of a local area planning process (Downtown Eastside, West End, Marpole, Grandview Woodland). Staff indicated that there are interim rezoning policies in place while the planning process is ongoing and the merits of a proposal would need to provide good reason not to prejudge the outcomes of the plans while addressing potential community concerns. Staff did not, however, address the entire issue of this new “Interim Rezoning Policy” overriding existing community plans and zoning.
The City may allow the smallest unit size of target suite to be reduced from 400 square feet (37 square metres) with discretion to 320 square feet (29.7 square metres). Staff expect that the Rental 100 housing policy unit size guidelines will be used. However, it was stressed that proposals should have a mix of varying unit sizes.
The Green Buildings Policy for Rezonings would apply and hence applications would have to be certified as LEED Gold (or one of the equivalent standards allowed such as Passiv Haus). Any form of permitted construction would be allowed, with no preference over wood frame or concrete forms – provided that it would be “affordable.” After the meeting, one of the developers quipped that all of these requirements might result in Expensive Affordable Housing.
On the timelines, staff reaffirmed that they will consider a maximum of 20 rezoning applications before they reassess the program. The bigger question on “where are we going with the policy” went unanswered. Based on the current Council’s track record, CityHallWatch is concerned that with just a few day’s advance notice, the Mayor could quietly make the “interim” rezoning policy “permanent” and remove the 20-proposal limit. Staff could not provide any exact time-frame on the review of the program; however, they did state that the 20 initial rezonings would merely have to be “in progress” and not necessarily approved by Council for the purposes of evaluating the current program. (CityHallWatch comment: This means that, theoretically, before completing a single public hearing on any of the 20 initial rezonings, nothing is stopping City Council from concluding a “review” of the “Interim Rezoning Policy,” ramping it up, expanding it and making it permanent.) The direction by Council to staff is as follows: Staff report back by June 1st, 2013, with an affordable housing rezoning policy that incorporates this feedback (Oct 3 meeting minutes).
Today (Oct 18) the program manager wrote CityHallWatch saying that for the “Interim Rezoning Policy,” no documents exist other than the Oct 3, 2012 Council-approved policy and the “Process for Implementing Interim Rezoning Policy on Increasing Affordable Housing Choices across Vancouver’s Neighbourhoods” (CoV Bylaw admin bulletin, interim rezoning policy, 4-Oct-2012, i002) including the map which was attached, as distributed at the briefing session. The City is currently accepting enquiries as per the form in that document. “All projects considered will be rezonings subject to public notification and Council approval at public hearing.” (We are a bit surprised that the City does not have a more detailed document to guide staff, proponents, and the public regarding the policy — as the vagueness and uncertainty makes things difficult for everyone involved.)
In closing, CityHallWatch adds some comments and reminds readers of these points:
- The public is invited to the CityHallWatch “The Future of Vancouver” forum from 3 to 5 pm on October 20, 2012. This “Interim Rezoning Policy” will be one of the topics of the meeting.
- Observing the antics at City Hall and observing the City staff responses at this Oct 17 briefing, we have to wonder this: Are they making things up as they go along?
- Does someone at City Hall or influencing City Hall already have a roadmap for where City planning is going? Do they know or plan something they are not telling the public clearly?
- We get a sense that the entire discussion is leading to much broader changes in policy for zoning along arterial streets. These “initial” 20 rezonings are only the beginning. Staff stated at the briefing that that projects not selected for implementation among the first 20 “will be put on a waiting list.” This is a clear way of signalling that the power brokers at or behind City Hall intend to continue with the “Interim Rezoning Policy” after they take out the “interim” part.
- CityHallWatch has written today, Oct 18, to the City suggesting that a similar briefing be offered to the public, with presentation and time for questions and answers.
- The Mayor’s Task Force report released on Sept 26 was not dramatically different from the June 2012 interim report. What was dramatically new was the staff recommendations, including details of major new policies and actions– which gave the public and non-Vision Vancouver members of City Council only three working days to review before the Mayor intended to have them adopted on Oct 2.
- Many speakers and writers to City Council on Oct 3 did not oppose the general goal of making housing more affordable, but asked the Mayor and Council for more time to review the Mayor’s Task Force report and 15 recommendations by staff, and for the launch of a meaningful consultation process with neighbourhoods.
- Green City Councillor Adriane Carr attempted a motion to hear more from the public on the Interim Rezoning Policy prior to the Council vote on October 3rd. It was supported by NPA Councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball. Vision Vancouver Mayor and Councillors voted as a bloc to oppose the vote, and rammed the staff recommendations through with a few cosmetic changes. It was only the next day that a City-created map showed the public the areas of the Vancouver affected by the “interim rezoning policy” — through the Vancouver Sun, and even that map did not clearly indicate the full extent of its impacts. And it was only on the day after Council adopted the staff’s 15 recommendations that the Mayor launched a major public relations initiative to sell the decision.
- The motion by Clr Carr seeking more time and consultation, rejected by Vision Vancouver, is captured in the minutes of the meeting (reproduced below, annotations in square brackets):
AMENDMENT MOVED by Councillor Carr
THAT recommendation B [the Interim Rezoning Policy] be struck and replaced with the following:
B. THAT consideration of actions be postponed until Council has held Special Council Meeting(s), scheduled in the evening, to hear input from the public and deliberate on that input and that Council undertake in-depth public meetings and consultation during evening hours, in each of the identified 22 city areas and include the citizen input in the final report and recommendations.
LOST (Councillors Deal, Jang, Meggs, Reimer, Stevenson, Tang and Mayor Robertson opposed)
[Note: Councillors Affleck, Ball and Carr supported the motion.]