An innocuously-titled paper, “Policy Enquiry Process: Approach and Criteria,” goes to Vancouver City Council committee meeting on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
However, its implications are huge. People who have closely observed how planning staff already work so closely with developers will find this effort by staff to claim more power is of big concern.
Our first hope would be for staff to withdraw the report at this time. Second best would be for Council not to approve the recommendations.
Once you read the 19-page document (PDF link here) authored by Theresa O’Donnell, Vancouver’s new chief planner since April, you may agree it is a “Policy to Ignore Policy” as described by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (see CVN letter here):
It suggests allowing spot rezoning proposals to go forward for consideration even if they do not conform to any policy that would allow it. This would undermine all community plans and planning processes so as to make zoning and planning policy meaningless.
While this may benefit the development industry, it would undermine the public interest.
It would make more work for staff, Council and the public to deal with projects that should not be going forward at all.
Please do not approve this report’s recommendations.
Separately, we received a copy of a resident’s letter to Council.
This staff proposal purportedly increases flexibility and speed when handling rezoning and development applications, by changing the “Policy Enquiry Process” for staff “to review and provide advice to applicants relating to development enquiries that do not comply with rezoning policy, but which may offer opportunities and benefits that may warrant further consideration by Council.” The report notes that adoption of the changes “will in no way fetter Council’s discretion in considering any rezoning applications and does not create any legal rights for the applicants or any other person, or obligation on the part of the City.”
Based on my first hand experience with the rezoning application at 2538 Birch Street (Denny’s) and the extensive research that I performed and shared with you, staff are already interpreting Council policy very liberally, exercising a concerning amount of judgement, providing far too much coaching to applicants and, in cases like 2538 Birch Street, not remaining impartial. (These are all facts supported by staff correspondence.) If this policy is adopted, Council will relinquish more of its decision making power to a staff that is already taking too many liberties. Most concerningly, due to the difference in power and influence between staff and the development industry on one side and the residents on the other side, I fear that this will stifle and hamstring participation in our civic democracy even further.
In the simplest of terms, this policy takes more power from the residents (represented by Council) and gives it to unelected staff. The liberty that this policy provides will increase deviations from Council policy, and broaden the chasm between what the electorate desires and what is actually accomplished at the end of the day.