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3 Poor Planning Practices (plus progress paths)

Land use planning has become incremental & slow, stuck in its own regulatory approval process that frequently is inconsistent with long term plans & woefully inadequate to address the existing housing supply crisis with 1.5 million immigrants arriving per year. Three fundamental fixes are proposed.  

Poor Planning Practice #1 – New OCP & Ancient Zoning Bylaw

How many communities have a relatively new OCP & still have a last century (1970-1999) Zoning Bylaw? The stack of amendments is often bigger than the original bylaw. All that work & budget put into a multi-year review of the visionary OCP that never gets implemented in the regulatory bylaw which actually controls development. Community members are asked for their vision, hopes & wishes in an OCP review. All the current best practices are lauded & included with nothing good left out. This usually results in 200 years of work program items without any obligation to implement them. This is both misleading to the public who thought they were going to get something (or everything!) done & a lack of leadership to make the tough decisions on priorities & funding.

Solutions: Require zoning bylaws to be consistent with OCPs within 2 years of OCP adoption. Allow a combined OCP & Zoning Bylaw. Use a performance-based code to avoid the myriad of regulations requiring review. And how about some reverse planning with higher density being as-of-right with lower density requiring bylaw amendments?  

Poor Planning Practice #2 – Taxpayers Subsidizing Planning Fees & Development Charges

Existing taxpayers subsidize both planning fees & development cost charges with the benefit going to the developer – often not passed on to the occupiers of the development. In regional districts, a recent survey showed only a 5% cost recovery of planning fees – a 95% subsidy. DCCs are blamed as being too expensive, driving up the cost of development, making housing unaffordable & a tax grab by local government. DCCs simply allow for some cost recovery of installing hard services essential to land development – full cost recovery of all services by local government to development are not permitted by legislation. As local governments are funded mostly by property taxes, existing taxpayers fund “the gap” – now estimated to be over $200 billion across Canada.

Solutions: Move to user pay practices. Fuller cost recovery would reduce infrastructure funding gaps, enable more planners to be hired to process development applications & in the long run, reduce some land inflation as more cost recovery should reduce land purchase prices. If infrastructure charges were made per unit density, higher density would be incented. Make growth management plans the master asset management plan required to prepare & approve capital budgets. Land use plans front end the infrastructure required to be built in a community.  

Poor Planning Practice #3 – Approving Development in Hazard Lands

The Municipal Insurance Association of BC (MIABC) has reported evolving liability climate change risk for local governments & advises local governments can be held liable for development decisions in areas of reasonably foreseeable hazards such as flood plains or high risk fire areas.

Solutions: To address increasing risk, MAIBC has recommended:

  • Know your climate change projections.
  • Integrate natural assets in your community into your asset management plan. Understand how they impact your drainage & flooding risk.
  • Consider how development decisions will impact drainage, flooding, slope stability & wildfire risks. Make a clear decision regarding the service levels & regularly reassess anticipating the impacts of future climate change.

Have a written policy, preferably Board/Council approved, that sets out & explains that service level for engineered & natural assets.