Public Input Under RM-9A

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Norquay resident Marilyn Hogan commented at length on 14 December 2015 on the posting of the City of Vancouver letter about a report to Council on RM-9A zoning. Her full comment is reproduced below. She has raised good points. Eye on Norquay has not addressed those concerns in any previous postings. Our three-point response can be seen below.

 
Comment by Marilyn Hogan

The problem with the new RM-9A proposal is that it “streamlines” or “fast-tracks” developments. This is not a desirable trend, as it essentially means cutting the public input opportunities out, to a large extent. Under current zoning, development applications must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with notices in the paper, public open houses, opportunities for dialogue with the planning department, and a chance to address city council. Under the new zoning proposals, much of these opportunities for public involvement will be removed unless a person happens to know about a specific development and takes the time to contact the city — and city council may or may not allow people to address the issue at a council meeting.

Essentially, the rezoning will mean that as long as the Director of Planning finds a development to be suitable and it meets basic guidelines, it will likely be approved, even with no public input at all. This is a marked digression from the usual democratic process — which, in my opinion, offers only minimal opportunities for community involvement as it is. The new zoning would cut out public input almost entirely and leave development decisions in the hands of the city planners. This is a bad precedent to set, as the chance for the public to be involved in urban development and to directly shape the direction our cities will take, is a fundamental component of democracy. Are we going to stand back and let this happen?

If we are no longer easily able to know about what is being planned in our neighbourhoods, then that means we are leaving virtually all the control (ideas about design, density, aesthetics, suitability, and whether it fits with the character of a neighbourhood) in the hands of government and city planners, with only a top-down approach to city planning. I encourage people to realize the implications of such rezoning. This is not to say all development is bad, and certainly some development proposals will be justified. But they should still be assessed on a case-by-case basis, which is how things will proceed if the current zoning in Norquay remains as it is.

You can see for yourself the differences between the current zoning and the proposed new zoning in the report that was presented at the 2015 open house. That report states, “By creating a district schedule or zone, the need for a rezoning process is removed.” What it fails to say is that most of the public input would also be removed and this is not right. See page 4 of this 10-page document:

http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/norquay-village-plan-rm-9a-zone-sep-2015-open-house-information-displays.pdf

Some argue in favour of the current proposal, because it allows for more structural diversity. While this might very well have merit, my issue (and I know I speak for many) is with how the application process for development in the area will be handled. Anyone who cares about development plans and the democratic process should be watching this issue closely, especially on Tuesday, December 15, 2015, when the report will go before council.

I hope people will plan on attending the Public Hearing, which the application recommends, and which I think will be held in early 2016.
 

 
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Response by Eye on Norquay

Thank you for your carefully considered comment. You raise good points. We would like to respond.

 
1 —  The problem with the new RM-9A proposal is that it “streamlines” or “fast-tracks” developments.

It is true that when RM-9A zoning regulations come into effect, development applications in this zone will no longer need to go through a rezoning process. As you say, this process includes “notices in the paper, public open houses, opportunities for dialogue with the planning department, and a chance to address city council,” as well as notification of nearby residents by mail.

Larger developments within the Kingsway Rezoning Policy Area will still require rezoning. This situation is not expected to change.

Buildings in the RM-9A zone will be smaller 4-storey projects, generally fewer than 30 dwelling units on three or four parcels of land. Typically, small developers undertake these projects. The additional costs of a time-consuming and expensive process of one-by-one rezoning would make the apartment units even less affordable.

 
2 —  Under the new zoning proposals, much of these opportunities for public involvement will be removed.

It is true that residents will need to take efforts to become more aware of development proposals in their neighbourhood. The City of Vancouver will continue to post a development application notice at the physical location. As well, considerable detail about the application will be posted on the City’s Development Applications web site at

http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/developmentservices/devapps/

Concerned residents will still be able to contact the project coordinator by phone or email if they have questions. They may also submit written comments that will be considered — and in our experience, can have impact. Eye on Norquay plans to initiate a separate listing for active development applications in all of the zones: RM-7, RM-9A, RT-11. Since 2013 Eye on Norquay has monitored and commented on development applications in RM-7 and RT-11. Except in a few problem instances that we attempted to publicize, we are not aware that anyone else has ever taken any advantage of this opportunity for input.

Norquay residents often fail to take advantage of existing opportunities for public input on small projects. Poor attendance characterized the three Apartment Transition Area open houses that Eye on Norquay participated in over the past 18 months. No speakers showed up for the only public hearing. (Unable to be present, Eye on Norquay wrote a letter to Council — the only letter on record.)

 
3 —  Development decisions [will be] left in the hands of city planners.

It is true that applications will be dealt with by the Planning Department and not by Council. However, Council relies on the planning staff recommendation that accompanies every rezoning application, and almost never modifies what is recommended. Beyond that, planning staff can and will make substantial changes to a development application in response to perspectives that have basis and genuine support.

We encourage the many who are said to be concerned about opportunities for public input to make fuller use of the existing opportunities.
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

15 December 2015 at 10:19 am

Posted in Apt Zone Comment

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