Municipal lawyer Jonathan Baker’s analysis, blog comments on West End Community Plan

Jonathan Baker photo 2013One of Vancouver’s top civic lawyers has done some detailed analysis of the West End Community Plan, which City Council adopted on November 20, 2013. Note that a public hearing for zoning amendments under the Plan will be on January 23, 2014. Here are links to Mr. Baker’s two posts on the Plan, plus a list of sections, and a few excerpts. This is useful material for anyone wishing to understand the Plan.

  • The Plan – Part 1 – Legal Context
  • The Plan – Part 2 – Commentary

In “The Plan – Part 1 – Legal Context,” Mr. Baker goes through the plan and explains its significance. Excerpts below are in italics.

A plan is a law. It must communicate proposed rules about land use that can be understood by those who are governed by it. It must speak with enough clarity that it can be enforced by those who must enforce it.

… If a plan is to apply for thirty years, subsequent councils of different political stripes, should be able to take some direction from it.  They must be able to determine whether or not a proposed development or zoning amendment  is consistent with the plan. The plan does not have to be precise, but it must say something.

He then reviews the powers pursuant to which it was enacted. Here are some of his sections:

  • Vancouver Land Use Powers
  • Comprehensive Development Zones
  • Official Development Plans
  • Neighbourhood Vision Plans
  • Exercising Discretion … Official development plans are zoning bylaws, at least in form. However, the regulations do not always provide much guidance. The Director of Planning is given a broad discretion to approve, approve subject to conditions, or refuse applications for permits based on a review of the related goals, development guidelines, regulations, and any other policies that Council may determine.
  • Official Development Plan as a Zoning Bylaw
  • Single-site Comprehensive Development
  • Transportation 2040 Plan .. A transportation vision for the City of Vancouver: The Plan sets out land use directions linked to the road system and should be checked against any development proposal. The plan may render a rezoning or failure to consider a rezoning subject to attack if under the circumstances it could be said that Council had fettered its discretion as a result of it.
  • Mayor’s Task force on Housing Affordability … Staff is directed to implement the plan with varying degrees of urgency. This document seems like an an official development plan but it’s not. When a zoning hearing takes place concerning lands for which rezonings are either encouraged, or discouraged, it could be held to be an illegal fetter on discretion should anyone seek to challenge it in court as such.
  • Density Controls

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In “The Plan – Part 2 – Commentary,” Mr. Baker provides some observations, some of them somewhat satirical, but his commentary is certainly helpful in understanding the 127-page set of jargon-filled documents in the West End Community Plan. Excerpts below are in italics.

I have read the West End Plan. At 127 pages, it is longer than the British North America Act (our Constitution) but without its perky style. It is 5 times longer than the former West End Plan.

The plan starts with a declaration of 7 universal goals or principles.

  1. Achieve a green, environmentally sustainable urban pattern. 
  2. Support a range of affordable housing options to meet the diverse needs of the community. 
  3. Foster a robust, resilient economy. 
  4. Enhance culture, heritage and creativity in the City.
  5. Provide and support a range of sustainable transportation options.
  6. Protect and enhance public open spaces, parks and green linkages. 
  7. Foster resilient, sustainable, safe and healthy communities.

Those West Enders who anxiously demanded more time to review the plan can relax. They will be pleasantly surprised that our local government is not proposing to clear cut the parks. It does not seek economic stagnation over robust resiliency. Creativity will no longer be the exclusive province of accountants…

… Chapter 6 sets out built form guidelines.

… The 4th principle is to “recognize transitional roles in form and scale.” 

… Chapter 7 deals with place…

…There are general policy statements for almost everything.

… The policies for the three villages are virtually identical and include, for example, to “Limit residential development to ensure vibrancy at all times of the day.”

 … Much of the plan is not concerned with land use planning. Rather it presents dozens of other good ideas relating to biking, walking, enhancing this and improving that. All of this used to be referred to as “peace, order and good government.” 

… If you want to know about density and height, most of it is called for on Georgia and Burrard Streets. They have not prepared design guidelines yet. For those who might worry that the plan is too specific, it contains the following warning:

Building heights are subject to other Council-approved policies, guidelines, by-laws and urban design considerations, and minimum site frontage (39.6 metres /130 feet). [See my blog, Part 1]

Don’t ask how much the plan cost. You will never find out because they abolished line items from the budget.

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