Thursday, August 27, 2020

City's hired civic planner updates progress on Official Community Plan; offers up recommendations towards enticing developers

Mr. Rob Buchan, the City's contract planner for OCP
provided an update on the progress of the update work on Monday

A late addition to Monday's City Council Session for Monday evening offered up a glimpse at the progress to date for the City of Prince Rupert's work on the update to the Official Community Plan, a process that began in January and is heading towards a fall conclusion.

Sitting in for the half hour update was Rob Buchan, the civic planner from iPlan which the City of Prince Rupert has hired on to work on delivering the long anticipated update.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Buchan took provided some of his observations from the December Rupert 2030 Community vision plan that was hosted by Mayor Brain, highlighting the optimism he found from the presentation and the enthusiasm he found from those that were in attendance.

As part of the review of the ongoing work, he observed  how some previous survey work had indicated that the Rupert 2030 vision has been well received by those they contacted.

"There was a very good response to that survey and one of the purposes of that survey was to test whether or not Vision 2030 resonated with the public in general, it certainly saw it resonate with the participants at that meeting back last December. And it is very strongly supported, so we've been using 2030 as the land use vision for the new Official Community Plan"

The theme of surveys made for some further commentary for the Council members, with Mr. Buchan making note of the current round of survey taking  currently underway through the Rupert Talks portal.

He also noted that as part of the ongoing OCP program an informational video is expected to be released within the next month, with the plan ahead to have short meetings with the public towards the themes reviewed and a Draft proposal to soon be made available for comment by the public.

The potential of a residential/commercial mix for some
areas of the downtown core made for some of the discussion
at Monday nights' OCP update

Turning to a frequent topic around the city, that of the state of the downtown area, Mr. Buchan outlined a pair of proposals for the endorsement and action on by City Council, providing a thumbnail sketch as to what an incentive program for developers may look like and how it may assist in creating housing stock in some areas of the downtown region.

"Vision 2030 is an ambitious and optimistic vision of the future, but there's work to be done to get development on the ground. And one of the things that has been discussed is putting together a program that will encourage developers to see that vision and invest in the community in a big way. And really it needs to be in a big way to accommodate all of the growth that is contemplated to be coming from the growth of the port and what it means to the city" -- Contract Planner Rob Buchan

The list of options included a recommendation that the city maintain the current approach of not charging development cost charges, as well as to amend bylaws to waive building permit fees, rezoning fees and development variance fees noting how that would make for  significant inducements for developers.

He urged City Council to hold off on the introduction of a Community Amenities contribution program, noting that it's a good program to have, but better suited towards when there is significant development underway.

City Council has flirted with the idea of making amenities part of any development proposals in the past; though their success in putting forward that proposal has seen some push back at times. 

Something that may have played a role when it comes to a few of the most recently proposed developments, that never quite made it to the finish line.

As part of the new approach towards creating a favourable environment for developers, he also advised the city to put in place a plan to improve infrastructure on a block by block basis as part of a city improvement program.

Other elements recommended included, consideration of a Downtown Revitalization Tax Exemption bylaw, that would allow the City to waive the municipal part of property taxes, potentially for a period of ten years, with a suggestion to 'ladder up' the tax increases in the final five years. He recommended that the provision be used in downtown areas outside of the midtown area.

As well Mr. Buchan recommended the same kind of tax waiver, or exemption for any new residential development in all three areas of the downtown area, noting as well that the tax relief program could also be used for building renovations of the existing stock of buildings in the downtown part of the city, observing how it could add to residential density in the area.

"The City of Prince Rupert has quite a bit of vacant space in its downtown, so having a program to waive the increase in taxes as a result of facade improvements and internal renovations could be a very significant way of bringing around a refurbishment, a renovation of your existing building stock" -- Contract Planner Rob Buchan

Fast tracking any proposals for development in the downtown area was also a theme he explored noting how that would help build the city's reputation with developers.

City Council may get to use
this summer's tourism slogan
towards attracting large scale
investors to the community
this fall
Towards attracting developers to the community, Mr. Buchan also suggested the city invite a group of larger investors in the province and across the country to come to Prince Rupert to explore the opportunities available here.

He suggested the prospect of inviting up to fifteen developers to the city by October, timed towards the completion or near completion of the Official Community Plan.

"We think it would be potentially very effective to invite a group of larger investors in the province and possibly even from the country, to come to Prince Rupert to be introduced to the opportunities that  are here, to be told about this program and to be provided with some market information.-- Contract Planner Rob Buchan

The Council membership received his report with much enthusiasm, with Councillors Mirau, Adey. Niesh, Cunningham and Randhawa, all offering their endorsement of the work and the success so far on the OCP review. 

As well, the councillors and Mayor looked favourably towards his range of recommendations towards downtown development and revitalization  themes.

"I would like to echo Councillor Mirau's approval of the work that went into it and the contribution you've made; it's the kind of expertise that you know, we certainly don't come to the table with, so I appreciate that  a great deal. I also appreciate the focus on incentives that will affect in particular the downtown. Because I think the vast majority of what I hear when I hear people you know, griping about the state of things. They talk about Third Avenue  and they talk about the obvious areas in which a certain amount of decay has happened and I think that if we can use this kind of program to really target that, then people are going to feel a lot better about the rest of the community as well, and that translates into progress in other areas as well.   -- Councillor Nick Adey

Councillor Cunningham however, did have one item of note to explore further, that of the restriction of the incentive plan to just the downtown core, a topic which he suggested should be reviewed towards the city's larger local housing needs.

Mayor Brain also shared his enthusiasm for the proposals and observed as to how it could create residential space in the downtown region, also noting how some of the ideas put forward may be well received by current owners as well as any new investors.

He also highlighted how the incentives could tweak their curiosity and bring developers to the community and build the infrastructure in the city.

Council then voted to move forward with and endorsement to consider of both the draft incentive package plans for developers, as well as to invited and host a developer event in Prince Rupert to explore opportunities that are available in the city.

Council will consider the elements on incentives and the developer event at a later date toward any implementation.

As a closing remark to the presentation, Mr. Brain also provided a short overview of how the City is planning to address the OCP review, directing the public to the city website for the full details.

"One of the things that I just want to say, is one of things I'm very excited about this, not only just because this is finally that robust development incentive package that I think we've been looking for, for a long time. But int terms of the the impact on housing in the downtown, we know through the planning through Redesign with the 2030 vision, that I think it's somewhere between 500 to 1,000 residences could be fit within the existing footprint of the downtown core  -- Mayor Lee Brain

You can review the full presentation from the City's Video Archive Page, starting at the one hour, three minute mark of Monday's session.

For more notes on the City's ongoing work towards the OCP and Vision 2030 themes see our archive page here.

Further notes on Monday's Council session can be explored through our Council Timeline and Council Session Archive page.

A wider overview of past Council discussion themes can be found here.

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