Friday, November 27, 2020

With plans and incentives percolating, still no word on if the City intends to fill planning office positions

Mayor Lee Brain returned to the days of Hays 2.0 and the vision plans that followed it this week, part of an overview towards some new incentives in mind when it comes to attracting some new investment into the downtown area, as well as the wider ambitions of the Official Community Plan.

The incentive project as we noted earlier this week, is one which will see new investors offered some tax free status for up to ten years, while existing building owners can access up to five years of the same should they wish to renovate or rebuild their own structures.

The program known as the Downtown Core Revitalization Tax Exemption program, received its first two readings on Monday night and will move forward at the next council session, with an eye to having the formal incentive package in place in 2021.

The progress for the Official Community Plan will be a bit delayed as the Mayor noted on Monday, with the City still looking to find a way through the challenges of COVID to host a public hearing on the new document. 

An important part of the city's efforts which would launch the process of changing much of the focus for a number of areas of the downtown and Cow Bay area of the city.

During the course of the Monday council session, Mr. Brain made much mention of the planning team,  a collection of advisors that he and council have seemingly brought together to steer the future of planning in the city.

And that serves to remind us, that as of today, it would appear that the City of Prince Rupert continues on with its vision of a new city without the services of an actual in house permanent City planner, or planning office for that matter.

When we last examined the state of civic employment, the City Manager Robert Long had for the most part taken on the duties of former City Planner Zeno Krekic, who departed the city's employ earlier this year.

Though as the weeks and months have passed since the June announcement, Mr. Long himself has spoken infrequently when it comes to many of the ongoing efforts in planning at those public sessions that he is in attendance for. 

Whether it's on themes of the work on the OCP, or more recently the preliminary work towards housing developments in the city, a long discussed theme for a number of years for this council, Mr. Long's voice for the most part has been absent. 

The most recent proposals for review  on building the city's housing stock have focused on the Kootenay housing proposals, or the work of Monday night towards plans for a significant increase to the rental housing stock proposed for 11th Avenue East.

However, for the most part,  when it comes to the day to day introduction of planning topics and answers to questions, it all seems to be in the office of the Corporate Administrator, with Rosa Miller apparently handling the inquiries and relaying any findings related to development that may come to the City Hall doors.

More and more at Council sessions it seems that Mayor Brain and one or two of his Council members have taken on the unofficial duties of a City Planner, outlining how they visualize the future for development in the city, though offering little in the way of information as to who anyone in town should contact if they have a question to ask, a concern to share, or to explore themes of investment in the city's development.

When a Council member does ask a question about one of their themes, or suggests a change towards a concept, the Mayor notes that he will 'take it up with the planning team'.

Considering over six months have passed since a city planner has been in place at City Hall, the Mayor and Council might want to share with the community who is on the "planning team" which so far has pretty well operated under the radar, as they seemingly visualize the future ahead and how we'll get there.

As planning concepts have evolved, City Council has made use of a range of out of town resources, from the early days of the Portland City Repairs Project contributors to more recenlty the high profile presentation from Larry Beasley at last years 2030 Vision reveal.

Planning Consultant Rob Buchan has been working on the
City's Official Community Plan update for over a year 

The latest draw from the world of consultancy was that of a contract planner for work on for the Official Community Plan, with Rob Buchan offering up some guidance on other themes through his time here.

Though since that process began the city has never disclosed how long Mr. Buchan will remain in the employ of the city, nor how much the use of an outside planner for the OCP overhaul has cost.

One theme he introduced earlier this summer was the now under consideration Tax Exemption plans for the downtown area, as well as a recommendation for an investors event in the city.

"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

So far however, City Council has not provided any further details as to whether that plan to invite the group of investors is still under consideration and when the tour will take place.

And while he's seemingly taken on a few side projects during his time with the city, it would seem the scope of Mr. Buchan's work is not that normally associated with the day to day operations of a planning office. 

And that is somewhat interesting to watch, particularly as the city rolls out some high profile themes without having anyone publicly on point to take the inquiries of city residents.

The Mayor first offered a hint as to the new way of doing things earlier this year when  he spoke of the assembled group of local stakeholders that will help blaze the path forward, something he called the Vision Steward Council.

If that is 'the team' that the Mayor noted on Monday, then the public probably should be offered up some details when it comes to who is part of the select group of community minded people that are charting the course and some details as to how they were selected and what it is exactly that they do.

If that's not the team the Mayor referenced this week, then the community should probably ask for a giant flow chart for reference as to who make up the team and who has input on planning themes when it comes to the direction moving forward.

The City could put it on their Planning Department website page for reference, though it's a page that hasn't seen much activity in recent months.

Council may also want to offer up some guidance towards how planning will move forward in the city and who is in charge currently and if any plans are in mind to returning to the days of a fully staffed Civic Planning office with a professional and experienced planner at the helm.

Considering the importance of making sure that they get things right when it comes to developing commercial and residential themes in the community, it would be nice to know who's in charge and who to call when you have a question. 

Or if you're an out of town developer with lots of cash to spend, who you should chat with to explore some options.

If the continued lack of a permanent planner and staff is one of cost, it's a curious allocation  of financial resources towards which civic positions have been deemed by Council as more important to fill, particularly since civic development seems to be the guiding focus for this City Council.

You can review some of the past themes on development in the City from our archive page here.

For a look at the themes covered at Monday's Council session see our archive page here.

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


  1. There is a real conflict of interest with B. Long acting as city planner. Mr. Long with his position as City Administrator is involved with negotiating contracts between the city and other entities. Some of these same entities are also involved in ventures requiring rezoning.

    There is no transparency of Mr. Long's dealing with Legacy Fund, City West and Prince Rupert's dealings with other parties. It would be best if the city engaged a contract planner in the interim so there is no question of conflict.

  2. Not sure that it fits into the conflict of interest themes, but it is puzzling that a group that seem to be putting much attention towards development, seemingly don't find any value in having an actual planning department in place, I can't think of many municipal govt's that use this blue print