Thursday, December 10, 2020

City Council moves forward and stands still for the moment on OCP and Zoning themes

The process of moving forward on the new Official Community Plan has consumed much of the attention for Council this year and on Monday night, we received a bit of a glimpse as to what all of those workshops that took place may have looked like and considering the meandering path of discussion it's probably for the best that those aren't actually televised for the public. 

The remote nature of the participants owing to COVID making it somewhat harder than usual for any kind of flow to the discussion to develop, as the participants called in their observations from their own COVID home bubbles.

The twin themes of the new Official Community Plan and revisions to Zoning Bylaws provided for the majority of the focus for Monday's City council session, but if the home viewers took a pass on sitting through the one hour or so of discussion, fear not, you didn't really  miss much, as it will all be coming back for a replay in the New Year and there are still hopes by Council that community residents will have a chance to become engaged in the topic.

The discussion for the night featured a reminder from councillor Barry Cunningham who asked that the city ensure that the volume of information being considered is available online for community residents to review the document. 

With the Councillor noting that the evolution of their work is something that Council needs to get out to the public to ensure that they become engaged in the process.

"One thing that I think is important with this OCP is the availability if anyone wants to look it up online, cause it's quite a large document and it's going to affect just about every aspect of our city. And you know, I know from past OCP's and that three years after the fact, people well I didn't know anything about that, things like that, so I'm really hoping there's an availability that if anyone wants to go on line and look this up they will find it" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

And towards that reminder of the need for ongoing community engagement, Rosa Miller the Corporate Administrator reassured the Councillor and the community that there will be a link on the agenda provided on the city website and that the OCP work is also available through the Rupert Talks platform.

When it is provided through that online option, residents will have a chance to review the scope of change that the City Councillors have come up with, their work the culmination of months of discussion with the contract planner Rob Buchan, community stakeholders and others that have been assembled by council that made for the inner circle for review.

Monday the current of the conversation was directed towards a few amendments with much of the focus on what to do with the growing use of shipping containers for storage in the community and how that will fit into revised zoning bylaws.

Councillor Cunningham led off the discussion seeking clarification on the use of containers in the community, 
a topic that led off a wide ranging overview from the council membership.

Mr. Buchan, the contract planner who has been working on the OCP work for much of the last year observed that they had decided to limit the use of the containers to those areas designated as M2, M3 and M6 zones a solution that took into consideration concerns over locating the containers too close to residential areas.

The topic of shipping containers was also one of Councillor Wade Niesh's concerns, who noted that they had previously discussed the topic back in the days when the city had Zeno Krekic on staff as the city planner.

He outlined his desire to ensure that businesses with existing containers find a way to make things work with those residential areas adjacent to those properties, offering up his views on how some of the engagement on the issue should move forward.

Councillor Cunningham also spoke to the issues of container usage within the city limits, noting how many businesses have not taken proper care of their property that hold containers, while others have made for a proper use of them and take pride in their property display. 

Mayor Brain offered up the prospect of adding some additional guidance and amendments towards the issue of containers in the M1 zoned areas of the city.

Which for the most part brought that topic to a close, destined for more discussion sometime in the New Year as the process 

Councillor Mirau made the most use of the hour of discsussion on zoning themes, as he sought some guidance on how to go about introducing amendments to the Bylaw overview, with Mr. Buchan noting that recommendations could be made as part of second reading, adding that the Council has still to take the Zoning Bylaws and OCP work to the public in a public hearing setting.

Among his concerns, Mr. Mirau was interested in themes of short term rentals, secondary suites and other housing issues including concerns over absentee landlords in the community, with the councillor seeking out some clarification on the measures being considered through the new zoning bylaws.

Mr. Mirau also raised questions related to the themes of non-conforming uses of land in the city and what the changes to the proposed bylaw may bring, particularly in the area of secondary suites in the community.

Towards those issues, Mr. Buchan observed how the proposed bylaw changes would address redundancy issues related to city bylaws and enabling legislation.

What to do about high density housing also made for some of Councillor Mirau's talking points, as he returned to council's past work in previous years as well as to the plans for development of the the vision 2030 document and areas for development in the midtown, uptown and downtown.

In follow up conversation towards a few of Mr. Mirau's themes, Mayor Brain suggested keeping RM5 designation for any potential higher density housing options in specific areas of the city, while agreeing with the prospect of an amendment on the councillor's secondary suite concerns.

Councillor Niesh also shared a few observations on the topic, noting that any plans to take out some of the secondary suite options could result in ever larger housing issues in the community.

Zoning themes also offered Councillor Adey the opportunity to explore the differences between home occupations and home businesses, with the seeking some clarification as to how they would fit into the new zoning proposals. 

He also outlined his desire to see the public have some input on the zoning bylaw plans and the Official Community plan, seeking out some guidance as to how the City plans to ensure that the public engagement process will continue to move forward.

"The whole concept of public hearing has become very much more different, so I'm interested in what plans there are to ensure that we can have a robust public process so that people can have access to us to adequately address their concerns" -- Councillor Nick Adey

The Mayor observed how there had been plans for a Public Hearing at the meeting underway, but under the current situation that was not possible. Adding that the City doesn't want to rush into making the process complete until after the public has an ability to participate. 

He outlined how the Council will have to re-evaluate the situation in the New Year, with any changes made at the Monday session to be included as part of the Public Hearing, whenever it may take place and under what conditions the Public Health Officer will allow for such gatherings.

"We were going to try to do a public meeting at this meeting for the OCP and obviously due to the health orders we've delayed it and I think at this point we're going to just have to play it out by ear when it's appropriate for us to be able to host a public hearing. I don't think we rush into getting this complete until such time as this community has  an ability to participate ... I think we're going to have to reassess in the new year and figure out what the right time is going to look like" -- Mayor Lee Brain

When that happens, some familiar themes of the last six years for the majority of this council may also make their way into the final document for review of the public.

As part of the wide ranging discussion of Monday, some perhaps long forgotten items from civic wish lists past returned for an encore.

Among  the many past trial balloons that are now back and under consideration for inclusion, the Fairview bypass road along Wantage Road to the container port, a McBride Street welcome area and Airport Access.

With the recent controversy over some plans by the Port of Prince Rupert to use some land along Park avenue as a staging site,  Councillor Mirau also had thoughts on the temporary land use provisions and the need to ensure that site plans are added to any documentation on those OCP themes. 

Commitments to improving the transit system and electrifying the transmission grid, which he says will reduce the environmental footprint.

As well the Councillor returned to a past desire to see some for District energy program put in place, particularly as to the Civic Centre, Pool, Arena and Lester Centre area, which he notes would have a tremendous capital cost but would bring what he called fantastic long term returns on investment to save on energy costs and reduce emissions. 

He also spoke to the landfill site and the need for composting and organic diversion options, something he acknowledged would require some navigation with the Regional District.

Councillor Cunningham added his own desire to see a European style incinerator put in place at the landfill site to reduce the impact on the footprint of the Ridley Island site and to generate energy for the area and how themes of alternative disposal methods should be added to the OCP.

Mr. Buchan observed that all of those elements could be brought back into the discussion in the New Year.

And if they are, hopefully the council members will provide for a bit more detailed commentary on what that would all mean for the community, both in scope of efficiency and probably more important for the taxpayers, in cost.

They are all themes that could make for a lively Public engagement meeting, should council ever find a way to bring the community into the discussion to view a final presentation and offer guidance before the Council members adopt the new roadmap forward.

A wider overview of the Monday discussion can be explored through our Council Discussion Timeline here.

The video presentation of the Council review can be viewed below starting at the four minute mark of the Monday evening session.

Further background on past council discussion themes can be reviewed from our Council Discussion Archive.

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