Friday, February 12, 2021

All Plans pass through iPlans

Map from GOOGLE maps

If Prince Rupert City Council were to take on some themes from a Grade Six Civics Class, a participation medal would surely have been handed out to Rob and Chris Buchan from iPlan on Monday night, the pair of contract planners for the city the hardest working tandem in place earlier this week.

During the course of the short twenty eight minute night of civic governance, they provided for the bulk of the agenda presentations, providing for a range of overviews on a variety of variance requests in front of council, report after report providing some expansive commentary and documentation of the plans that local residents have for their personal properties.

The iPlan team also delivered a substantive report on the path forward for the Kootenay Avenue Housing plans, noting that the proponent, having received the feedback of those neighbours in the area had revised their plans, eliminating the most controversial of the elements, which now seemingly paves the way ahead to area redevelopment.

Their work on what seem to now be day to day planning themes would seem to be a shift in focus for City Council which had originally contracted the work of the City's Official Plan makeover to the Vancouver Island based firm.

Last summer, City Manager Robert Long outlined for Council that he would be taking up the duties of civic planning after the departure of former civic planner Zeno Krekic, 're-substituting' as he put it at the time,  though he hasn't spoken much in Council since then on planning issues.

And judging by the volume of reports directed his way on Monday, mostly now the work is being handed over to the contract planners to do the necessary research and recommendation on planning themes.

We first heard of the work of iPlan team following the Vision 2030 presentation, the original work ahead for them the revamping of the City's Official Community Plan and a suite of bylaws to go with it, something which Council has put in motion this year.

Along the way it seems the side jobs began to arrive, occasional reports on a range of themes, most noticeable to date the introduction of the recently approved Downtown tax incentive program to rebuild the downtown core.

As well, iPlan has now been tasked to sort out the city's long standing issues related to parking in the community.

However, while the work that iPlan does is seemingly quite professional and instructive and delivers a strong presentation of important information, City Council has yet to advise the residents of Prince Rupert if this will now be the path moving forward for the City, that of contract planning, with no local department in place.

It's not unusual for small towns to use that approach, it's a popular path for many communities on Vancouver  Island; though in the Northwest most of our neighbouring communities still host their own internal planning departments.

It should be noted that the advantage to having a department in house, as opposed to contracted to an out of town office, is local knowledge of community and neighbourhoods, which could reduce potential conflict with residents as housing proposals move forward.

The city's focus through 2020 and now into 2021 of using a contracted firm, would seem to make Prince Rupert a trailblazer for how planning issues for the region will be approached moving into the future.

It's well within the mandate of City Council to change how the city conducts its business with the public, though it also should be something that they actually explain to their residents, providing the rationale towards those decisions, explaining the costs associated to the new model compared to old, that so everyone knows in what direction we're all going.

So far, Council has not made much mention of how the planning department works, or who in fact residents should contact if they have items of note or concern; you won't find any guidance towards that on the city website and you won't find it in the various social media streams that they rely on more and more for information sharing.

Council members had a chance to chart any new course for the public on Monday, the twenty minute session one which perhaps could have used a bit of expanded discussion on planning following the Kootenay Avenue decision.

Monday also would have been an opportune moment for the Mayor to provide his oft promised presentation on the ambitions for housing that City has dedicated itself to in 2021, something he posted to his Facebook page on New Year's Eve, but hasn't delivered in the public forum of Council, where perhaps the elected councillors could share some thoughts on the path forward.

With what appears to be many potential housing decisions to come in the next few months, Council needs to be a little more clear as to how they intend to handle planning issues and who the public should look to for guidance as they move forward through the council process ahead.

You can catch up on some of the housing themes in Prince Rupert from our archive page here.

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

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