Friday, October 29, 2021

Province hopes to streamline and speed up housing approvals with moves towards amended legislation

The Province of British Columbia is looking to add a new tool to the toolbox for municipal government when it comes to housing, announcing earlier this week a plan to make the bureaucratic path of housing approvals a little less challenging to navigate. 

Towards the Development approvals process, the Province outlined the changes as follows:

The proposed changes will remove the default requirement for local governments to hold public hearings for zoning bylaw amendments that are consistent with the official community plan. 

The amendments will also enable municipalities and regional districts to delegate decisions on minor development variance permits to local government staff, which will help decrease the amount of time it takes for approval. 

Together, these proposed changes will provide the authority for local governments to improve their processes and help get homes built faster throughout the province.

The changes would take some of the minor variance requests out of the city council forum and leave it to City staff to weigh the merits of the request and to approve or deny the file.

On Public hearings, the moves would certainly help to speed up the process of development of housing, with the lengthy process of notification and the holding of hearings waived in  circumstances where the projects fit into an Official community plan.

Group photo of Prince Rupert City Council members
(from past City newsletter)

Prince Rupert City council has had some challenges when it comes to the Public Hearing process in the last year, with two significant and large scale projects making for some controversy when it came to how it was perceived that the process moved forward.

Though, while offering some new tools, it would seem that onus of  providing for clear and informative consultation withe residents would be required of municipalities when it comes to steering those projects forward. 

That in order to ensure that they do not receive the strong feedback of concern over how those housing programs have evolved, as the Prince Rupert Mayor and Council have seen over the last year.

The potential revision to the process related to Public Hearings was one theme explored in a recent Federal-Provincial Study into the future of the housing supply and affordable housing, with the panel chaired by Joy McPhail making note of the bureaucracy that can stymie efforts to create affordable housing in communities across the province.

A passage from the 88 page report highlights their findings when it came to the use of Public Hearings and how that forum has resulted in less action on housing needs, particularly when it comes to affordable housing.

Their findings noting of the pressures that the current legislation has put on municipal officials and how it has contributed to part of the housing woes in BC at the moment.

"An important aspect of governance is the land-use planning process, which offers citizens opportunities to provide input on new development based on both real and perceived impacts. We believe that democratic processes are important, but that overreliance on public hearings to make land-use decisions tends to favour certain voices over others. 

This can result in perceptions of majority opposition to new development, especially when the citizens most motivated and available to participate in the process generally oppose the development plans. 

This opposition puts political pressure on the elected officials in charge of reviewing the proposals. Its influence strengthens further as those who support or stand to benefit from new housing supply often do not attend public hearings to voice their views and priorities. 

Such proceedings contribute to a land-use planning system that prevents new housing supply in two ways: first, by restricting or impeding growth as a consequence of lengthy, uncertain and costly processes; and second, by allowing anti-development interests to apply disproportionate political pressure on decision makers."-- From Page 25 of the Final Report of the Canada-British Columbia Expert Panel on the future of Housing supply and affordability

The province has also put forward a plan to modernize some of the local government notification process, outlining the background to that long sought after request by municipalities as follows:

Local governments have requested more flexibility for providing statutory public notices, as is the case in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec. 

Proposed amendments to the Local Government Act, Community Charter, Islands Trust Act, Municipal Replotting Act, University Endowment Land Act and Vancouver Charter will enable local governments to determine and specify, by bylaw, the methods they will use to provide public notice that will reach the greatest number of people in their communities. 

Local governments that choose to adopt a public notice bylaw will have to first consider principles of effective public notice.

The details to the range of changes to the provincial legislation can be reviewed here.

At the most recent Public Hearing related to the 11th Avenue East apartment zoning change request, one approved by Council, Mayor Brain observed that earlier this year Council had adopted a number of changes as to how they will handle many of their development procedures moving forward.

The integration of the city's program with any changes from the province will fall to the new city planner to put into place, once the City has decided on a replacement for Rob Buchan, the architect of the city plans,  who was announced as the new City Manager on October 15th.

More notes on Housing in the community can be explored here.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment