Letter to Council: Zoning Bylaw 2017 – Unintended Consequences

Posted on December 1st, 2017 · Posted in Land Use, Letters

Mayor Helps and Council
City of Victoria
No.1 Centennial Square
Victoria, BC
V8W 1P6

November 30, 2017

Re: Zoning Bylaw 2017 – Unintended Consequences

Dear Mayor Helps and Council,

The current situation of over 70 unique zones across Downtown is both a nuisance and
a blessing. A nuisance in that valuable staff and Council time is consumed by zoning
amendments that involve minor changes in use. A blessing in that it supports a
transparent system of land use governance and citizen participation through the CALUC
process.

The DRA has expressed concerns regarding potential unintended consequences that
may result if the Zoning Bylaw 2017 is passed as proposed. Our major concerns include:

• Up-zoning of some key properties by adding new permitted uses;
• Facilitating the assembly of large parcels;
• Reducing or eliminating Council’s discretion on many development applications
(including very large developments);
• Reducing or eliminating public consultation and participation in the development
process;
• Reducing or eliminating transparency in the development process; and,
• Eliminating onsite parking requirement in Old Town for all development,
regardless of size.

Overview
It is well understood by the DRA that the new bylaw does not intend to offer any
additional density not already entitled to a particular property but it is our understanding
that it will homogenize the allowable uses across the entire districts; adding many uses
that were previously prohibited. The definition of “up-zoning” includes not only changes
in density but changing the classification of a property from one with a lower use to that
of a higher use.

The blanket zoning proposed (for Old Town in particular) would facilitate the
amalgamation of lots with no limit apart from that of the constraints of the city block.
Furthermore, we understand that there are no approvals required to amalgamate any
number of city lots.

Combined, these two aspects have the potential to create some extremely large and
impactful projects in the Old Town and the CBD. The situation is compounded by the
fact that any projects proposed would only be governed by the Development Permit (DP)
process and guided by their associated policies. We know that the DP process does not
require public consultation and severely restricts, if not eliminates, Council’s
discretionary power to legally shape or decline an application. If variances do not form a
part of the application, this process does not go for public comment and would entirely
be governed by staff interpretation of policy through private negotiations with the
developer. Staff maintains that policies exist to govern form and character fpr
developments proposed under development permits, but recent applications heard at
Council have exposed these policies to appear either weak themselves or weakly
enforced.

Staff has advised us that details of negotiations with developers during the DP process
are private and not available to be shared with the public. This opaque process does not
inspire confidence as staff will be the de facto arbiter of policy interpretation. The impact
of these interpretations appears enhanced with the new bylaw. This becomes even more
worrisome as a “clean” development permit (one with no variances) no matter the size,
does not go to public comment at Council (only to Committee of the Whole after an
extremely short public notification period).

In order to maintain Council discretion and community consultation on applications that
are extremely large, the DRA suggests a maximum building size be included if Council
wishes to adopt the proposed bylaw. This would allow the originally promoted
housekeeping aims of the new bylaw to proceed but would maintain Council discretion
over what would be large and impactful applications. A maximum building size would not
prohibit large developments but simply trigger a zoning amendment that would then
allow for both public consultation and Council discretion. Existing large buildings need
not be “down-zoned” but could simply be grandfathered through the “special regulations”
that are currently proposed to protect existing entitlements.

Example in Old Town
The DRALUC has identified several specific properties that we expect could have a
substantial impact on our community by reclassification under the Zoning Bylaw 2017.
One specific example are the adjoining properties all owned by a single landowner that
make up about half a city block at Fisgard, Store and Herald Streets. The current uses
are parking lots and unprotected low-rise buildings. You can see on the attached map
that half of the lot fronting Store Street is now zoned C-SS. The Example in Old Town
only allowable use of the C-SS zone is Service Station. Currently this property would
need a full rezoning in order to be redeveloped either on its own or developed along with
the several adjoining properties also owned by the same owner. Council has a great deal of
discretion in handling such a potentially massive application (it would be the largest in
Old Town for several decades) and the public has an opportunity to fully participate in the
process through the CALUC system.

It is our understanding that once the new zoning bylaw is in place no rezoning will be
then required and development of this huge site will proceed unfettered governed only
by the DP process. This is confirmed by the mapping provided by the City showing this
property will be included within the proposed OTD-1 Zone. Development of this site
under a DP, instead of the current requirement for rezoning, would leave Council,
regardless of public sentiment, with little discretionary influence over the possible
impacts resulting from the development of an extremely large 175,000 sq ft building
within a National Historic Site.

Parking
The Draft Zoning Bylaw within the proposed Old Town Zone also “proposes no off-street
vehicular parking in recognition of site constraints and historic Old Town context”. While
the elimination of the vehicular Parking requirement is already recognised on many sites
within Old Town through the CA-3C zone it is also appropriate for small projects that
actually have site constraints or are heritage designated. There however appears no
rationale to relieve large projects such as the one mentioned above from a requirement
for parking. We already know that parking needs to be provided in buildings that wish to
offer a wider range of unit sizes required by couples and families. The parking
requirement should only be waived for buildings under a certain size incentivising
applicants to conform with the Old Town design guideline requirements to promote
buildings that are strongly contextual and respect the “small lot and fine-grained”
character of Old Town.

Conclusion
The proposed Zoning Bylaw 2017 will create homogenous “catch all” zones across Old
Town and the CBD and convert much of the future land use governance to a “by right”
system. The danger is that Council will reduce its own and the public’s participation in
legislative action and cede much land use administration to an opaque staff-controlled
process. The structure of the new bylaw should gain efficiencies in staff and Council time
but not at the expense of maintaining transparency and citizen engagement and the
discretionary power for Council to intervene as necessary. We believe that further
discussions are necessary to improve the proposed bylaw and the associated policies
that are to govern the process.

Sincerely,

Ian Sutherland

Chair Land Use Committee
Downtown Residents Association
cc COV Planning

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