Dear Vancouver Council,
You don’t have development experience, planning does… and that is okay
By Brandon Harding, Vice President
Vancouver has a diligent planning department that is well versed in following detailed guidelines that have been implemented to organize new developments in a way that is both suitable for the community and economically viable based on those guidelines. Our council doesn’t have experience in the development, construction, or building field and can provide little input on the feasibility of a project… and that is okay. That is the reason we spend a significant amount of public money, ensuring a competent department of professionals capable of building communities without a council micromanaging how they operate. These projects take years of consultation with multiple departments to make sure that these guidelines are strictly followed.
Due to this process, the council should feel confident in planning’s recommendations to support projects. This streamlines the process so that by the time the application reaches the council, everything should be rubber-stamped unless there is a significant community flaw that is specific to the development application outside of planning’s scope. Sustaining this process allows new projects to be developed and the housing supply crisis hopefully can be addressed. Instead of respecting planning’s ability to steer the ship council is frequently undermining the applications with their own unprofessional input that is not based on the reality of today’s real estate market.
Take for example, a 21-unit townhome development in Shaughnessy recently in the news. After years of consultation with planning, the company, and the city seemed to have finally come to an agreement that the general manager of planning, alongside urban design and sustainability, felt comfortable supporting and the owners felt comfortable building. This likely took many revisions and compromise with many professionals coming to an arrangement that seemed both feasible and beneficial for the community. After tens of thousands of dollars spent by both the owner and the public cost engaging planning and consultation, plus countless hours on each side, this was brought before the council to get final approval. At this stage, the project should have been a simple go ahead as their own people put this together following community guidelines. However, an inch to the finish line after cutting through mounds of red tape, the council felt they needed to have their own input that ended the project. Their message:
Our planning department is only the secretary you must comply with until we can input our own political agenda.
What are the implications of this?
First, the undermining of the planning department should be noted. Secondly, developers now realize they have no certainty at any stage of the project until the council has provided final approval. This kind of relationship between community builders and city staff is unhealthy and counterproductive. There are so many negative implications caused by not relying on the recommendations of the city’s professionals and believing limited real estate knowledge provides Vancouver with greater benefits is senseless. The micromanaging by council yet again slows the development process, increases costs to developers and taxpayers and thus limits the supply of new housing being added to the market.
The time has come to give the helm back to the diligent workers in planning that are more than capable of continuing the course that keeps Vancouver one of the most beautiful places in the world to live. Council needs to recognize that their lack of real estate experience is not a flaw, but merely not the job they were intended to do. When proper consultation and due process has been achieved we need leaders that have the courage to promote and encourage more of these kinds of development without undermining the system and preserving a healthy relationship between the city, communities and builders.