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Readers weigh in on pre-zoning as the city considers how it could be implemented here
On May 19, we published a story on city-initiated rezoning, otherwise known as blanket rezoning or pre-zoning. We heard from many readers expressing both support and skepticism. Here are some of the letters we received.
Requirements to divide an existing home unfair
Thank you for writing the housing story. I’m GenX and a homeowner. I’m also the parent of a special-needs kiddo who will need care his whole life—and the people who work at his school and provide his respite and step up in so many other ways that matter can’t afford to live here.
I have a property in Gonzales that could split off a small lot with a very small, garden-cottage-sized, house (size restricted by monster sewer easement). I had vague ideas about building one and selling at whatever a median-income 20-something in Victoria can afford. Then I ran into that three-page checklist process you wrote about. Um. Single parent. No time. So much no time. Also, if I took my kiddo to the required community meetings, he would probably swing from the ceiling fans naked.
I was shocked by the requirements. By the specificity, the micromanaging, the oozing entitlement on behalf of existing homeowners that‘s baked into them. (And who even are these people? I’d love infill housing on my street that didn’t look like the others and had a bike garage instead of a driveway and *gasp* dared to wield bright colours).
I want to retire into middle housing one day. Please keep writing these stories so that I know where to show up when the marching-in-the-streets part happens.
Cities are turning their planning departments into profit centres
I do like your article, but I think it is incomplete. There are a few major topics that have possibly been left off the table that would stream line the process.
One is that the municipalities need to adhere to their OCP’s. I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with developers that come down to the rezoning request being denied even though it fell within the OCP. Usually due to a NIMBY attitude.
Even beyond rezoning, which is excessively laborious and costly, is that development permit applications are also excessively laborious and costly. Look at the cost of a multi-family building permit application in Saanich. Not the permit, just the application. It’s a huge risk to the developer to lay out that kind of capital up front with no guarantee of approval. Cities are turning their planning departments into profit centres, rather that being cost-recovery from fees. It’s theft.
What else would be helpful? Amalgamation. No one talks about Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, Vic West, Oak Bay, and View Royal all having different OCP’s, development requirements, rezoning appetites, etc. It’s ridiculous. Let’s face the fact that there are essentially 3 “zones” to Victoria, and streamline the development process.
Housing is all about supply & demand, and right now the demand is intense and the supply is low.
Keep on writing!
Pre-zoning gives away city's bargaining position
The most accurate points in your article “How to make space" regarding housing, affordability and pre-zoning, were captured in comments by Ian Sutherland, that the net result of City of Victoria pre-zoning parking lots for highrises was to instantly create great wealth for parking lot owners while creating exactly ‘zero’ in terms of greater affordability across the market.
For years now, Victoria Council has repeated an error many times, in failing to recognize in form and legal terms of the difference between “Land Designation” and “Land Rezoning”. This difference is critical, not merely one of semantics, and the implications of failing to separate the two have left Victoria undermining its own steps towards affordability. “Land Designation” is simply a conceptual framework for potential land use for a given area. It is simply and completely ‘aspirational’ as is most of what is contained in the Official Community Plan (OCP). While the city is mandated by BC law to have an OCP (renewed every 20 years) it is not legally required to fully meet its policy objectives—most cities don't as the objectives are either unrealistic or fail for other reasons.
“Zoning” or “Pre-zoning” is a legal bylaw of a municipal government that governs what can be built upon a given site or area. By pre-zoning a district, a city Council confers the legal right by a developer to build to a specific density and form. Here is where the city fails to protect the interests of the public, by failing to ensure that there is an enshrined public benefit arising from a pre-zoning. Essentially they have given away the bargaining position and the opportunity to obtain the means to achieve their stated public policies.
The acceptance of proposals based on the OCP Land Designation can include a large number of policy objectives, including parkspace, community access, public amenities and housing objectives (affordability, disabled access, etc.). All of those potential community benefits and policy objectives become part of the development negotiations for development proposals.
As Ian Sutherland points out, the pre-zoning immediately raises the land cost of all properties in the re-zoned area; every property owner simply looks at the increased buildable square footage, makes a calculation and increases the cost of land to fit the pro forma development calculation. Another way to describe this would be to state the obvious: “Council, in their function as public guardians are, by pre-zoning, conferring wealth upon property owners with no commensurate public benefit.”
There is far more on the subject, but I will leave it there for now and end with this: Victoria will never attain any useful degree of affordability through their confusion and failure to differentiate between policy aspiration and legal bylaw. Furthermore none of the new development projected through their granting of development permits will assuage the cost of market housing: it can’t because they’ve already opened the store and given away all the goods on the shelves for free.
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Open-minded approach is needed
My husband and I are in our late 50’s, self employed and not wealthy enough to consider buying a house, condo etc. As our business grows, we are faced with having to find a bigger rental. The lack of rentals has become real to us. Finding one is proving challenging.
Also challenging is having to listen to our parents go on about encroaching construction and increasing density in their areas.
An open minded approach is what is needed, pre-zoning seems great to me!
So here it is: If you want me close enough to provide help around the house and transport to doctors appointments etc...provide more affordable housing!
Thank you so very much, CD, for letting me get that out.