Monday, February 8, 2010
What is going on in Port Moody? ZERO GROWTH!
Port Moody Official Community Plan (OCP) Meetings Resume
Meeting Type: Committee of the Whole
When: Saturday, February 6, 2010
Where: Inlet Theatre, 100 Newport Drive, Port Moody
Time: 9am to Noon
On Saturday, February 6, Port Moody City Council is holding a Committee of the Whole meeting to continue their review of the draft Official Community Plan (OCP). The public is welcome to attend and observe the discussion.
More information on the OCP update process, as well as the January 2010 revised version of the OCP, is available at www.cityofportmoody.com/ocp
For further information, please contact Mary De Paoli, Planner, at email@example.com or 604-469-4702.
As the Planning and Development consultant to Imperial Oil on the future of its 650 acre IOCO Refinery Property, I decided to give up my usual Saturday morning winter round of golf to listen to the discussion on future planning directions in Port Moody. While I did not expect the IOCO Property to be a subject for discussion, boy was I wrong.
For those of you who have not been to Port Moody for a while, it has changed. There is an impressive City Hall across the street from Bosa's impressive Newport Village. Onni has transformed the skyline with some very big buildings, (some are too big for my liking) but they have added a new vitality to the area. There is an attractive new waterfront park development and redevelopment along St. John Street. The former IPSCO Steel property has been transformed into Klahani, a very attractive planned community by Polygon.
For the past couple of years, the Planning Department had been working on a revised OCP and it was quite an impressive document, with lots of pictures and good ideas...almost a modern day encyclopedia of current planning theory about good planning, sustainable development, infill housing, etc. etc.
So what happened, and why this post?
The problem is what hasn't happened. While the North East Sector has been promised a SkyTrain extension for years, it has not materialized. Instead, the line was built to Richmond and the Airport, and now attention is being focused on the future Broadway Line. Like Rodney Dangerfield, Mayor Trasolini felt that he was not getting any respect, especially from the people making the decisions.
So recently he and his Council decided there should be zero or minimal residential growth in Port Moody until the Provincial Government committed to the Evergreen Line and the Murray-Clarke Connector. To ensure this happened, he instructed the Planning Department to further revise the Official Community Plan to essentially remove those provisions that would allow additional residential growth, even sustainable new development. In January, a revised OCP was issued, but from my reading, it did not seem to stop further growth until the Evergreen Line and the much desired Murray-Clarke Connector was approved.
A presentation on the revised document was scheduled for Saturday morning. I arrived a few minutes late, only to discover that the attendance was sparse, to put it mildly, and Council was about to discuss only those Chapters of the OCP that did not in any way insinuate more residential growth. And so a nice discussion ensued regarding the Environment, and Parks and Community Infrastructure...
(Although I must share that one Council member was worried that the proposal to eliminate unnecessary idling might mean people would have to turn off their car engines at stoplights!)
I assumed we would then move onto the 'growth chapters' but no...the Mayor was about to end the meeting when the topic of 'Special Study Areas' came up. These are larger sites, both publicly and privately owned, that are identified in the OCP as requiring longer term comprehensive planning before any zoning can be approved allowing new mixed use developments. The former IOCO Refinery has been designated as a Special Study Area for years.
Well, before any of the 20 or so remaining members of the audience could appreciate what was happening, a motion was put forward that all the Special Study Areas should be removed from the OCP! Yes, removed; right there and then.
There was no suggestion that perhaps the OCP should be modified to say that planning could continue in Special Study Areas but no zoning approvals should be granted until new transportation infrastructure was committed....No. They were simply removed.
In the case of the IOCO lands, Council did not remove the extensive section in the Heritage Chapter which addresses the heritage restoration of the Historic Townsite. This is something many Port Moody residents look forward to. No, that remained. Unfortunately, no one was given the opportunity to point out that the desired Heritage Restoration will never happen until there are planning approvals for other portions of the other lands, some of which have been successfully remediated in recent years.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Mayor appeared to realize that perhaps he had essentially thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and shut down not only all residential growth but also potential new non-residential development as well. So he made a statement to the effect that Council was still encouraging non-residential development and its related economic development to take place. Unfortunately, the Mayor and Council have obviously not been paying attention to the discussions taking place in Vancouver and elsewhere in the region that clearly demonstrate that residential development is often necessary to 'subsidize' commercial development. Without one, you won't get the other.
As the meeting ended, like performers at a concert, the Mayor, Councillors and staff went off through their own door, thus removing any opportunity for the few remaining dumbfounded members of the audience to buttonhole them. So we gathered in the sunny lobby, wondering what really had just happened. Someone commented how sad it was that no members of the media were there to record the event.
I drove home thinking that Port Moody Council might have just made a terrible mistake. While I completely understand its frustration over the lack of decisions on SkyTrain and the Murray-Clarke Connector, I think it was wrong to close the door on planning for future growth and planning for the 'Special Study Areas' without any discussion of the consequences. Similarly, Council should have allowed some representation from the land owners, many of whom pay very significant property taxes to the city, before taking such a position.
While I am sure the Mayor and Council would like these affected owners and other large and small land owners to lobby the Province and Translink on their behalf, time will tell if this happens. Time will also tell if Port Moody property taxes have to increase to offset the loss in revenues from new development applications and approvals, and zero to minimal growth.
I will end with a comment from one local resident standing in the lobby who was hoping the OCP revisions would encourage the subdivision of larger single family lots to accommodate 2 or 3 smaller, more affordable infill homes. He left the building discouraged that while he can build a 7,000 foot home on the property, Council had just closed the door on precisely the kind of development that he thought Port Moody really needs.
Ironically, earlier in the meeting, the Councillors were lamenting the construction of larger single family homes that seemed out of character with their neighbourhoods. A special discussion on this will take place in two meetings from now.
Hopefully someone will point out the folly of Council's decisions this past Saturday morning in this regard.