Job one, as I understand it, for Ms. Lesyshen in 2020 will be to quarterback our long-awaited, much-anticipated Official Community Plan review. The City of Colwood completed a new OCP of its own last year, so she will be walking in with all the best practices and direct experience to pull off one of the most daunting of every municipality's planning challenges and legislative requirements.
Council discussed the OCP at this Monday's Committee of the Whole. The legal context along with useful constructive criticism of the current document and a menu of gaps to be filled in the next one are detailed in Ms. Campbell's report available in the Dec. 16 COW agenda here (link).
All of us on council are naturally eager to get the OCP started ... or rather re-started after the excellent initial public engagement phase (late 2016, complete with three online surveys and multiple public feedback sessions) and suggestions from then-planner Danica Rice on how our zoning categories could be modernized for an aspirational smart-growth community.
Things came to a halt back in June, 2017 because the planning department was short-staffed and then-CAO Teresa Sullivan had no choice but to reassign Ms. Rice to frontline planning work (until she herself tired of the daily commute from her home in Cowichan Bay and took a position with the City of Duncan).
As it turned out, however, the delay was a good thing as it allowed the District time to initiate a now near-complete set of essential foundational documents -- namely updated Parks & Trails and Transportation masterplans along with the Housing Needs Report (now posted on the District's website), Child Care and Lot A reports -- as the backbone for the next OCP. (We also likely would benefit from an update of the 2009 Town Centre Plan, however there is only so much $$$ we can lavish on consultants and the existing document captures the waterfront vision for a commercial/residential waterfront hub nicely ~ a definitive snapshot of #SookeSmartGrowth and an example of what in recent years has been dubbed the "20-minute neighbourhood.")
We're also fortunate that a wealth of statistical data (aka the "Sooke Baseline Study") is now being prepared independently and at no cost to us by masters' students in Royal Roads University's School of Tourism & Hospitality Management program. Drawing on Sooke's own reports and numerous other sources, it will cover transportation, housing, standard of living, the environment, sports, safety, arts and culture, education, health and wellness, "belonging and leadership" and tourism.
Some of the conversational threads I raised on Monday afternoon as I recall them four days later ...
i) Unlike the non-prioritized recommendations in the current OCP, let's see its policy suggestions divided into short, medium and longer-term categories so that council and staff get clear direction on what to tackle next. I noted that the 2010 Parks & Trails Plan had it right in creating a series of "Priority Class Projects" ~ A (1 to 5 years); B (6 to 12 years); C (13 to 20 years); and D (20+ years). In this way, the OCP can focus on the immediate future while also looking at more distant horizons. (As Langford did so successfully and in its unique way in the 1990s, when A-list community planner Avi Freidman was hired as a consultant for a masterplan that continues to unfold largely as intended today; just in case we hear any accusations of us dragging our feet with the OCP, please note that Mayor Young's latest OCP is two years older than our own and there's no word about its update that I've heard.)
ii) In terms of process, we are leaning, it seems, towards a traditional OCP steering committee featuring one or two (not all of us, as several of us wish) council reps and a set of VIP public appointees. On Monday, I made the rather clever suggestion, I daresay, that rather than issuing a general call for committee members that will net who knows whom, we instead ask our leading community groups -- the three Lions clubs, Rotary, Transition Sooke, Sooke Region Community Health Network, Chamber of Commerce, Community Association, SEAPARC, SD #62 board, Sooke Arts, etc. -- to canvas their ranks and put forward one appointee each. I can't imagine a better way to get fulsome community engagement while eliminating any possible suggestions that the OCP has been "hijacked" (as one former councillor has said of the current doc) by special interests.
iii) To save time and consultant dollars (budgeted over 24 months at $200k, which is in the mid-range of what OCPs cost BC communities), let's visit Staples, buy a box of red pencils and ask our TBD committee to salvage the "good bits" from the 2010 OCP while excising the dross and adding new material based on the next rounds of public input. It seems vital to me that we honour the work of the past and identify the enduring threads of community consensus that connect our previous OCPs (2010, 2001) and the CRD local area plans that preceded them.
iv) I also noted on Monday that I routinely get north-star inspiration and perspective from the OCP infographic (see below) that Ms. Rice created based on her 2016 public feedback. What a beautiful, responsible, inclusive, everyday visionary set of "big goals" and "key directions" to embed in the next iteration of our reliably #LetSookeBeSooke community plan.
PS What follows is a cut-and-paste of the closing portion of Ms. Campbell's COW report since you're very likely time-stressed and have opted not to open the agenda. (Of everything I've seen in my first year in office, the one recurring fact I find myself applauding time and time again is the professionalism and expertise District staff ~ and their CRD counterparts, for that matter ~ display in following logical, proven, Local Government Act/Community Charter-sanctified best practices. This is just the latest in a long line of such examples.)
"Guiding Principles for an updated OCP:
It is important to establish a set of guiding principles for an OCP re-write to help steer the process and create a policy document which provides the greatest benefit to the community. The principles are general statements that outline not only the type of OCP that is most desirable for the District, but the way in which it is developed.
As the project progresses, the principles of the OCP review process can be further developed and enhanced. While staff believe that Council input is critical to establishing the principles, the following are some initial ideas for Council to consider. Council's Strategic Plan provided important direction for the creation of the guiding principles.
1. First and foremost, develop an OCP that is created with a high degree of community input and fully endorsed by the community. Residents and stakeholders should have multiple opportunities for meaningful input before they perceive that changes are set in stone. This can be achieved through comprehensive public consultation at the outset, continuing through the process. (Effective and consistent communication).
2. Develop an OCP that provides clear and consistent guidance and direction for Council, staff, and the development community. (Effective governance and Long-term thinking)
3. Establish a user friendly OCP that is easily understood by the public, decision makers and staff. (Effective governance and consistent communication). This can be achieved through the following ...
a. A logical and organized bylaw structure
b. Strategic use of info graphics and illustrations
c. Clear language and well-defined terms
d. Clear and concise table of contents and index digitally linked to relevant sections of the document; and
e. Easy online use
4. Achieve an OCP that defines and enhances the unique character and future of Sooke. (Community Vibrancy and Long-term thinking)
5. Improve development guidelines to achieve a desirable form and character of development in Sooke. (Community Vibrancy, well-being and safety)
6. Focus on incorporating the provincial framework for a Healthy Built Environment: Neighbourhood Design, Transportation Networks, Natural Environment, Food Systems, Housing all with a social/economic underpinning. (Community well-being and safety, Vibrancy and Environmental leadership)
The process of developing a new OCP evolves as new information is received/obtained, consensus on the process is reached and interim decisions are made. It is important that expectations are managed throughout the process. For example, it may be determined partway into the process that it’s a priority for the community to focus on
economic development and as a result it is proposed to Council that funds either be reallocated or additionally budgeted for in order to develop an economic development strategy for the community which would then provide an 'update' to section 4.4 of the current OCP. Another example might be placing priority on the environment specific to
climate change which could also lead to the need for additional funds or reallocation of funds towards the creation of a climate action plan with a subsequent update to several sections of the current OCP.
Once the Senior Planner has started they will need approximately one month to become familiar with the current OCP and related documents (draft TMP and PTMP; Housing Needs Report; Child Care Needs Assessment, Economic Analysis, growth projections and previous OCP engagement work). Other planning staff are in the process of
preparing "white papers" for use during the OCP review which would serve as a method to inform the project consultant on the specific challenges that Sooke is facing.
The white papers will address the following areas in the existing OCP: Development Permit Areas, Land Use Designations, Housing Policies and Climate Action and Adaption. They will identify current challenges in those areas with respect to how the current OCP policy has responded to real world conditions for the past decade. This critical review will assist in creating an understanding of the effectiveness of these policy sections in achieving Sooke's goals.
After this review is complete an RFP will be drafted for publication on the District website and civic web. Once proposals have been received and reviewed by staff, a report will be presented to Council to approve awarding the
project to the successful bidder. After the successful bidder is awarded the contract OCPs take approximately two years to complete."
PPS Here's how accelerated growth is being planned for the future commuter (GO Train-connected) Metro Toronto town of Inisfill south of Barrie ~ current population 40k and projected for three times that by 2060. As its Mayor says in this clip, the idea is to densify a boldly reimagined town centre and let the rest of an otherwise rural community retain its existing character. A game-changer for us and the rest of the South Island, of course, would be if the BC government makes a serious commitment to rapid transit in its South Island Transportation Plan, due for release early next year. (Our best hope for the 71% of Sooke residents commuting by bus to work, I figure, is that the province embraces the idea of a fleet of fast buses running to major employment centres from Langford, to which we'd be connected by our own set of express routes.)