Read the draft in full here.
The District's OCP website page has been updated with details on how you can provide constructive criticism over the next six weeks -- online, at community pop-ups, via written submission, and at two "broad public engagements," notably the Sept. 18 Celebrate Sooke gathering in John Phillips Memorial Park. As on so many other levels of COVID-era life, it's been tricky for all involved to develop an OCP without citizen facetime, so please take this rare opportunity to meet in still necessarily distanced person with OCP-AC members and representatives from the OCP staff/consultant team.
The draft OCP aligns as it must with the CRD's Regional Growth Strategy. It's consistent in its streamlined way with two earlier Sooke OCPs and the various CRD area plans before them that prioritize managed, smart growth densification of the Town Centre and protection of rural areas. It also reflects substantial public input skillfully gathered during the pandemic.
At risk of dramatically oversimplifying a complex document, the OCP highlight reel focuses future residential and commercial growth in a tight-knit, walkable, waterfront-oriented town centre; accommodates in-fill in existing neighbourhoods; sets the stage for sewer expansion east to Kaltasin Rd. to service First Nation, school, residential and future employment (industrial) land; and provides tightened regulations and guidelines governing incoming development as we set the supremely challenging course for a Net Zero Sooke, province and planet by 2050.
* Purpose of this Plan - pg. 10 "At its heart, an OCP is about managing land use and physical growth of the community ... It provides guidance for council and staff, who consider and apply OCP directions and policies to a wide range of municipal decisions." Rather than repeating the minutiae of existing District master plans and reports, the OCP ideally captures their chief recommendations and points to them for further reference/detail/action.
* Net Zero & GHG Reduction Targets - pp. 22/23. Council asked on Monday night that the OCP adhere to the 50% drawdown by 2030 we approved in late April rather than the more sluggish provincial schedule (40%) cited in the draft and established long before record temperatures, heat domes and wildfires were facts of 2021 life. This is in keeping with the accelerated climate action recommended from many quarters, including the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its recent Code Red assessment as well as the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council, led by Kamloops Mayor and former UBCM President Arjun Singh. Sooke is developing the 7% Solution strategy in a let's-give-it-our-best-shot effort to cut terrestrial GHG emissions (i.e., conventional measurements, not "hidden emissions" from agriculture, tourism, etc.) in half by 2030 by focusing on transportation and building heating/cooling, our two biggest local carbon sources. The province, meanwhile, will this fall release a "Roadmap to 2030" update to its CleanBC climate action plan -- an essential next step according to representatives from environmental NGOs and the CleanBC advisors at the Climate Solutions Council.
* Regional Context Statement - pg. 26. A must for every CRD municipality as dictated by the Local Government Act. An updated version of Sooke's current statement will be included in the final document.
* The Goals for Sooke - pg. 32 (screenshot below; divided into 15 sub-categories under the three themes of "Green and Net Zero," "Enjoyable and Distinct" and "Equitable and Respectful.")
* Land Use, Map & General Land Use Policies - pg. 38-57 (featuring 11 revised land use designations covering all of the District. These will be the basis for next year's new Sooke Zoning Bylaw. Notably the Town Centre is split again into waterfront and north-of-Sooke-Road categories, and a new Town Centre Transitional Residential area runs east to the incoming BC Housing project on Drennan.)
* Policies & Actions - pp. 59-131 (practical steps to achieve the goals - Transportation; Natural Environment; Parks & Trails; Green Building; Infrastructure; Agriculture & Food Systems; Community Economic Development; Arts and Culture; Housing; Recreation & Community Services; and Equitable Community)
* Development Permit Areas - pp. 137-201 (precise regulations and guidelines that developers must follow in securing permission to build in Sooke; includes energy & water conservation, GHG reduction + environmental protection policies for the Sooke foreshore, riparian areas, steep slopes, the Town Centre, waterfront, intensive residential, neighbourhood commercial and employment lands.)
* Implementation Plan - pp. 203-219 (a compendium of the 109 recommended actions -- divided into ongoing, short, medium and long-term priorities and complete with a list of who's responsible for tackling them individually or in combination -- largely the District of Sooke, the CRD and the province, but also in case-specific situations the
T'Sou-ke, BC Transit, BC Hydro, the Chamber, the South Island Prosperity Project and local associations and non-profits.)
Important to note again that the OCP is the umbrella document that brings into alignment all the other deeply detailed District plans and reports -- among them Transportation (2020), Parks & Trails (2020), Housing Needs (2019), Childcare Needs (2019) and Economic Analysis (2019). The draft calls immediately for a makeover of Sooke's 2013 Zoning Bylaw (legislatively required after any new OCP). And it seeks updates in the years ahead to the Town Centre Plan (2009; the OCP Advisory Committee cites this as an immediate priority), the Wildfire Protection Plan (2011), the Community Energy & Emissions Plan (2013; a top priority for those of us on the Climate Action Committee as we draft the framework for a Climate Action Plan), the Agricultural Plan (2012), the Emergency Response & Business Continuity Plan (2013), and the Sooke Region Cultural Plan (2011).
At the Aug. 30 council meeting, DIALOG's lead consultant Jennifer Fix delivered a thorough overview of the journey to date, focusing extensively on the plan's 15 goals crafted so carefully from public feedback. She also itemized some of the policies and recommended actions that flow from these goals. Her talk begins at the meeting replay's 25-minute mark following opening comments by OCP Advisory Committee chair Helen Ritts (18:00) and the District's Director of Planning Matthew Pawlow.
Last week's supplemental agenda includes excellent constructive criticism on the draft from the Advisory Committee, which has been meeting monthly for nearly a year now. The nine public appointees delivered substantial input on the first draft early this summer, and they've again come through on relatively short notice with a respectful critique and further suggested revisions.
The planning team's response is published directly in the Aug. 30 supplemental agenda; dive into the District's info portal to see the committee's comments in full. They did a particularly good job, I think, in summing up key public concerns (see below for a screenshot from their six-page volley of well-written/reasoned feedback.) They want the next iteration to better reflect in plain language these concerns and the various pathways the OCP proposes to address/resolve them. They'd also like the OCP to have more of a Sooke colour and flavour that celebrates where we've been and what's been achieved to date (an executive summary is the place to do this effectively; integrating more elements, graphics and maps from the Background Research Report would be helpful for casual readers.)
Overall, as Mayor Tait and council said on Monday night in our various ways, BRAVO! and now back to Sooke at large -- citizens, public committees, community stakeholders and developers very much included -- to weigh in with further refinements as the schedule moves forward to delivery of a final OCP (at which point the clock is reset and immediately starts ticking towards the next one a decade hence.)
* 2010 Official Community Plan
* Proposal from DIALOG (part of the June 8, 2020 Special Council agenda)
* OCP Advisory Committee Terms of Reference
* District's April, 2020 OCP Request for Proposals
4.4.1 Objectives (pg. 10)
The OCP represents the community’s vision for the future and provides a policy framework to guide growth and decision-making about the use and management of land in the District of Sooke. The following objectives will be achieved with this OCP Review:
- Develop an OCP with a high degree of community input, balancing local and technical expertise, producing a document that is endorsed by the community.
- Develop an OCP that provides clear and consistent guidance and direction for Council, staff and the development community.
- Establish a user friendly OCP that is easily understood by the public, decision makers and staff.
- Achieve an OCP that defines and enhances the unique character of Sooke.
- Improve development guidelines to achieve a desirable form and character of future development in Sooke.
- Provide a professional, aesthetically pleasing, and legislatively correct OCP.
- Build organizational and community capacity to continuously improve and implement OCP goals.
Also from this blog:
~ Masterplanning Sooke's Smart Growth (Dec. 2019)
~ Team OCP (Aug. 2020)
- The 2010 OCP "suggested" creation of an OCP Implementation and Monitoring Committee rather than leaving responsibility exclusively to staff and successive councils along with the committees they form. Lack of this consistent, big-picture oversight explains to a degree why only 18 of 140 action items in the current OCP were executed. (The more committees and task forces the better, I say again; staff time is required to support these groups, and given that it's tight at the moment, then the District needs to consider hiring another corporate services clerk.)
- Updating stats: Population and dwelling numbers from the 2020 Census will be released on February 9, 2022. (My guesstimate: 15,500 approx. vs. the 2016 count of 13,001 residents)
- Agreed with the OCP-AC comment that the climate section needs a rewrite/rethink; and very happy to read in staff feedback that "there are some ideas about emphasizing our high-level climate action/policy in the document" and that there is recognition that a "Climate Action Strategy" is underway. In the revised policies and actions, I want to see items related to the 7% Solution (heat-pump incentive programs, for instance, not just the e-bike rebates now proposed). We also need rigorous and routine carbon accounting to track our progress.
- Does Sooke wish to remain a "tertiary employment market consisting primarily of locally serving industries" (pg. 19)? Expansion of the sewer system to industrial/commercial lands would surely invite a more ambitious approach.
- No mentions that I can see of Sooke's potential as an Age-Friendly Community that wishes to continue attracting new retirees who will invest in the community and won't contribute to the weekday commute.
- Much is covered under Development Permit Areas, but "Green Building" policies and actions lack the 2010 OCP recommendation for a user-friendly Sustainability/Green Energy Infrastructure development checklist
- Replace"recommended" language in the policy sections with"required" as much as realistically possible.
- Include infographics, an executive summary and Picture Sooke branding in the final OCP; add section that compares how this OCP echoes major recommendations of previous OCPs
- Homework for self:
i) Browse the 2010 OCP to see which of its suggested actions have and haven't made the cut this time around;
ii) Revisit the Abbotsford ("Abbotsforward") OCP for an example of DIALOG's work at its award-winning best and to see if our own has ticked all the same boxes.
Issue #1 for me and many is population growth and Sooke's carrying capacity given the seemingly already overwhelmed realities of Highway 14. The growth projections (pg. 18) follow the CRD predictions of annual 2.9% increases leading to 22k by 2040 and nearly 26k by 2050. Cue our worst quasi-gridlock nightmares and/or best-case free-flowing near bumper-to-bumper (tailgaters, please back off) traffic as we currently experience during rush hours.
Four lanes straight through to Langford is a $1 billion minimum proposition, states the Ministry of Transportation, and that's not in anyone's plans unless they envision rapid growth sprawling our way. (And I know some do despite all the #LetSookebeSooke feedback. Our best strategies in reducing the commuter tsunami: i) Local job creation; ii) Advocate with BC Transit for continued service improvements to encourage ridership; iii) Exploit the promising telecommuting trend by creating dedicated teleworking office space in the town centre's mini-building boom that's on the horizon.)
Wrote the consultants in their Aug. 12 report to the OCP-AC: "The OCP is agnostic to whether population growth should be seen as positive, negative or neutral; it neither creates population growth targets nor creates policies to explicitly encourage or prevent the population from expanding." Some 1200+ new housing units are legally on the books for development over the next decade or so. The OCP pinpoints the need for 1813 new homes by 2030 if we're to accommodate anticipated growth. And GHG-reduction realists understand that every new home boosts our carbon loads and and makes the 50% target an even longer shot than is already the case.
Oh, the quandaries and conundrums of these times! I may need to revisit Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart or Jon Kabbat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living to regain perspective ... or simply dive into this "best descent-into-madness books" list. (No, not a laughing matter; there's a reason the BC Ministry of Health has just launched its Wellbeing resource and support website.)
The inevitable gap between recommendations in municipal planning documents and subsequent action or lack thereof is addressed in this Policy Options article co-written by a former Ottawa councillor.
<clip> "Acknowledging these five major causes of planning failure — influence, inertia, illiteracy, inconsistency and interference — is an essential step toward achieving sustainable growth and better planning outcomes."
My own takeaway amongst others in this article is the following: "The public service adage 'Courageous advice, loyal implementation' applies well to how the planning function ought to interact with the political level. Political interference in planning recommendations can seriously compromise the quality and impartiality of professional advice being provided to council and the public. When it occurs, it becomes essential for senior management to protect the independence of staff, while elected officials need to respect the professional role of planners in word and deed." Message heard and understood. I think this kind of respect has been a consistent hallmark of the current council. That said, we do have our views and opinions just like you ... so please share them again in the weeks ahead.