Open letter on the OCP

I receive quite a bit of correspondence as a City Councillor, and I try to reply to as much of it as I can. Sometimes the time just isn’t available, and sometimes the writer doesn’t really leave a space for response (like the racist tirades I receive from “Immigration Watch” every week. Ugh, those guys are relentless).

I rarely make my responses public, as people writing may not like the idea of me writing in a public forum about their ideas, concerns, or opinions. However, recently a letter I received was also sent to and published by the local newspaper. In this case, I thought it appropriate to make my response public. There has already been a bit of social media push-back about this letter, some of it not very respectful to the writer, so I avoided responding via the Record for fear of “piling on” and making that conversation space less comfortable for anyone else interested in expressing an opinion.

We need an open discussion about things as important as the Official Community Plan. however, we also need to make sure the discussion is factual. So with that in mind, and with respect to the letter writer (whom I have met and is a very nice woman with honest and strongly felt convictions), here is my response as sent to her through e-mail a few days ago.

Mrs. Dextras.

Thank you for taking the time to write a letter to Mayor and Council regarding the OCP process. I know you are passionate about your neighbourhood, and am happy to see more voices from Glenbrook North take part on the public engagement.

However, I would like to correct a few misconceptions that I read in the letter as published in the Record, which were also manifest in your presentation to the GNRA when I was there.

The land use designations indicated in the draft land use map during the latest round of public consultation were not “arbitrarily” designated by planning staff. They were the product of more than two years of background data collection, public engagement, workshops, surveys, planning analysis, and conversation around the Council Table. Some earlier drafts presented at public meetings included more or less density in that area of Glenbrook North, and indeed in every neighbourhood in the City. The draft map you now see was developed through lengthy discussions of planning principles, and significant public feedback. There is nothing “arbitrary” about it.

Land Use Designation is not zoning. I know we have heard this more than once, and you have changed your language slightly to reflect this point, but it appears you are still conflating the two principles. The OCP is not a tool to change the zoning of your property, and there is nothing in the OCP that would force a person to sell or redevelop their home. There are currently no rezoning plans for your street, and your “property rights” are in no way reduced by the land use designation

The OCP update process was not initiated by this Mayor or Council, but began in early 2014 under the previous Mayor and before I or my colleague Councillor Trentadue were elected. The current OCP was developed in the 1990s, and though thoroughly amended over the years, was no longer reflective of the reality of New Westminster in 2016. As the Development Permit process to control development relies on an effective OCP, an update was necessary, and I vocally supported it while running for Council, however, I did not initiate it.

You also appear to have a mistaken understanding of the relationship between an OCP and the Regional Growth Strategy. The latter is required for regions experiencing growth (as we are) and s.850 of the Local Government Act (LGA) sets out its requirements. A Local Government OCP is required by law (LGA s.868) to include a Regional Context Statement that outlines how the OCP addresses the RGS, and how they will be made consistent. As such, local governments are required to follow the guidelines of the RGS, although they have considerable flexibility in how they meet those guidelines. In fact, the ruling you cite (Greater Vancouver Regional District v. Langley Township) found that the decision to add density to a protected area by Langley did not constitute a violation of the context statement, but was within that flexibility allowed to the City. Our Council is, indeed, legally bound to adopt an OCP that meets the RGS guidelines.

Your repeated assertion that 450 townhomes will be built on 5th Street in the next 20 years is difficult to reconcile with the draft OCP and guidelines. The west side of 5th street in Glenbrook North (outside of the part already converted to multi-family and commercial use near 6th Ave) is approximately 7 acres (not 15), perhaps 2300 linear feet of block face. With the guidelines proposed in the OCP, this would hardly accommodate a quarter of the townhouses you imagine. With a large number of residents (such as yourself) dedicated to stay in your homes, and not interested in exercising the expanded property rights an OCP amendment may afford, then it is safe to say many, many fewer than this will be built.

Where you are not incorrect (as it is an opinion) but where I strongly disagree with you, is in the assertion that young families like the one profiled in the Record should not be welcomed into our community, and we should not be developing housing policies to accommodate their needs. For a City, indeed for a neighbourhood, to be a livable and vibrant, it must remain accessible for people at different stages of life. I believe in the modern urban planning concepts that a community needs to include places where people can live, work, play and learn in close proximity, as the alternatives are ultimately unsustainable for the environment, for the economy, and for our social systems.

Nonetheless, I am disappointed to hear that your experience at one of the OCP Open Houses was not welcoming, or that you did not feel that your concerns were addressed. I attended several of these events, and never got the sense that staff were hostile to ideas that challenged the draft plans presented (although I occasionally heard participants passionately disagree on matters of principle or specific details). If you did not feel welcome to participate fully, that was indeed a lost opportunity, and I apologise. That said, the correspondence received from you and your neighbours has not been ignored, but has been read, included in the official record, and will be considered by Council as the final OCP is presented in the spring. I have listened to your concerns, have read your correspondence, and very much appreciated your hosting me for coffee in your home on Thanksgiving weekend to discuss your concerns with the process. I am, however, chagrinned that you continue to harbour false ideas about the meaning of the OCP update, and make oft-rebuked assumptions about the impact on your neighbourhood. Perhaps a more fulsome discussion may have provided some clarity to the points above (for example, I cannot stop emphasizing this is not about rezoning).

You are (of course) welcome to continue that correspondence, and to take an active role in the Public Hearing that will be required prior to Council adopting a new OCP.

Thank you again for taking the time to get involved in your community!

Patrick Johnstone

One comment on “Open letter on the OCP

  1. That’s certainly a generous response to someone who still insists on holding on to incorrect perceptions of the planning process, despite being told otherwise on many occasions.

    There are many people, despite their outward appearance of being “a nice woman”, who unfortunately fit the classic definition of the NIMBY, and have closed their minds to anything beyond the status quo.

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