Envisioning, creating, communicating and implementing an official community plan is one of the most important jobs overseen by municipal staff and council.
The OCP sets the road map and guidelines for the next 10 to 20 years of change in a community. When the process is done well, it can set inspirational and achievable community goals and strategies that position the community to thrive, with buy-in from all stakeholders.
Done incorrectly, it can set a road map to increased taxes, unachievable goals, cynicism, politicization, infrastructure problems, safety hazards and loss of economic development.
On March 19, I presented my concerns to city council about the 250-plus-page draft of Colwood’s new OCP. I reiterated these concerns again on May 14. My main concern is that the consultation process is only half complete and staff are rushing it forward for approval.
Best practices suggest that rather than being ready for approval, the draft now needs reviewing by many stakeholders and the public to draw on their expertise and advice on how to refine it so it works well, is supported and doesn’t cause unnecessary problems.
Currently in Colwood, the list of people who have not been consulted on the draft plan is long: West Shore Chamber of Commerce and businesses, parks and recreation users, those with special housing needs, environmental groups, arts and culture groups, transportation experts, as well as the many women and men who build the homes and buildings in which Colwood’s residents live and work.
In fact, in an unprecedented move, Colwood council agreed to a resolution forbidding homebuilders to even talk to city staff about the draft plan. This means implications for zoning, bylaws, development and infrastructure will not be truly understood, and after it is approved, amendments could be costly.
It remains unclear why Colwood staff and council refuse to arrange for collaborative consultation with all stakeholders. There has not been even one serious public meeting after the release of the draft OCP in November 2017.
I liken it to building your dream house by spending two years with your family coming up with a wish list for that home. You then give that list to a builder, and he limits your ability to see his building plan, builds the house and gives you the bill for far more than you expected to spend. And you find out too late it is unsustainable.
Best practices in urban planning recommend a two-stage approach to OCP consultation — one to explore issues and ideas before the draft is written, and the other to review the draft in detail, so that stakeholders, staff and the public can educate each other on intent and implications. Together they can mitigate weaknesses and create a visionary road map leading to a strong, prosperous and affordable city of Colwood for future generations.
By cutting corners and restricting consultation, city staff and council are risking setting up Colwood for failure in many of its goals. The public and stakeholder groups in Colwood need to demand from their council an adequate time and consultation process to review and refine an official community plan that will define the city’s future.
Mark Holland is a professor at Vancouver Island University and has more than 25 years of experience as a planner. He was hired by the Colwood Community Stakeholders Association, a group of residents, business owners, homebuilders and developers, with the goal of ensuring best practices and highest professional standards in the approval process for Colwood’s new OCP.