OCP Reality Check
Official Community Plan
For the past 9 years on Council I have advocated for sustainable growth and development in Port Moody. When I campaigned for Mayor in 2011, I identified the impending changes coming to Moody Centre (as a result of the skytrain) as one of the biggest challenges to our community and one of my main priorities. As a resident of Moody Centre (my family has owned the house that I live in since the mid 1930s) I have advocated for the responsible development of my neighborhood and all of Port Moody.
There have been a few individuals, some of whom are running for Council in the upcoming election, that are campaigning on scare tactics associated with the current OCP update and what they are calling ‘missing numbers’ in the OCP. While I have commented on this issue publically many times at various Council meetings, public hearings etc, I wanted to formally comment and provide background on these statements.
Let me begin by saying, over the last two years, and further going back to 2006, there have literally been thousands of hours spent in the development of the OCP updates on the part of Council, City staff, the Land Use Committee as well as many members of our community.
The last OCP update was completed in 2011, however, due to the uncertainty around the Evergreen Line coming to Port Moody, there were no land use changes made to the Moody Centre area. This current OCP update, taking place since 2012, is essentially an OCP update for the areas affected by the skytrain. The proposed land use changes can be seen here.
This OCP update is a 30 year vision and is not something that was taken lightly. Throughout this process, we have undertaken extensive public consultation which included; public input in person and online, design charrettes, multiple days of public consultation in various City facilities, 5 Town Hall meetings and multiple discussions at various Council and Committee meetings. A full listing can be found on the City website
Below I have addressed some of the common questions and themes related to this OCP update and I welcome your questions and feedback on this issue.
What is an OCP?
As stated on the City of Port Moody website, an OCP “is a municipality’s statement of its long-term vision for the future. It is a general statement of Council’s objectives and policies to guide land use, servicing and the form and character of future development.”
While some may disagree with this interpretation, the OCP is just that – a vision document.
The City website goes on to state, “The implementation of the OCP occurs through a variety of other instruments such as a zoning bylaw, development permit guidelines, subdivision requirements and other City bylaws which are all more detailed tools for managing and controlling development in the community.”
This is been stated by senior staff and members of Council repeatedly throughout the process.
Having an Official Community Plan (OCP) is a requirement as set out in Section 875 of the Local Government Act.
The purpose of the OCP as stated in the Local Government Act is, “An official community plan is a statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management, within the area covered by the plan, respecting the purposes of local government.” Refer to Section 877 of the act to read the specific requirements.
What is a Zoning Bylaw?
As stated on the City of Port Moody website, “the Zoning Bylaw designates all land within the city as a certain zone. Zoning determines what uses are permitted on a particular property and regulates the siting, height and density of buildings. The Zoning Bylaw is intended to reflect the direction provided by the City’s OCP.”
What is the difference between an OCP and the Zoning Bylaw?
The Official Community Plan provides a ‘big picture’ vision for the City while the Zoning Bylaw provides detailed regulations which govern the use of an individual property. Essentially the OCP exists ‘ABOVE’ the zoning bylaw. OCP=VISION, ZONING BYLAW=RULES
For example, the OCP may outline what the community wishes to see in various parts of the community (i.e. commercial use) even though that property may currently have an alternate use (i.e. residential).
The adoption of an OCP does NOT automatically amend the zoning of the properties in the City.
Zoning amendments remain to be done on a case by case basis when a new application is brought forward. Part of the requirement as part of the rezoning process is to hold a land use committee meeting and a public hearing and get feedback from the community on the rezoning application.
While an OCP land use ‘vision’ does not infer or entitle a rezoning, it tends to be easier to rezone a property to facilitate new development providing this rezoning is consistent with the vision laid out in the OCP. Embedding detail in the OCP of FSR, site coverage, building heights, etc, will make it more difficult to have flexibility on the plan, and could, indeed, leave a developer to assert ‘entitlement’ if their application meets the numbers included in the plan. Flexibility allows the Council to work with developers on specific developments to achieve the best outcomes for the community.
How does the OCP work with other Bylaws (such as the Zoning Bylaw?
This is detailed in section 884 of the Local Government Act which covers the Effect of OCP’s
As stated in this section (1), the OCP does not commit or authorize the City to proceed with anything that is specified in the plan – this is because the OCP, while a Bylaw, is a vision document.
The OCP generally describes the vision for an area, were zoning is per lot. So, while an OCP may describe an area for high density residential up to 26 storeys, it would be the zoning bylaw that would state the building has to have setbacks of 10 metres, a Floor Area Ratio of 2.5, and each lot within that area can have a different zone applied with different densities and heights.
What is the process for redeveloping a property using the OCP and Zoning bylaws ?
The process for a new development, or redevelopment of a property has a very structured process that it must follow, which looks like this:
- Determine the general form of the future development, including number of units, overall square footage, etc.
- Investigate the current zoning on the property to determine if the future use would ‘fit’ within that zoning (lot coverage, FAR, setbacks, etc.) If it does, then no rezoning is required and application moves to a building or development permit stage.
- If proposal does not fit within current zoning, then determine if there is an existing zone in the bylaw where the new development would fit. If there is a ‘fit’, then proceed to Council with a rezoning application.
- At this point the owner must also consider the OCP. If the NEW use aligns with the land use within the OCP, then the rezoning SHOULD proceed more smoothly, and does not require an OCP amendment. REZONING REQUIRES LAND USE COMMITTEE AND PUBLIC HEARINGS.
- If the NEW use does not align with the OCP, then this should be an indicator to the owner that this project will NOT be approved. Of course, anybody can request a variance to any bylaw at any time, however, chance of success should be diminished if it does not allow with the Council adopted OCP. OCP VARIANCES REQUIRE LAND USE COMMITTEE AND PUBLIC HEARINGS.
- If there is not a fit within any of the zones in the bylaw, but the land use and proposal aligns with the OCP, then the owner will work with City staff for a CD (comprehensive development) zone. This is a project / site specific zone that will spell out very specifically what the project will include, with specific details like FSR, heights, setbacks, unit counts, parking spots, and even specific site plans and drawings with building details. CD ZONES are rezoning, AND REQUIRE LAND USE COMMITTEE AND PUBLIC HEARINGS.
It’s important to note that this is the process for ANY development – whether single story/single family or 28 story tower with commercial units. Full public process is involved for any zoning or OCP amendments.
What is the Land Use Committee?
The Land Use Committee is a city committee which provides advice and recommendations to Council on items such as rezoning applications and the OCP. The committee is made up of all of Council and well as 1 community representative from each of the 6 sub-areas for a total of 13 members.
There was a land use committee meeting which took place on April 1st, and at which time, the land use committee forwarded a motion to Council to endorse the OCP – the vote at the committee was 11-2 , with 100% of the ‘non council’ members supporting the draft OCP.
What is a Special Study Area?
A special study area is an ‘indicator of land under transition’ that requires additional planning take place before zoning and OCP designations are changed. A Special Study REQUIRES an extensive public consultation process with a neighborhood area plan before anything is approved. The community would have input into the heights and the densities. There are four special study areas designated in the OCP including; the Oceanfront District, Suncor, Ioco and ‘Westport’/Andres.
At the April 8, 2014 meeting, the City’s General Manager of Planning and Development was directly asked by a Councillor, based on the current draft of the OCP, if a developer were to come forward with a proposal with a 30 story tower on a Special Study Area, if that would require an OCP amendment.
Our staff’s response was that, by designating a property, such as the Flavelle site in the Oceanfront district, as a special study area, there are no rights given and there would be no assumption of heights, density, fsr or other details of a development which would require a future process.
Any proposal that came forward to Council would require a local area or development plan and would include extensive public consultation and approval by Council. Approval would require an OCP amendment, including approval from Metro Vancouver, a zoning bylaw amendment, and most likely a CD zone and possibly a land use contract – all of which are a result of public process and public hearings.
It should be noted that, in the OCP, the Coronation Park neighbourhood is separately identified as an area requiring further development of a neighbourhood plan – this is not a Special Study Area, as there is not a major change in land use (industrial to mixed/residential) contemplated.
What about the inclusion of “numbers” in the plan, such as Floor Area Ratio, Setbacks etc?
This question was raised at the April 1, 2014 Land Use Committee Meeting to which the City’s General Manager of Development Services responded;
“I’ve heard some comments this evening with respect to the need for site coverage, setbacks, those types of things. These are regulations contained in a Zoning Bylaw, not specifically an Official Community Plan Policy document. Some OCP’S do contain the unit per acre number, we had it in our previous OCP in 2000, others show a floor space ratio as well, it’s not as if it’s permitted. The specifics really would be contained in a zoning bylaw, setbacks, building heights, those types of things. Specifics are regulated and those are actually rights on property once embedded in a zone [in the Zoning Bylaw]”.
Does this plan include density?
Yes, City staff and the City solicitor have confirmed that these proposed changes fulfill the requirements for density as laid out in the Local Government Act – again, you will note in the act the repeated use of the word ‘approximate’. Describing an area as ‘medium density low rise multi-family’ adequately describes the intended density for the purposes of ‘the act’.
What about the designation of Parkland in the OCP?
The City is currently undergoing an update of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan which will look at the current parks and public spaces areas and assess where and how much parkland the City should be hoping to acquire going forward. However, until the OCP is adopted, the City has to hold off the development and implementation of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
It is important to note that in the OCP, we cannot designate private land as future parkland, as the City may then be required to purchase that property.
I am a major supporter of Parks and Public spaces and am eager to begin the Master Parks planning process. Port Moody currently has 35% of total land area dedicated as parkland, public or open spaces – and during my time on City Council we have designated many acres of land as parkland.
Why doesn’t the City put the OCP to a referendum?
The Official Community Plan Bylaw cannot be brought forward for Council approval by way of a referendum. The rules for adopting an Official Community Plan Bylaw are clearly set out in Section 882 of the Local Government Act and we are following those procedures. While Council could put a question on a ballot as a ‘non binding’ or plebiscite question, Council feels, having gone through extensive consultation over the past 8 years, including multiple town hall meetings and workshops, this plan has the support of the community, particularly those that understand the details.
Am I happy with the OCP?
While I am not happy with 100% of the updates made to the OCP, I am happy the end result and feel that we need to move forward. There are certain aspects in the OCP where I may have made a different decision than what ended up being the consensus of Council or specific motions which I personally voted against. However, the OCP is a document that was developed in a democratic process as a collective and represents the vision of the community and included extensive public consultation (Townhall meetings, public input opportunities in person and online, design charrettes, public hearings etc.
The votes to endorse this draft of the OCP were definitive:
On April 1, 2014:
11 of 13 members of the land use committee (including 100% of the non-Council members) voted to endorse the draft of the OCP.
On April 8, 2014
5 of 7 members of Council then voted to adopt the OCP in the first two readings
Through the spring of 2014 the draft OCP was referred to each of the City committees, and also has been sent to each of our neighbouring municipalities, and any comments received have been incorporated or otherwise addressed as required.
While I acknowledge that there are individuals that are not happy with specific items in the OCP – in reality, we would never achieve an Official Community Plan that everyone in Port Moody 100% endorsed. I do believe that a large majority of the population is happy with the plan as is, and furthermore, the plan should be adopted by Council. As with all Council decisions, even those I vote against but am in the minority, I would state that the decision of Council should be respected, as well as the unanimous vote of the 6 residents on the Land Use Committee.
There were individuals that raised their concerns at public meetings, but there were an equal number of individuals that expressed their support for the OCP. Many of the concerns around the OCP have been addressed by removing the previous changes for the Oceanfront district and the Coronation Park neighbourhood, and committing to further planning on those areas.
Additionally, there are many other important issues that need to be addressed which are being held up while waiting for the adoption of the OCP.
The Zoning Bylaw, which regulates building within the City, needs an update but until the OCP is adopted, the Zoning Bylaw, and the problems associated with the Zoning Bylaw cannot be addressed. Some of these problems include issues such as ‘monster homes’.
Additionally on hold until the adoption of the OCP is the Master Transportation Plan, which plans for the future growth of our city. Without the area visions provided by the OCP, we cannot move forward with our Master Transportation Plan or the Master Parks and Recreation Plan, nor can we move forward on the really innovative ideas contained in the OCP such as pedestrian corridors in Moody Centre, Laneway housing, creek day lighting, and the other policies that are left pending.