It’s been about three years since the City of St. John’s kicked off its Municipal Plan Review process with a series of public consultations. Since that time a draft plan has had further public input and revisions are being made. But where is it now and when will the final version be produced?
The short answer is that we’re about 85% of the way there, and staff hope to have the Plan ready for Council review this spring, presumably before June 2015.
What’s taking so long?
The first reason the Plan review process has been so long is that there has been an intensive, multi-phase public consultation process. This required the time for meetings, information sessions, and most important the review and interpretation of all the feedback.
When the draft Plan was released in the fall of 2014, there were several discussions with stakeholder groups about their thoughts on the document, as well as three public information and feedback sessions. This feedback is now being incorporated into the Plan.
All of this takes time and resources, and our planning department is relatively small. They do a great job, and are getting their day-to-day work done, but there’s so much to do that writing the Plan ends up getting limited attention.
It's a Legal Document
The second reason is that in order for the Plan to be approved by the Province, it must be accompanied by a set of Development Regulations that serve to effectively implement the policies laid out in the Plan. Because the Plan is a completely new document, this has required a full review of our existing Regulations, which are complex.
This is where things get a little sticky. As noted above, the City is given authority to enact our Municipal Plan by the Provincial Government under its Urban and Rural Planning Act (“The Act”). So, in other words, anything the City does is governed by Provincial law.
As our planning, engineering, and development staff reviews, revises, and writes the Regulations, it consults with our legal staff to ensure that anything we propose to the Province is legal under the Act. This is where a few question marks have arisen.
For example, one principle that the City is considering in the new Plan is to encourage “density” in new development. There are many potential benefits to this approach when done correctly, such as improved sense of community, enhanced walkability, reduced maintenance costs, etc.
However, several the approaches to achieving density involve allowing for varying lot sizes, subdivision layouts, and access to infrastructure. We have to ensure in our efforts to promote density that our proposed regulations follow Provincial law, and there is not always a cut and dried solution.
And even if we can write regulations that are fully conforming to the Act, there are other potential challenges that have to be considered. I’ll just give one example, but please keep in mind that this is purely for discussion purposes. I’m not a lawyer, and there is still consultation and research left to do.
Planning requires... well, careful planning
Here’s one aspect of dense development you may not have considered: smaller housing units often mean smaller frontage, meaning smaller lawns. And smaller lawns means less room for snow.
Why is this important? Well, snow plows and blowers need places to put snow when clearing and widening roads. A smaller lawn means, at best, a higher pile of snow, and at worst, nowhere to put the snow.
At higher elevations in our City (where, incidentally, most of the land free for new development lies), snow accumulates in greater amounts. Physically removing snow is much more expensive than pushing or blowing, and our operators are raising flags about this possibility.
Again, that’s just one example of an ongoing discussion at City Hall, and is by no means a done deal. But I hope it gives you a sense, not only of the complexity of the issues, but also that there continues to be real progress toward the creation and approval of a great Plan and Regulations to guide the development of our City.
If you’d like to stay in the loop on progress, be sure to sign up for my mailing list. I send out occasional emails, especially on important decisions made by Council. I’ll also be discussing the Plan’s status in more detail on VOCM Nightline tonight, Monday March 2, starting around 8pm.
Oh, and by the way, there will be consultation on the Regulations as well. I'll let you know when the plan for that has been released!