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CAO recommends two community plans

Diverse views about land use planning exist among elected officials and staff

by Laura Walz editor@prpeak.com Powell River Regional District’s chief administrative officer has recommended creating two separate community plans for rural areas south of Powell River.

In a report to the planning committee, Mac Fraser wrote that Electoral Areas B and C have changed since the official community plan (OCP) for the southern region was adopted in 1993. The regional district has been grappling with reviewing and updating the community plan for three years, but has reached gridlock due to conflicting views among rural directors.

Since 1993, the physical distance between the municipal suburban neighbourhoods and the mix of small lot residential, commercial and industrial properties in Area B has almost disappeared, Fraser wrote in his report. “There is now a seamless continuation of residential development across the southern boundary of the [City of Powell River] into the northern portion of Area B,” he wrote. “Conversely, Area C has experienced much less development and it has been almost entirely residential, albeit with smaller lots than had been the tradition in the past. Therefore, Area B has become a ‘suburban fringe’ with issues of conflicting residential and commercial/industrial development, while Area C continues to have a physical separation from this type of development and remains largely in concert with the 1993 OCP.”

Even though there has been a period of low population growth during the almost 20 years since the OCP has been reviewed, significant development has occurred. The southern region, like much of coastal BC, has experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of residents per household, Fraser contended, due to national demographics and the downturn in major coastal industries. “In effect, rural coastal communities are becoming more and more inhabited by two-person households and not ‘full’ families,” he wrote. “Therefore, it is submitted that the Powell River Regional District’s use of the metric of population growth to determine planning priorities and practices over the past 30 years has not been appropriate for the southern region and has led to a belief that development pressures occurring in other jurisdictions in coastal British Columbia are not occurring in our region. To be specific, the PRRD’s lack of development metrics common in other local government jurisdictions, such as rezoning applications, building permits and utility servicing requests, has obscured the reality of extensive development until conflicting adjacent land uses and inconsistencies with the OCP have now manifested as major issues in the current OCP review process.”

The false impression that significant development has not occurred can quite reasonably lead to a belief that land use planning in the regional district can remain largely reactive and need not be concerned with future development patterns and possible future land use conflicts, according to Fraser. He stated there is an understandable diversity in desired land use planning approaches and objectives among directors and staff and a resultant disagreement as to how and when to use legislative tools. “It is submitted that a lack of consensus on the fundamental approaches and objectives of land use planning has greatly challenged the completion of the southern region OCP and, unless addressed, will challenge any future land use planning efforts,” he wrote.

Fraser recommended that the planning committee direct staff to create individual OCPs for areas B and C and that the committee engage in strategic discussions about land use planning approaches, objective and legislative tools before advancing any OCP reviews. The committee agreed with the recommendation and passed a motion to that effect.