The OCP, adopted about a year ago, is the product of an enormous community effort. It weaves a kaleidoscope of principles, objectives, and policies on social, cultural, environmental, economic, and geographic topics into a comprehensive vision to guide the community’s decisions on the future use of land. It provides a focus on the ramifications land use decisions have on subjects ranging from local infrastructure issues to the global behemoth that is climate change.
A friend and long-time observer of the local municipal scene reminded to me that OCPs are “in a perfect world” documents, pointing out that “they are meaningless because councils, present and future, are not obliged to carry them out and can make amendments to their hearts content.” True, but it is equally true that with an OCP in place all bylaws enacted and works undertaken by the municipality must be consistent with the OCP.
Minor inconveniences such as misaligned downtown intersections and major eyesores such as derelict tracts of weed-infested properties adorned by broken concrete remain as witnesses to long-ago land use decisions. Budget and tax decisions may infuriate people, but the repercussions of an unfortunate Council decision dealing with money will evaporate with time while the ramifications of land use decisions are of an enduring quality.
The OCP sets the tone for the community’s land use decisions. Its significance is in the words used to frame the community’s vision. The maps, charts, and tables appended to the OCP serve to give a measurable and quantifiable structure to the vision’s words.
The intent of two OCP amendments last week was: a) to change the future land use of a 25-acre parcel from high to low density residential, and b) to remove the requirement for development permits from that parcel to facilitate a 102 lot subdivision.
Is the gravitas of the OCP’s words of such little import that the OCP’s community vision, its guiding principles, objectives and policies can easily accommodate a change in future land use of this magnitude without consequences? Is the difference between high and low density residential land use really just a matter of the variation in colours featured on land use map?
How will aiding and abetting the spread of low density residential developments on the southern reaches of the community help Council achieve its greenhouse gas emissions and reduction targets? How will the relentless expansion of low density road, water, and sewer infrastructure help Council take care of current infrastructure upgrade needs? What will more streets to plow and sweep, more street lights, and longer garbage collection runs contribute to lower service costs? How does the expansion of low density residential subdivisions help reduce the community’s reliance on the use of cars and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transit services?
Next time Council receives a request to amend the OCP in the interest of short-term development benefits, why not first engage the community to look at how the proposed amendment might fit into the OCP’s overall vision, and whether the change would bring the community a step closer to realizing its vision?
If the OCP is to be worth more than a piece of feel-good fluff, Council needs to engage the community in any amendments to the plan to the same extent it did in its original composition. OCP is not an acronym for Official Council Plan; it means Official Community Plan.