A spirit of partnership is building between developers and the staff at Victoria’s planning department.
Director of planning Jonathan Tinney goes as far to say that the approach has already borne fruit in terms of better and more innovative designs for the city.
“Our approach has created a culture where developers are encouraged to bring us better projects … where we encourage innovative thinking. We don’t just want them to bring us the simple concepts because it’s easier to do. We want the best that can be imagined,” Tinney said.
Planners and developers are working collaboratively to make it possible to move beyond simplicity without fear of rejection. “For us it’s not about saying ‘no’ to developers; it’s more about figuring out what we all need to do so we can say ‘yes.’”
Coun. Chris Coleman acknowledges that changes to the City of Victoria’s relationship with the development community have been challenging and have created a “dynamic tension” during council deliberations. Council was split, he noted, on deciding whether to allow staff more authority in instances where proposals fit the general planning parameters set by council.
“It just didn’t make sense to make everything come back to public hearing and political approval. That process alone can cost the proponent upwards of $10,000 and, in the case of something like a garden suite, it can make the difference between the project getting built or being abandoned,” Coleman said.
The Official Community Plan calls for an additional 25,000 residents in Victoria over the next 25 years, a goal only achievable, it says, through innovative approaches to development.
Justin Filuk of Vancouver-based Townline, the company behind the Hudson Walk Two in Victoria, has nothing but praise for the development climate in Victoria. He is convinced the positive environment leads to better proposals.
“You have a lot of smart and experienced (municipal employees) working in Victoria and the city has worked to streamline the process so staff can use that experience to make decisions right at the counter, without having to send everything back up (to the political level),” he said. The attitude of staff allows developers to work co-operatively with the municipality to find design solutions, he added.
Rob Jawl with Jawl Properties spoke of a similar experience, saying his company has encountered an efficient and expedited process for permits and re-zoning applications. Jawl was quick to insist that the traction developers are gaining through the city’s new philosophy does not compromise the values of the people of Victoria.
“This is not a rubber stamping. What we have is a staff that is willing and capable of looking for answers,” he said.