Fairfield’s potential new neighbourhood plan is not an easy read, according to Coun. Geoff Young.
The liaison for the neighbourhood in south Victoria is concerned the plan’s draft lacks clarity for the average reader — especially within the context of an April 11 council motion.
“It is difficult to read the plan,” he told Black Press Media, after last Thursday’s council meeting, where councillors voted to delay a public hearing on the plan until September. Councillors may consider adopting the Fairfield plan — through a vote over two bylaw amendments to the city’s Official Community Plan — following the hearing.
Young told council he believes the implications of the plan should be made more clear to the “casual reader,” because developers will surely familiarize themselves with the plan.
“I can tell you the developers are going to be studying every semi-colon of this, trying to figure out how the plan and the other council policies … can be interpreted to justify the project that’s being put forward,” he said.
The latest draft of the Fairfield plan sent to council outlines development guidelines for the neighbourhood, including plans for transportation in the area and plans for public parks. The development guidelines include instruction regarding building height, form and style, specific to certain areas of Fairfield and, in some cases, consideration of the size of the lots. A section on housing affordability is also included.
Part of the April 11 council motion, which passed, directed City staff to prepare an amendment to zoning bylaws to allow fourplexes “as a right” on lots between 6,000 and 7,499 square feet and sixplexes on lots 7,500 sq. ft. or larger, provided certain requirements — such as the proposed building conforming to design guidelines for the Fairfield area or affordable housing units making up half of the building’s units — are met.
“When you combine those two things — the uncertainties within the plan itself plus the uncertainty connected with the overarching council motions — you get a fair degree of uncertainty for an ordinary person who’s not a trained planner and hasn’t followed the city council deliberations,” Young said.
The plan has been in the works for three years. The latest draft is more than 100 pages.
According to Mayor Lisa Helps, the ongoing consultation process allows residents to shape the design guidelines now, with regards to future builds.
“If people meet the design guidelines to the satisfaction of staff, then those places will be built. The oversight comes now when we’re looking at the design guidelines,” she said. “What people should look very carefully at are the design guidelines — are they appropriate or not — and that’s the time for the public to weigh in.”
The guidelines help neighbourhoods maintain their current character, while still allowing for more housing units to be built in the city, she said. Sixty-eight per cent of the city’s land base is single-family dwellings, making up 32 per cent of the population.
“That’s not an effective use of land, and so we need to find a way to use land more effectively at the same time as preserving the wonderful feeling in our neighbourhoods,” Helps said.
Young said he doesn’t agree with residents who don’t want to see any changes. He knows council must respond to demand for more housing — the desire for more housing and low-cost units factored heavily into the municipal election results, he said, but he’s worried the Fairfield plan does not provide residents with enough transparency. He specifically points to a map not included in the draft to illustrate his point.
The map — available as a related document on the city’s website devoted to the plan, but not within the plan — highlights residential lots in Fairfield and each lot’s specific size. Young said if it were in the plan, the map would better outline for residents what developments they may seek to build on their own lots or what developments may go up on neighbours’ properties.
“That’s a pretty fundamental part of the plan, it seems to me, and that should be incorporated right into the plan,” he said. “To be fair to the staff, that was sort of dropped on them as a council motion.”
Black Press Media spoke with more than a dozen residents about the plan — a few who reached out directly, some at an open house event in June, and several others more recently in the Cook Street Village area — and heard some reactions of outright opposition and concern. Others — a majority who spoke with Black Press Media in the Cook Street Village area — were unfamiliar with the plan, but expressed support for increasing density in the neighbourhood.
A city survey, conducted online over two weeks in June, was included in last week’s council agenda. According to the city, the plan’s directives received majority support from the 197 respondents, with those listing “supportive” or “strongly supportive” landing lowest in Fairfield Plaza, at 53 per cent, and highest in the Cook Street Village, at 72 per cent.
Council voted to delay the public hearing until September because several members of the public indicated they would be away for the summer.
A date for the hearing has not yet been set.