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Victoria to reopen OCP as misaligned policies exacerbate housing pressures

City wants to modernize zoning and OCP to meet housing, climate change stressors
Victoria will be exploring updates to its official community plan over the coming years as policies planning for the city’s future needs will not meet demand in their current forms. (Don Denton/News staff)

Victoria will start the process of exploring an update to its official community plan (OCP) as the city says its policies planning for future population, employment and community needs have become misaligned.

Council on April 13 was told those land-use tools are falling behind on meeting future and current demand, with staff noting the city’s population is growing faster than expected.

Victoria’s population is anticipated to be about 11,000 higher in 2041 than what was estimated when the OCP was first brought in about a decade ago.

The city will now start a years-long process of crafting amendments to the OCP that aim to meet future housing needs through environmentally sustainable and equitable growth. That direction will also depart from the city’s neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood planning approach – which has left some areas with outdated plans – to strategically add new housing and business opportunities citywide.

A staff report on updating the OCP paints how the city’s main development policies have strayed from each other despite how they’re supposed to be complementary. It outlines how the 1981 zoning bylaw fails to reflect the intent of the OCP, leading to “a continued stream of applicant-driven site-specific” applications seeking rezoning even though the projects align with the OCP.

That’s translated into costly time delays for applicants while the existing policy framework has become complicated, confusing and difficult to manage for residents, businesses and the development community, staff said.

“Modernizing municipal land management tools presents opportunities to advance solutions to both the housing crisis and the climate emergency,” the report states. “These are the tools that enable the right supply of housing – multi-unit forms that can realize rental, affordable, and diverse housing options, in the right locations – near services, amenities, and multi-modal mobility routes, in the right way – with supportive, high-quality public realm and modern infrastructure.”

The push for more housing will be focused near what the city called affordable and sustainable transportation options, like walkable villages and transit corridors. Staff said a renewed OCP would seek to improve the city’s ability to adapt to climate change and environmental stressors by teaming expected growth with a healthy urban forest, stormwater management and ensuring future residents have access to parks.

The report said “a lack of housing opportunities in Victoria pushes people to periphery of the region” and the update will look to limit urban sprawl and lower reliance on long commutes in personal vehicles.

The city in recent years brought in a number of short-term housing initiatives, but it’s time to shift focus to the root causes of the housing crisis, the report stated. Some councillors were worried that the resources needed to explore the update could upend work on housing initiatives that look to address the city’s current shortages.

Engagement on the update is expected to run through 2024 before the change would be ready for a public hearing by late 2025.

Council approved starting the OCP update process and having staff report back in May on what would be needed to speed up the roughly two-and-a-half-year timeline.

READ: ‘We are on fire’: Victoria to study measures to ease housing crisis

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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