A feisty debate about a West Kelowna development industry report had some members of council agitated on Tuesday.
Aaron Dinwoodie and Bob Fearnley, of R.J. Fearnley and Associates, presented a report on the development industry to district ouncil.
Earlier this year, R.J. Fearnley and Associates was hired by a consortium of development and construction industry stakeholders who expressed frustration in attempting to navigate West Kelowna’s development application approval process.
The report gave multiple recommendations on how West Kelowna can improve upon their accommodation of development.
Some of the process related suggestions included making the development approval process easier to understand, processing applications quicker, establishing a system for fast-tracking projects, using a specific staff person to move applications through the approval process and pre-zoning the whole downtown core complete with building envelopes, density and height to reduce processing times.
The community related suggestions included rehabilitating relationships with the province, the Central Okanagan Regional District, Westbank First Nation and the Chamber of Commerce, creating a more clear and concise Official Community Plan, developing unique selling points to differentiate West Kelowna from other communities and moving the district hall back into the Westbank centre.
Coun. Duane Ophus suggested that the report was subjective.
“What struck me really is the absence of what I would characterize as objective measures: Where we’re really at with regard to development,” said Ophus.
Ophus asked Fearnley how West Kelowna’s growth compared with other municipalities, in similar circumstances, across the province.
Bob Fearnley said the district’s growth was actually higher than some of those comparable municipalities. This made Ophus even more upset about the report’s general criticisms.
“You just said that we’ve actually done better, in terms of growth over the last few years, than similar communities and yet you’ve come to the conclusion that we have significant problems,” said Ophus.
Coun. Bryden Winsby took exception to the comment that West Kelowna should create a more clear and concise OCP.
“One of the recommendations is that we could present to the community an OCP of 20 to 30 pages. That’s a rather interesting proposition. I did a little research and I went to the community plans of communities of similar size to our own to find out how big their community plans are,” said Winsby.
According to Winsby’s findings, most OCPs in similar size municipalities were at least 100 pages. He asked Fearnley to give him an example of a municipality that had a 20 to 30 page OCP.
Fearnley said he couldn’t give Winsby a specific example, saying that the general trend is to reduce the size of the OCPs. “It’s supposed to be a document about leadership, vision and principals and it’s supposed to be short and inspiring. It’s not supposed to put people to sleep,” said Fearnley.
Mayor Doug Findlater said many of the concerns outlined in the report were familiar territory.
“We’ve heard (the concerns). Council has acted on them in the sense that early this past summer, council engaged its own review to look at some of the issues. They’ve reached some of the same conclusions,” said Findlater.
The mayor mentioned that council is aware the current development approval process is too lengthy.
“It takes too long, we know that. We’re taking steps to deal with that. We have more to do. The ideas presented are interesting at the very least. I’m sure we’ll be considering some of those ideas.”
In an effort to streamline the development approval process at the District of West Kelowna, an in-depth examination of district development processes was conducted.
Beginning with an internal Development Approval Process Improvement Strategy, which began in September, 2010, a number of initiatives are now underway or awaiting council direction.
At its meeting on Aug. 23, council adopted an Official Community Plan bylaw, which provides the community, staff, council and businesses more certain direction regarding future development in the municipality, prompting council to begin immediately to streamline its business processes.
First, council rescinded the Community Consultation Process for Land Use Applications policy, which required developers to hold a public meeting regarding their proposed development. Community consultation is now a recommended best practice.
Second, council directed staff to omit the Authorization to Draft process, taking one step out of the development process.
“These are just two of several initiatives staff are beginning,” said mayor Doug Findlater.
The consultants, Neilson-Welch Consultants to Government, were hired in May 2011 to complement and build on the internal review.
The report, received in August, 2011, included three high priority recommendations: Consideration of the creation of a development services department, advancing applications to council as quickly as possible, even in cases where staff do not recommend approval and making available a subdivision bylaw review objective. “This report shows us that we are on the right track,” Findlater said.