By Russ Barling
With Ladysmith’s City Council about to inaugurate the new Steering Committee for the next Official Community Plan (OCP), a development that substantially deviates from current Zoning laws should wait until the common vision for our Town is updated.
Seems like a sensible statement, right? Yet Mayor and Council are determined to ram through several projects in the interim without meaningful public consultation, setting dangerous precedents for future development and the legitimacy of our Zoning laws.
Three of the projects I refer to are all slated for the close environs of the 200 block Dogwood road: two high-density commercial/residential complexes and a 70-seat brewpub. The public has yet to see the final plans for any of them, but all require significant Council-approved amendments to current Zoning laws.
The project slated for 202 Dogwood is a case in point: on that small lot in a residential neighbourhood, the developer wants to build a five-storey structure with 25 strata apartments and commercial space. Both the project’s height (≈55 ft.) and density are at least double what’s allowable under the current Zoning laws that were created to deliver the vision of the current OCP.
A straw poll last week of homeowners in the immediate area revealed that most are concerned about the community impact of that development on the neighbourhood; none had been consulted. Yet next week Council will vote to rezone the site to support the developer’s plan.
After speaking with some Councillors last week, my guess is the vote will be unanimously for, even though no meaningful community impact, traffic or public utility assessment has been done.
The OCP is much more than another tedious municipal acronym that no one understands. It is the publicly negotiated document that provides guidance for the Zoning and Bylaws that govern how Ladysmith grows.
Once set, those laws should never be amended to suit the commercial whims and profit goals of developers, even those who are friends of Council. Yes, our laws sometimes become outdated. But that is why we go through the considered exercise of renegotiating the OCP every decade.
For politicians, decisions are all about ‘optics’, how those decisions look to their electors. The optics of ramming through wholesale changes to current development laws without public consent looks awful. As does trying to pretend that meaningful public consultation can be conducted through ‘Zoom’ meetings of Council during a pandemic.
A lot of folks, whose quality of life will be destroyed by the projects proposed for Dogwood Rd, simply don’t have access to the technology or training they need to participate. Mayor and Council know that. Whether they care is less clear.
What is clear is that approval of unprecedented construction projects like the one at 201 Dogwood Rd should never be approved before the new OCP is in place and the public has had its say. Otherwise, Mayor and Council are sending a clear message that, in Ladysmith, laws are made to be broken.