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Ladysmith OCP wins excellence award

“It is quite something because that category really covers most of the communities in B.C.,”

Chronicle reporter

It took a little over two years but the time proved to be time well spent. Adopted by the town in May of 2023 the new official community plan (OCP)has started to set the stage for the community to grow, but it has also attracted the attention of folks that are really in the know.

Last week the Planning Institute of B.C. awarded the Town of Ladysmith with a Silver Award for Excellence in Policy Planning for the OCP. The award was presented in the Small Town and Rural Areas category which covers communities under 80,000 residents.

“It is quite something because that category really covers most of the communities in B.C.,” said Jake Belobaba the director of development services. “So there are a lot of submissions and it’s not just OCPs that are submitted, but those are the most common ones to be.”

Belobaba has been employed by the Town of Ladysmith since 2019 and before that he worked for the planning department at the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Belobaba started working in municipal planning in 2008 and said this was his second official community plan.

“It really kicked off when we started the Ladysmith Unparalled project,” Belobaba said.

The review of the OCP started in February 2021 with various forms of public engagement. Ahne Studios, an urban planning and community engagement consulting firm was hired to work together with the residents of Ladysmith and the town.

“Ahne Studios had also done the town’s waterfront area plan, which had also won a PIBC award,” said Belobaba. Other professional organizations were also partners in the development of the town’s OCP, based on their areas of expertise, such as climate resilience, transportation, geospatial and data science.

“It was a very highly specialized consortium of years of practice,” said Belobaba.

The various firms, besides Ahne Studios, included Matthew Thomson Design, Licker Geospatial, Colliers International, Alderhill Planning (now Sanala Planning), Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) and Watt Consulting Group along with various departments from the town.

“The town wanted to get as many residents thoughts as we possibly could,” said Belobaba. “Through the work of the consultants and staff we held workshops, events that included walk-abouts and bike tours, we had a ‘big idea fair’, surveys, and even a ‘plan-cake’ breakfast brain-storming session at the Aggie Hall.”

A portion of the silver award is based on community engagement and a statement from the town said, “This robust and creative engagement ensured community members, staff, key contributors, steering committee members, and council had the ability to develop our award-winning long-term vision.”

In the statement Mayor Aaron Stone said, “Council is proud and delighted that the town’s Official Community Plan has been recognized as one of the finest examples of professional planning work in British Columbia and the Yukon. The plan strengthens the vision of Ladysmith as a vibrant, diverse, resilient community adapting to change without passing on undue burden to future generations. We are grateful to the hundreds of community members who contributed their time and energy to help shape this award-winning plan.”

The OCP is all about providing guidance.

“A local government cannot enact a bylaw, policy, etc that is not aligned with its OCP, but the OCP is meant as a guidance document and does have some flexibility built into them,” Belobaba said, continuing that the new OCP “has sort of self-analysis tools built into it, for amendments, so that council has a transparent and objective process for decision making.”

“I would say that is fairly rare to have that level of specificity. The town’s OCP has a seven step evaluation that will accompany every staff report going to council, if an OCP amendment is being considered. It’s an extra step that is unique to Ladysmith.”

Belobaba said they’ll have to wait and see whether new housing regulations passed by the province will affect the OCP.

“Our OCP contemplated those kinds of changes coming, so we’ll have to wait and see as the big picture unfolds. When planning, we did look at densification in certain areas, along with transportation planning and other possible changes.

“By the end of this year we will have to do an interim housing needs report and by the end of next year the town will have to update our OCP and zoning bylaw based on a new housing needs report.”

Ladysmith “Unparalleled” provides direction for the coming 25 years on land use, reconciliation, climate adaptation, health and wellness, diversity, accessibility and inclusion, economic prosperity, sustainability, and more, said the town in their pres release.

“This award acknowledges two years of teamwork and extensive public engagement to produce a plan that was shaped by the voices and ideas of the community,” said Belobaba.

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