Even further down from the Summit

Mayor Watson repeatedly used the word “certainty” when describing urban planning, infill, intensification, etc. And Councillor Hume certainly used certainty a lot too.

While certainty might be an admirable destination, I see a number of bumps on the road.

Some of this comes from the bureaucratic tendency to want to prescribe things in ever more detail. And community associations lead the chorus in demanding new fine print in the rules, hopefully for a better neighborhood and not simply to trip up developers, although I too-frequently hear that second motivation.

But the more detailed the rules, and the more rules in the more bits of legislation and development process, certainly leads to more layers of plans that need to be coordinated and made compliant with each other, so that someone can read one rule (eg, zoning for the lot down the street) and be certain that there isn’t another rule elsewhere that contradicts it. I already think too much of our planning effort goes to ticking little boxes on detailed regs and not enough on the big picture.

And the more detailed the rules, the more similar all new developments get, which leads to charges of boring developments. As one developer at my workgroup table complained, he gets to choose from a very few templates for his subdivision, and God help him if he trys to something better, or unique for that location, or that responds to a local need, because then he is a six to twelve month whirlpool of special effort and approvals.

Maybe, just maybe, certainty can be better promoted by having fewer rules and less details and more dependence on what our stated objectives are? IE, certainty should be at the OP and neighborhood plan level, and not so much at the zoning and development approval detail level.

And, I wonder how well the new Centretown CDP should fare in this new era of certainty. Because the Centretown plan calls for higher buildings in some areas, but wants to leave the zoning at the lower heights, so that each proposal that meets the plan objectives will also require a rezoning. So just how certain IS that zoning your lawyer checks for you when you buy your house?

I won’t get into the moral pit of a stated reason for leaving the zoning at one level while the CDP calls for higher buildings: to collect Sec 37 money.

One thought on “Even further down from the Summit

  1. I think it’s a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

    It’s certainly true that suburban developers face a lot of restrictions and requirements, one of the results of which is probably to stifle innovation. On the other hand, it’s not like all these restrictions and requirements were just invented on a whim (though some might have been).

    Oddly enough, when it comes to infill, many of the same rules are thrown out the window, and the results are illustrative of what happens without these rules. You don’t get “ground” floor entrances ten feet in the air in new suburban houses, for instance, nor do you get fully paved frontages.

    What our experience shows time and time again is that the development industry in general simply cannot be trusted with too much freedom, so we restrict them all to curtail the worst of them but end up stifling the creative few.

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