Monday, February 27, 2023

Prezoning to speed up development approvals is a double-edged sword.

A townhouse project

One of the goals of some municipalities, the provincial government, and the development industry is to have municipalities speed up the time it takes from when an application to develop a project is submitted to City Hall to when a building permit is issued.

In Langley City, the process starts with a development applicant working with City staff to ensure their project complies with all City bylaws and policies and that all application forms, reports, drawings, and fees are paid. The development applicant will also receive feedback from City departments, which they must incorporate into their project.

A project then goes through the City’s Advisory Design Panel. The Panel includes architects, landscape architects, an accessibility representative, business community representatives, Langley City residents, the RCMP, and the School District representative. They provide independent recommendations about the design of a development project. The City encourages development applicants to incorporate the feedback from the Panel into their projects.

Almost all development projects, except for detaching housing projects, require rezoning even if there are compliant with the City’s Official Community Plan because the underlying zoning is usually outdated.

The rezoning process takes three public Council meetings and a public hearing. At a minimum, this process takes about six weeks.

Depending on a project’s complexity, it can take four to six months to work through Langley City Hall.

While Langley City’s process is fast compared to most municipalities in Metro Vancouver, we hear from time to time that the City should prezone property to speed up the process further. If the City prezoned properties to comply with the City’s Official Community Plan, it could speed up the City’s process by about a month. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, rezoning is the primary way municipalities can capture some of the increased value from development projects that municipalities can use for public benefit.

Without getting too technical, the City can negotiate affordable housing and additional money to fund City projects beyond Development Cost Charges (which are highly regulated in BC) during the rezoning process. Without rezoning, the City loses the opportunity to negotiate these public benefits.

Right now, the City could speed up the development process by two weeks by eliminating rezoning public hearings, which are not required in most situations in BC anymore.

If the province made the Development Cost Charge program less restrictive and allowed municipalities to create affordable housing contribution bylaws, municipalities would no longer need rezoning as a negotiating tool. These changes would reduce the time it takes for the development project to get through City Hall. Unless that happens, I couldn’t support prezoning in Langley City as it would reduce the public benefit that development projects provide our community.


Anonymous said...

The City of Vancouver has a number of zones where there is an outright form/density allowed, and a conditional form/density that can be attained with a fixed-rate "amenity share" which is effectively it's way to capture land lift. For all intents and purposes it's a CAC. Regular DCCs apply of course too. Take a look at RM-8 or RM-12 zoning schedules and Schedule F of the zoning bylaw.

Could Langley do something like this?

Nathan Pachal said...

Yes, we can do Density Bonusing in the rest of BC. This bonusing means that we can get amenities in exchange for adding density. This system works well when building towers, but it can have the unintended consequence of downzoning your community when you are trying to building missing middle housing such as townhouses, rowhouses, or “plexs.” It can also cause downzoning with wood frame apartment construction which is limited to six stories.