Victoria citizens should ask ourselves whether the City’s Development Services department is working on our behalf, or for developers trying to cash in on the City’s current Condomania. It seems to function as a de facto advocate for developers in ‘pitching’ projects to city council.
This advocacy role has been particularly noticeable regarding the development at the 1201 Fort St., the former Victoria Truth Centre property. Development Services has not only co-operated with the developer’s outsized plans for the site, it has actually tried to ‘sell’ council on its merits – arguing that a row of townhouses weren’t “significantly taller” than the surrounding homes (they were 50 per cent taller) and omitting mention in a report of how the developer had ignored council’s previous instructions.
This planning process is broken. I believe the City needs a new Neighbourhoods Ombudsperson position at City Hall. Such an ombudsperson would take the side of neighbourhoods worried about the way various condo projects across the City are impacting the look, feel, heritage, and infrastructure requirements of communities.
The ombudsperson would balance Development Services’ partial reports to council, bringing before our elected officials the ways in which proposals might not be in line with the Official Community Plan. They would work with local neighbourhoods to interpret the OCP in ways that reflect the will of residents, not the windfall profit goals of developers.
This role is likely played by a more comprehensive planning department in other municipalities. Council must be willing to mandate that Victoria’s Development Services take a balanced approach to planning, which would include providing the downsides of a development and not just the sunniest interpretation.
The City’s neighbourhoods are in desperate need of some help in bringing balance to the development process.