Wednesday, October 27th an interesting discussion took place at City Hall during a meeting of the Regina Planning Commission. The development concerned was a proposal for a 13 meter tall office/commercial space proposed for the corner of Quance Street and Prince of Wales Drive, Discretionary Use application, RPC10-46. The building is an architecturally interesting, mixed-use, change of pace for that area.
The discussion over RPC10-46 concerned where office space should be in the city, challenges to the conformity of the zoning and concerns about pedestrian safety. In many ways, this development embodied the interplay of factors that has reinforced a separation of work and residence and the infrastructure deficit in this city.
Join me after the break for more.
Office space outside of the Downtown was a major issue of the discussion Wednesday last week. The concern was about the amount of office space, which according to Councilors Fougere and O’Donnell, was more than allotted in the Official Community Plan. The following comes from the Regina Development Plan, Part A and lays out part of the Councilors’ argument.
4.10 b) That major office uses, hotels, convention centres, government buildings, entertainment uses and cultural facilities shall be encouraged to locate in the downtown. (Pg 22 [31/112])
In further criticism, Councilor Fougere objected to the proposed development’s location on a busy roadway, inferior pedestrian infrastructure in the vicinity and the buildings size with respect to adjacent residential properties. Next, was Councilor Fougere’s assertion that the building does not comply with the LC2 zone because the office space is greater than permitted in the LC2 zone. The administration felt, as a discretionary use, the project should be allowed and recommended approval.
Below is the bylaw section describing the intent of the LC2 zone:
Chapter 7, Commercial Zone Regulations Page7.10
7C.3 LOCAL COMMERCIAL ZONE (LC2)
(1) This zone is intended for the establishment of commercial and personal service uses at moderate intensity in new neighbourhoods rezoned from peripheral agricultural or urban holding to an urban use after January 16, 1984.
(2) It is designed to allow not only retailing of convenience goods and provision of personal services, but also the retailing of durable fashion goods, as well as all types of office uses.
(3) A greater range of establishments is allowed in this zone than the LC1 zone because potential land use conflicts associated with commercial developments can be avoided at the initial design stage.
(4) The zone is restricted to minor arterial and collector streets, and the size of permitted establishments is restricted to 300 square metres to minimize their undesirable impacts on adjacent residential neighbourhoods.
(5) The zone reflects the Development Plan objective to integrate neighbourhood shopping facilities in residential areas. [1992/9250]
The fourth point is the key, both in exceeding square meters and in road intensity concerns. The proposed structure will have 646 square meters of office space on each floor above the main floor commercial space (RPC10-46, Pg 2). With consideration, then, of the fourth intent and section of policy above, the development could be non-conforming.
I included all intents in the LC2 zone because it is clear that other intents support the development: The fifth, integration of neighbourhood shopping and residential with the second, various commercial and office uses. The first intent strikes me as contradictory juxtaposing “moderate intensity” to the specific location and circumstances of the suburban form. There is recognition of a need to support recent developments with services without defining the scale or intensity of such projects.
As far as the discretionary use goes, Zoning Bylaw 9250 Chapter 5, Use and Development Regulations starting at Page 5.9 lays out, in Table 5.2: Table of Land Uses-Commercial Zones [2003-6] that Office and Shopping Centre uses are both discretionary. Each with a footnote found on page 5.13.
Relating to Office use;
“8 – Floor area greater than 200m2 is at council’s discretion. For offices uses in the LC1, LC2 zones, this limitation is on a single lot basis.”
And to Commercial Use;
“11 – Containing uses that are permitted or discretionary in the zone”
An example of permitted uses in “11” would be restaurants, convenience stores or bake shops. Examples of non-permitted or non-discretionary uses would be tattoo parlours, post offices or …mixed use buildings? Zoning is such a bizarre organizing tool sometimes: Mixed-use buildings are not permitted, yet a development with two discretionary uses can go ahead. I can understand that a mixed-use building might be a ‘big tent’ term allowing all manner of uses, but would not discretionary use designation be able to check this?
The final decision on RPC-46 was referred back to administration, so the following issues could be addressed with the developer:
-Size of development;
-Height of the building, as it relates to the zoning;
-Egress onto Quance Street;
-Proximity to public transit; and
-Intent of the LC2 zoning designation.
Many of the commissioner’s concerns matched comments from citizens, chief among them concerns over left-hand turns across Quance, crosswalks and traffic controls and landscaping (RPC10-46, Pg 4).
When the developer returns with revisions it will be up to council to agree to the intent of this development or not. I think the zoning intent is questionable, but in the grand scheme of Regina’s development goals, discretion should support the principles of this development. That does not look likely however; with councilor O’Donnell in particular suggesting too many suburban office developments have recently come before the Regina Planning Commission. And, in my experience, City Council members on the Planning Commission are usually successful in defending their commission positions in Council.
Listed below are three sections of the Regina Development Plan that should inform council to support office space and increased density in suburban parts of Regina. When the city shares development goals and a community vision, I think these points should be at the forefront. Once again from the Regina Development Plan: Part A Policy Plan:
4.1 Growth Management and Economic Development Objectives
b) To direct new urban growth in a sustainable manner, which supports economic sustainability by minimizing the cost of developing and maintaining services, social sustainability by giving proper emphasis to neighbourhood renewal and revitalization, and environmental sustainability by promoting a compact, balanced urban form that minimizes travel distances and supports transit (21/112 Pg 12).
Vic East is not a compact development, it is representative of Regina’s version of sprawl. That said, the deed is done and the land is developed. Why not then increase the density and services available to people in that area? Certainly commercial services are available but not so much office space. I do not think a “balanced urban form” moving into the 21st century is everything at the centre of the city and everyone living on the outside.
7.12 Policies to Promote the Development of Sustainable Residential Suburbs
a) That the City should encourage/require developers to provide a greater mix of housing to accommodate households of different incomes, types, stages of life and capabilities within each new neighbourhood.
b) That the City consider incorporating neo-traditional planning principles as a design option.
c) That the City consider land banking to promote sustainable development.
(58/112 Pg 49)
This group is more instructive of what has not happened in the past. Harbour Landing, at least, as a new development includes the points in some form. Nevertheless, Vic East lacks these principles. In cases where elements of these principles can come through, council should consider them a priority.
7.13 Policies to Achieve Optimal Neighbourhood Size
a) That new residential neighbourhoods be regular in shape (approximately equal width and length) and 1.6KM across.
b) That the City establish new residential neighbourhoods around centrally located community nodes.
c) That a comprehensive plan be prepared for each community node which shows the integration of uses proposed, phasing and timing of development and contingency in the event that planned elements do not proceed.
(58/112 Pg 49)
Again, here is largely what has not happened, but should have. There are no community nodes – but refusing uses like office space on principle does not improve the resilience of that area. It could be argued that ad-hoc developments cannot improve larger ad-hoc areas like Vic East. However, I still feel a mix of uses and density is the best way towards resilience.
Unfortunately, as much as I want different uses to transform Vic East into something new, the current state of the area limits the type of buildings that could be added. The concerns of commissioners and citizens are very accurate. The surroundings do not support the building. That fact comes not from grand decisions of the distant past but from hasty development ten or fifteen years ago. Going forward, Council should support mixed-use neighborhoods throughout the city. What this case shows is how difficult it maybe to retrofit suburbs and transforming them into resilient communities.