An expert in urban planning “disappointed” with the exception to the density objectives

“I am disappointed with council for not believing in the strength of our official community plan. »

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A planning expert says council’s decision to build “flexibility” into density targets for new neighborhoods sets a precedent that points Regina in the wrong direction.

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“I was really disappointed,” said Vanessa Mathews, an associate professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina who specializes in urban planning and geography, on Thursday.

“I think even just opening up the possibility of large-scale, single-family housing development inaccessible by public transport seems to be a step backwards from where we’re actually trying to get to. »

Mathews shared his views at a city council meeting on Wednesday, where a report calling for an amendment to the city’s official community plan to allow waivers of density targets for new neighborhoods in “unique” circumstances was been approved.

Currently, OCP has a density target of 50 people per hectare (pph). The objective of the density target is to prioritize the development of complete neighborhoods that are safe, inclusive, easy to move around and that offer a “mix of housing choices, amenities and services”.

The exception, or “flexibility” as it was often described in Wednesday’s meeting, allows for a lower density requirement based on “unique factors” such as area size, access and potential limited to accommodate neighborhood services.

“The development of these areas would naturally be less diverse and would likely require some trade-off for development in accordance with complete neighborhood policies,” the report said, adding that these situations are “unlikely to be common” and that the overall impact on the OCP would “not be significant.”

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A map that shows the new districts of the city in orange.
A map that shows the new districts of the city in orange. .jpg

The administration said an area adjacent to the Joanne Goulet Golf Course on Pinkie Road is likely the only site in the city’s growth plan that the policy change would affect, as it “may not be suitable for residential development at 50 pph or more given its smaller size”. development area and limited potential for services such as public transport.

“This location is small and would never meet the criteria for a complete community, but could provide some level of opportunity for specific housing options throughout our community,” said Stu Niebergall, President and CEO. the leadership of the Regina & Area Homebuilders Association, in support of the changes.

“The OCP is not blowing itself up today,” insisted Niebergall, arguing that the change was not significant and did not warrant much ideological discussion. “This recommendation simply gives the board and future boards flexibility to move forward. »

But Mathews says the city should under no circumstances consider outward growth that falls far short of the 50 pph target given the inability to meet existing neighborhood intensification targets and the cost high maintenance and connection of the city to these new areas.

“Downtown, our goal is to add 10,000 people. Since 2014, we’ve added 81,” Mathews told the board. “Our annual escalation rate in 2021 reached a negative level (-5.2%). We have lost population in established areas.

Reflecting on the council’s decision on Thursday, she said people were discouraged that despite having an OCP with clear goals and a recently approved energy and sustainability framework, the city has “so quickly” paved the way for a return to low-density, single-use developments. .

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“There’s no reason to create flexibility now in our Official Community Plan and send a message to the people of Regina that the goals we just achieved can easily be exceeded,” Mathews said.

But proponents of the changes argued it was not a slippery slope scenario.

“It’s not something that’s going to thrive with a bunch of single-family homes,” the adviser said. Lori Bresciani said she supports the amendment, but single-family homes must be an available option in the city.

According to the Regina & Region Home Builders Association (RRHBA), approximately 19% of Regina consumers can afford a single-detached home mortgage based on household income,” the report states. Mathews notes that 63% of housing in Regina is single-detached, according to a 2021 Statistics Canada report.

“I don’t think single-family homes are under attack at all,” Mathews said.

While the amendment passed by majority vote, Councilors Dan LeBlanc (Ward 6), Shanon Zachidniak (Ward 8) and Cheryl Stadnichuk (Ward 1) voted against the change.

Zachidniak argued that while the process would ensure the decision goes through both administration and the board before it is approved, or not, she argued that the board lacks the expertise to judge. when a circumstance might warrant a waiver of the density goal.

“I thought that was a really interesting question to ask not just about current but also future configurations of councils, whether or not they will be able to use their discretion and whether that will support the overall planning goals that we have in the city. ,” Mathews said Thursday.

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The administration said the amended policy would be part of a 10-year review of the OCP scheduled for next year and would be subject to public consultation then.

Stadnichuk also expressed concern about a “political approach by exception.”

Ultimately, the report passed with Councilors Bob Hawkins (Ward 2), Terina Shaw (Ward 7), John Findura (Ward 5), Jason Mancinelli (Ward 9) and Landon Mohl (Ward 10) voting in favor. .

“I’m disappointed in council for not believing in the strength of our official community plan and for not supporting the goals it recently adopted to become a sustainable city,” Mathews said.

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