Unlike the item below, this is worthy of comment:
Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the Beedie proposal at 105 Keefer, the two-to-three decision definitely puts the role and authority of the Development Permit Board in question – in both the court of public opinion and perhaps the courts.
The DPB was a creation of the TEAM council back in the early 1970s. It was devised as a way to de-politicize the permit approval process by moving the authority to approve major development projects under existing zoning from a political council to a panel of four (at that time) of senior staff.
The Vancouver Charter allowed a degree of ‘discretion,’ unlike in other municipalities, that introduced a degree of subjectivity in matters of design and even density, in order to encourage architects and developers to consider the context and neighbourliness of their buildings.
The board also had a group of advisers, drawn from the design and development professions, in addition to staff architects, that contributed to the analysis and provided recommendations. Projects eventually had to jump through many hoops: public meetings, advisory boards, review panels, staff analysis, negotiations, revisions, and finally the DP board itself, at which time presentations from the public and the developer could be heard.
The process itself ensured that projects rarely made it to the board unless they had a reasonable chance of success. Suggestions for ‘prior-to’ conditions could then be added, requiring some additional tweaking of the design, but those would be adjudicated by the Director of Planning who could then give final approval.
A few things to note: councillors were not involved. Indeed, they would typically refer those who approached them with complaints, whether developers or neighbours, to the board process without their intercession. It was considered inappropriate for councillors to even be in the room at the time the project was being reviewed, regardless of the degree of controversy.
If a project was so controversial that a political consideration was believed to be appropriate, the board could refer the project to council for their ‘input’ – while the board still retained the decision-making responsibility.
The board only reviewed ‘major’ projects. Applications for small projects, like houses or even small buildings, would be considered by the Director of Planning.
But – and this is critical – all projects had to be legal under the existing zoning. The board could not venture into areas that required a rezoning. Indeed, the application would never even be streamed into the DP process. Likewise, council was responsible for all policy which framed the review process itself. The board could not apply criteria which had not in some way been authorized by council.
So that takes us to 105 Keefer. And as Andy Yan noted, this also takes us into new territory. From The Sun:
Urban planner Andy Yan said the rejection is significant for historic neighbourhoods like Chinatown. Design is no longer the only criterion for the permit board; the context must also be considered.
“In this case, we’re talking about (the development’s) fit in an existing site, which has tremendous historic and architectural juxtapositions,” said Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. …
“Yan thinks the rejection will have a broader impact.
“I think it’s saying we’re going to have to change the site-ism that occurs with development in Vancouver — site-ism being defined that developments only pertain to the site. It talks about how we need to begin to consider context towards the social and cultural surroundings of developments. Some may be very straightforward, others are far more complex, as in the case of Chinatown.”
That is a profound expansion of the responsibility of the Development Permit Board. The question is whether it’s even proper for an unelected board to consider ‘the social and cultural surroundings’ – particularly when they become another way to address, argue and fight the most important questions of policy that affect a community and the city. Or further, another way to politically contest those issues which democratically must be the purview of elected representatives. Or further, another way to fight those politicians.
And that’s worthy of a lot of comment.