Slocan’s mayor hopes residents will at least take a look at the Village’s new Official Community Plan – and maybe even like doing so.
“It is the community’s document,” says Jessica Lunn. “I hope folks read it, and enjoy reading it, and learn from it, and the document resonates with them.”
Council gave the OCP its first and second readings at an August meeting, beginning the approval process for the bylaw. A public hearing is scheduled for September 20 for residents to give their feedback on the draft plan.
Months of study and public consultation involving many residents have gone into the document, which outlines the Village’s land use plans and community development goals for the next 5-10 years and beyond. Lunn says she’s been impressed and grateful for the amount of public interest there’s been in the process.
“I was really encouraged by the feedback and community engagement. It’s a starting point. It was super exciting to connect with the community, especially after COVID, to have some in-person engagement and see the excitement and enthusiasm for our community.
“People who are here really love it here, and they care about each other and the environment and I think this document captures that.”
Turning a corner
The end result is a document that is clear, readable and engaging – not words usually used to describe a bylaw. Lunn says they worked hard to make the document ‘visually compelling’, adding graphs, maps and photographs – a far cry from the very first OCP, drawn up more than 35 years ago.
“There was an OCP done in 1986 that was typewritten and photocopied,” she notes. “This feels a lot more readable. There’s information on what an OCP is, why we have one, and we’ve incorporated a lot more visuals, so hopefully folks enjoy reading it.”
But the document reflects a lot more change than that, says Lunn. This is the second OCP written since the town’s main employer, Springer Creek Forest Products, closed in 2011. She says this plan shows the community is moving past the trauma, and toward the future.
“We have absolutely turned a corner. It has been incredible to be part of this community since the mill closed,” says Lunn. “There was grief and families were touched immensely when they mill stopped and the buildings came down. There were tears.
“But it was really important then to think of the potential of the community, and the possibility. And what we’ve experienced on the ground – there’s been so much investment from within. We have more new businesses. There’s an excitement and an optimism for the future. And I think this OCP really hits the nail on the head.”
The draft presented by the consultants, Selkirk Planning and Design, doesn’t deviate much from the initial plan discussions this spring (see ‘Slocan village residents ponder plans for community’s future,’ April 7, 2022, page X). The vision statement for the town has been simplified to: “A flourishing village where people are connected to nature and each other.”
“We want to maintain that village charm, the village feel, we want to maintain those connections to each other, cultivate those, support and protect the natural environment, celebrate it, recreate in it,” Lunn explains. “We heard that across the board.”
The main principles derived from the vision include integrating the natural surroundings into development and planning, enhancing social connections, supporting affordable housing options, and supporting a sustainable community environmentally, socially, and economically.
The OCP sets several zones or planning areas, like the downtown core, highway gateway, residential, shoreline, etc. Each development area sets out the kind of building that will be encouraged in that area – single family, multi-unit, commercial, etc., encouraging some types of building or restricting development, in the case of sensitive ecosystems and steep slope areas.
One thing the document doesn’t discuss is the Springer Mill lands, 19 acres of prime waterfront purchased by the Village in 2020. The OCP sets out some general principles… limiting designs and colours, creating large setbacks from the property line, and generally complementing the existing village character “so that it feels like an extension of the village’s existing neighbourhoods and not a separate entity.”
“It came up a lot with the public, in many conversations. We know we have a lot to talk about on that, but we wanted to ensure the OCP update kept it to a high-level policy, that could guide the future process,” says Lunn. “It was important… we use some of those values and vision as principles that will help support that future process.”
A lot of side quests
The document also recommends the Village expand its boundaries to include municipally owned land on its borders, review septic system use in the village, support the arts, protect heritage buildings, encourage community agriculture, support improvements to transportation, internet and communications infrastructure, develop a wildfire emergency response plan, form a beautification committee, do a ‘sensitive ecosystems’ inventory, develop a stormwater master plan, among many other suggestions. The community will need these things in years to come, but can the Village’s tiny administration do all that?
“OCPs are forward-thinking and high-level guidance,” says Lunn. “In terms of the implementation, whether we act on certain aspects of the plan would absolutely depend on capacity.”
One of the things Lunn is proudest of is the inclusion of principles of reconciliation with First Nations. Just a half-sentence mention in the last OCP, there’s a full land acknowledgement at the beginning, and goals for First Nations relationships are explicitly outlined in a subsection. Lunn says that’s just the beginning.
“We know we have a very long way to go in terms of Indigenous relationships and reconciliation,” she says. “What is included is a starting point… we really wanted to ensure the OCP provided an opportunity to share information and raise awareness. That being said, we have a long way to go as a community. We need to listen and learn.”
Residents can view the entire OCP bylaw document on the Village’s website, and Lunn says council would love to hear from the public at the September 20 meeting at the Legion Hall. After the public hearing and reviews by partner governments (like the RDCK), the new bylaw should be given final approval before the municipal elections in October.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice