Slocan village residents got their first look at the document that sets out how the community’s growth should be shaped for the coming decades.
Consultants presented their draft of the Official Community Plan in a series of meetings last month. Officially a land use bylaw, the OCP helps Village council set the community’s economic, aesthetic and environmental goals as they pertain to growth and development.
“It is really envisioning a future Slocan five, 10, 30 years from now,” said Jonathan Schmidt, a land use planner helping Selkirk Planning and Design produce the document. “What do you want Slocan to be?”
To that end, the consultants spent several months engaging with local leadership and the public to get a sense of what opportunities and limitations people saw for Slocan, what kind of development they favoured and styles of commercial and residential building they preferred.
The consultants also kept in mind other values the public said they wanted to enhance or protect – the local environment, affordable housing, having a downtown core for business, keeping Slocan a healthy place for citizens, and creating opportunities for youth.
“Slocan is a welcoming, safe, quiet, and peaceful village in the Slocan Valley that is deeply connected to the unique surrounding natural areas and scenic waterfront,” says the first line of the preamble to the OCP.
The consultants said they were creating a higher-level document with the OCP that would set the community’s greater goals, while leaving the details to more precise bylaws (like zoning) in the future.
“The OCP can more be visionary, higher level – you don’t have to change it as often,” said Schmidt. “You want to set the framework and then the zoning bylaw can get into the dirty details… the OCP can be 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 feet up, looking forward 10 years so you don’t have to amend it so often.”
The OCP focuses on five “big moves” or priorities, he said: creating a ‘vibrant village core’ along Harold Street; encouraging housing diversity and affordability; maintaining the village character and local ecosystems; nurturing local business; and protecting the lake and waterways.
“These are key pieces that will be seen and integrated within the OCP in various ways,” said Schmidt. “They’re big moves in the sense that… it’s not just one policy, not just one idea or piece of the map. It’s quite extensively integrated within the draft of the OCP.”
Five land uses
One of the consultant’s proposals is to carve up the village into five kinds of land use areas.
‘Residential Neighbourhood’ would include private homes and public institutional buildings. It would allow granny flats, tiny second homes and vacation rentals. Up to four units could be built on a lot without requiring a special development permit.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll see big institutional buildings right next to people’s homes, the consultants noted.
“You still have full control over zoning. It’s just that you don’t need to look at the OCP map,” said Schmidt. “You look at the character of the area, you look at the application to rezone the property, and council would make a recommendation to staff to rezone or not. You could refuse it. You could say ‘yes, the OCP supports this use generally, but we have full control over zoning and we don’t feel it fits here’ – if that were the case.”
“The land use just enables something to happen. It’s up to council’s discretion to move forward with the building and development permits,” added Fraser Blyth, the co-writer of the draft OCP, who was also at the meeting.
‘Village Core’ specifies the area along Harold Street, and allows for denser housing – up to 16 units on a lot without a special development permit. Mixed-use commercial residential would be encouraged.
‘Community Gateway’ – the roads leading into the village from the highway – will also have special design requirements, allow up to 20-unit buildings without a special development permit, and be the place for automobile-focused services.
The ‘Mill Master Plan’ area would allow up to 20-unit buildings of mixed use and commercial, and perhaps have a community centre.
The ‘Environmental Area’ protects the foreshore of the river, lake and Springer Creek and steep slope areas. It is set aside for environmental enhancement.
However, a provision to ban all residential or other development in that area raised a few red flags for council.
“I have concerns for private property owners in that area,” said Mayor Jessica Lunn. “Right now there are eight or ten lots that are currently up for sale.”
The consultants noted their maps show no current buildings on the land in the environmental zone, said it was difficult to access already, and some areas have no road access at all.
“It’s by no means finalized, so if we have to adjust land use boundaries, that’s always possible,” said Blyth. “Ultimately, we are looking for direction from council.”
The consultants said they would review that section of the plan and tweak it to allow – or at least only discourage – some development.
Form and character
The OCP will also set out rules for the height and width of buildings, how they can be placed on a lot, permissible lighting and signage, and what design styles may or may not be allowed in three of the land use areas – Mill Site, Downtown Core and Gateway.
This was a tough one to balance for the consultants, who said that they had to thread between locals’ disdain for rules, and their desire to keep the community looking rural.
“Part of the challenge was trying to find the right balance,” said Blyth. “How much density should be permitted.”
However, the consultants were encouraged by the public’s willingness to see more infill housing, spread out equally in the community.
“It’s the dispersive effect. Why not have everyone benefit across the village to redevelop land – maybe on a more even keel – so everyone grows the same way,...” said Schmidt. "It shows there is some acceptance that development may happen over time, in that there is a sense of equity across the board. It should be diversified and dispersed across all neighbourhoods.”
Plan mill lands later
There was little detail about the former Springer Mill lands in the OCP, as the consultants recommend it have its own stand-alone master plan. But there was a sense of integrating the lands into the community in a seamless way, and not focusing all new growth in that area.
“It really shows the nature of your citizens; it really shows what they are passionate about,” said Schmidt. “They don’t want an ‘all-the-new-stuff-over-at-the-mill’ approach. That speaks to their sense of character, and they want to preserve that.”
Delivery of the first draft of the Official Community Plan marks the halfway point of the process, the consultants said. Work now begins on integrating feedback heard from council and citizens.
Another round of rewrites will take place, with another review by council. The plan is for council to adopt the OCP bylaw in late August.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice