RDCK board approves application for Complete Communities program

The RDCK is going to apply for a grant to do growth management planning in the region. The board of the Regional District of Central Kootenay gave staff the go-ahead to apply for the grant at its November 16 board meeting after much discussion at the board meeting of October 19, as well as at the November board meeting and Rural Affairs Committee meeting.

“The intention of this project is a foundational piece,” said Sangita Sudan at the October meeting. “It’s to lay the groundwork for what we need to do as far as growth planning in the region.” Sudan is the RDCK’s general manager of Development Services.

The funding would come from the Complete Communities program of the Union of BC Municipalities.

“Complete communities are communities (or areas within a community) which provide a diversity of housing to meet identified community needs and accommodate people at all stages of life, and provide a wider range of employment opportunities, amenities, and service within a connected and compact area,” states a report from RDCK planner, Dana Hawkins, to the RDCK board.

With the grant, the RDCK would conduct studies to assess its member communities’ ‘community completeness.’ The project would also result in an implementation plan to support creating more complete communities in the RDCK.

The program ties in with the RDCK’s Housing Action Plan (HAP), endorsed by the board in May. The goal of HAP is to find ways to support affordable housing developments in the region. One recommendation from HAP is growth management planning, where the RDCK would identify key areas for residential growth in rural areas, considering co-location of housing with social and physical infrastructure.

The application will be regional, encompassing the whole Central Kootenay district. Member municipalities can be partners in the application. The program will cover 100% of the project costs, up to $500,000. One of the reasons the decision was deferred to November was to allow municipalities to discuss partnering. So far, Slocan, Nakusp, Kaslo, and Creston have passed resolutions to join. Other municipalities have expressed interest but have yet to pass resolutions. The application deadline is mid-January.

A varied region

Concerns arose when considering the region-wide application. The RDCK consists of 11 electoral areas and nine member municipalities. It encompasses more than 22,000 square kilometres. Area D Director Aimee Watson said that to travel across her area alone takes four hours. More importantly though, the district is home to many unique communities that are altogether distinct from one another.

“To put us all into one box is sort of problematic,” said Area H (Slocan Valley) Director Walter Popoff at the Rural Affairs Committee meeting on November 15. “There are some commonalities that could work for everybody, but they are distinct communities. It is personal for them. It is their personal property that is going to get zoned or planned.”

The application guide describes a ‘complete community’ as an area that is able to meet community needs, especially within a walkable distance. This worried some councillors, since the RDCK is mostly rural.

“I’m a little bit concerned about ‘complete communities,’” said Director Popoff. “That bears the connotation that’s been tossed around for 15-minute cities.”

“Is this going to be a requirement, fundamentally, that you have to meet certain criteria of a 20-minute neighbourhood, in order to be part of that discussion?” asked Area C Director Kelly Vandenberghe.

Dana Hawkins, RDCK planner, assured the board that there isn’t one set template for a ‘complete community’ that areas must conform to.

“Of course, it’s going to look different in a rural area than in a small city,” she said. “In a small town, that could be a town centre that might form to help with daily needs, with most housing nearby. In a regional district, complete communities could be hubs that are part of a connected regional network. We’re not looking to urbanize these areas, but we are recognizing that there will be population growth into the future.”

Garry Jackman, Area A director, countered, “We already describe our hubs in our official community plans (OCPs): where we want to see additional retail, or services, encourage development… I’m worried that the starting point will be a different kind of hub [than what our OCPs outline], that will instantly alienate some of our residents.”

Hawkins explained that the Complete Communities analysis, while more of a regional project, can help inform individual area OCPs.

Sudan responded as well. “It’s to lay the groundwork for what we need to do as far as growth planning in the region, which does align with the intent of reviewing all our OCPs,” she said. “We do have many areas that require growth planning in general. We need to identify where that potential exists. And this project would help highlight some of those areas.”

Planning services

Another reason the board delayed the decision to November was to wait for the Planning Services Work Plan Review from Nelson Wight, RDCK planning manager. The report was presented at the Rural Affairs Committee (RAC) meeting on November 15.

The Planning Services Work Plan “provides an analysis of the current challenges and opportunities, and recommendations… to improve efficiencies to how we provide land use planning services to our residents,” Wight wrote in his report.

Wight was seeking input on whether the RDCK board would like to host a workshop to decide which items should be prioritized, or removed, from the plan.

“A workshop is a way of understanding a lot of these moving parts, to fairly understand how they are integrated into our sub-regions and beyond,” said Director Vandenberghe.

Official Community Plans (OCPs) came up again in this discussion. OCPs are part of the Planning Services Work Plan, and are updated on an ongoing basis, as needed.

“Part of my area doesn’t have an OCP,” said Area E Director Cheryl Graham. “And I’ve only read Area E’s OCP, so this makes me wonder what the other OCPs have in common and what they don’t.”

The Complete Communities application and the concept of working together regionally seemed to shadow the RAC meeting discussion.

"Area I has been working on its OCP since 2016," said Director Andy Davidoff. This is due in part to ensuring every constituent could have their voice heard. "Can you imagine all of us working together? How are you going to include all of the areas, all of our constituents?”

“I was involved in the very first [OCP] that was established in Area E. It’s very personal to property owners,” said Director Graham. “That is one of the main concerns I would have with this, that we would start taking away the personalization that people have with their properties, which for the most part is the single most valuable thing that we own.”

Both the Complete Communities program and Planning Services Work Plan hone in on land use. The distinction is that the Work Plan lists action items; Complete Communities would conduct research to inform which action items to pursue.

“Staff feel like this [Complete Communities] work would be worthwhile and can support whichever direction we take in our broader work plan discussions,” said Hawkins.

The decision

In the end, a month spent consulting with municipalities and contemplating the application led the board to agree to apply for the Complete Communities grant.

“There is shared interest in cooperative planning between municipalities in nearby rural communities,” said Hawkins. “We were really encouraged by the support for this grant.”

The board will also host a workshop to consider the Planning Services Work Plan.

Rachael Lesosky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice