OVER THE LAST MONTHS, mayor and council, in an effort to speed up re-zoning regulations, have entered on a path that bypasses neighbourhood Land Use Committees. This is, as they see it, more efficient, and saves months of haggling with neighbours over up-zoning. It focuses on densifying “corridors,” arterial roads, rather than the health of neighbourhoods as a whole. Emphasis on these corridors sees "small urban villages" in terms of business rather than community connection and aspiration. As a community association board member, I've sat at the table while City bureaucrats tell us what they've decided rather than opening up back and forth conversations. There is much talk about “vibrant” processes and community engagement from local government. In the end, it is top down and the engagement appears to be merely window dressing.The thing is, it isn't just land use committees that are being side-lined, it is we, Victoria's citizens and residents.
All of us understand the pressures to create innovative ways to increase density, but in the process, we feel our interests, our vision, and our ideas bypassed as the City's processes unfold. Victoria is a lovely and livable city, a tourist destination, a place where many people aspire to live. However, the current push from the City seems bent on destroying what makes Victoria special. The City itself has become our official and prime development corporation. Empty Downtown towers are not a draw. Upscale condos on the former Truth Centre property are the waste of an uncommon opportunity to create a shared green space which might have been used to create "amenities" for people—a cultural centre, a nature park, or a combination of such ideas. Might the City have listened to the many people who grieved the loss of the wonderful old trees and the park-like space? Might we have talked about how to buy the property and turn it into a people place? Unfortunately, under the present process, visionary ideas will be shut down before they have a chance to be heard.
In this pandemic time, when we are all preoccupied with staying home and staying safe, I fear what City council might allow to slip through, all in the guise of progressive development. Victoria residents are full of vital ideas for how we want our city to adapt. We need to slow down and hear each other out. We do not need to decimate Land Use Committees which may indeed prolong our processes but may also give rise to ideas that are intrinsic to the spirit of our communities. They also keep citizens in the loop and allow us to have a crucial and integral part in Victoria's future.
In recent times, we've seen major developments approved, developments that are in opposition to Official Community Plans, through the use of amendments to community plans. Thus we whittle away citizens' interest and commitment to taking ownership of our neighbourhoods. I am quite sure that Mayor Helps and council want what is best for the city. If many of us are distressed by some of what’s coming down the pike, we need opportunities to talk about it, not a swift by-pass. Without that, we foster a disengaged citizenry which may play out in apathy or real anger. Neither is to be desired. Mayor and council need to remember that it is we, the people, not the developers, who have to live with their decisions.
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