Official Community Plans
If you like watching paint dry, or getting a root canal, or having your eyes poked out, you might also enjoy perusing some of the legislation promulgated by our provincial Legislature or federal Parliament. If you are involved in the development or adoption of an official community plan (OCP) for a British Columbia local government, we urge you to overcome whatever reluctance you might have to read the relevant legislation, starting with Division 4 of Part 14 of the Local Government Act (LGA). Admittedly, these provisions can’t hold a candle to Jane Jacobs for readability, but they are far more accessible and straightforward than many statutes. More importantly, they reveal in reasonably plain language the Legislature’s view of what local government land use planning is all about. In fact, local government planners grappling with any aspect of their Part 14 powers should consider at least glancing at Division 4. And again, anyone tasked with the development or administration oF an OCP would do well to take a deeper dive. The provisions are instructive and empowering. And if that is not enough to keep your attention, some are legally binding, meaning that failure to account for them can invalidate even the best-laid plans.
If the threat of invalidity is not enough to convince you, what about the possibility the governing statute can also provide a useful road map for your official community planning journey? If OCPs can trace their lineage to the earliest documented examples of human settlement planning, which might have involved nothing more than a skeletal outline of buildings and pathways oriented to a central geographic, military or religious reference point, the contemporary project has become more elaborate and likely more complex. Today’s OCPs invariably occupy hundreds of pages of text, with a sometimes-dizzying array of maps and other schedules and appendices, and often add cross-references to other plans or standards, either previously developed or proposed for future incorporation. (The precise legal status of these ancillary plans can be hard to decipher.) This result is not surprising, given the breadth of research and community consultation that often lies behind an OCP, together with the intra- and inter-governmental referrals that may or must be undertaken before adoption, nor is it necessarily detrimental. But it reinforces our conviction that like the pre-adoption consultation process, early and ongoing reference to Division 4 of Part 14 of the LGA should at least be a consideration in the preparation or amendment of any OCP, and perhaps most amendments, too.
If you accept our invitation to read the statute, this paper attempts to make the task a little easier. First, we review the mandatory and optional content requirements set out in ss. 473 and 474 of the LGA. Here we suggest, at least for legal purposes, that the statute provides a useful starting point for the table of contents. Next, we tackle public consultation and other special pre-adoption procedures, set out in ss. 475 – 477, which also attach to OCP amendments. We then mention the far-reaching legal effect of an adopted plan, before turning to some of the nuances of designating development permit areas and temporary use permit areas, as well as drafting development permit area guidelines. In the penultimate section we turn to the cases, which provide further insight into some of the key topics already discussed: content (especially as regards development permit guidelines); consultation; and the consistency rule. And finally, in case you needed further convincing of the importance of OCPs, or this paper, we address recent news from the Province, that public hearings will no longer be required for zoning bylaws that are consistent with an OCP.