Here are my perspectives on the final draft of the City of Kitchener’s new Official Plan that I shared at a public meeting Monday evening. After considering the feedback to the final draft, the document outlining land use for the next 20 years will go to Council in June.

The city’s official plan always seemed to be far removed from my life as a citizen.

Then four years ago, I came together with a loose group of people concerned about the imminent loss of the buildings on the second block of the former Lang Tannery. Suddenly, the official plan became very important though in the end it left a bitter taste in our mouths.

What I recall was that the official plan was open to interpretation with plenty of wiggle room especially when it included references to policy directions that ended up conflicting with each other. What bothered me the most was learning that zoning trumped the official plan and that the existing zoning hadn’t been updated to reflect the official plan.

While I am now more educated in matters of planning thanks to expertise being shared one tweet at a time by, for example, Brent Toderian, former chief planner for Vancouver, and Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner for Toronto, I evaluate the final draft of the city’s official plan by going back to my experience trying to enhance the Tannery project by using the smaller building and the open spaces surrounding them to create a successful people place.

While I’ll admit I haven’t read every word of the draft official plan, I’ve read enough to say:

I like it.

There are several sections that would have made a difference four years ago such as 12.C.1.4 that says “a property does not have to be listed or designated to be considered as having cultural heritage value or interest.”

Or the new consideration for placemaking in developments, “All development or redevelopment will have regard for the contribution of the public realm through the design of public, semi-public and private spaces and buildings.” (15.D.2)

I love all the references to building a “healthy community.” Not only is that consistent with the city’s strategic plan, it is consistent with progressive planning practices for urban centres like Kitchener. The original draft talked about complete streets and complete communities but including the concept of a healthy community helps explain the importance of complete streets and communities and expands upon it.

While the absence of secondary plans for so many critical areas especially downtown is a concern, I am hopeful about what will be recommended based upon the direction given by the philosophy and principles included in the final draft of the official plan.

The new section on public consultation and public notification is welcome. While I’m not sure it goes far enough to avoid the heated disputes we’ve seen around intensification related projects, it’s a positive move that recognizes the need to engage citizens and give them a voice over what is happening in their neighbourhood.

The new policies on updated zoning are important. Particularly, (16.E.12.3) ”Within three years of the adoption of… this Plan, the existing Zoning By-law will be reviewed and amended, or a new Zoning By-law prepared and adopted, to conform to the policies of this Plan.”  Ensuring that happens is even more important.

Overall, I believe this final draft of the official plan is a significant improvement over the existing plan. The discussion around the future of the smaller Tannery buildings would have been different and possibly avoided. At the same time, I expect interpretation and competing interests to continue sparking conversation over the future of our city.

I hope council will support this plan to create a healthy Kitchener built upon a foundation of strong, complete neighbourhoods across the city

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