2006 Planning – Co-winner 2
District of Ucluelet
Walk The Talk — Ucluelet’s Official Community Plan
Declines in the forestry and fishing industries prompted Ucluelet to turn to tourism to sustain its economy. But that decision created development pressures that could have an impact on the area's natural beauty, the very reason why tourists visit. With only limited resources and a one-person planning department, the community devised an official plan. The plan requires developers to include social and staff housing, to allow for public waterfront access and to use alternative development standards, such as permeable surfaces to reduce stormwater runoff and the LEED Green Building Rating System. Ucluelet provides developers with density bonuses in exchange for more parkland, amenities or cash. The District has already received $9 million in combined parkland, cash and amenities, including a new skateboard park and basketball court, under this arrangement.
Located approximately 300 kilometres north of Victoria, Ucluelet is home to some of Canada's most spectacular geography: ocean views, sandy beaches, islands and inlets and the temperate rainforests of British Columbia.
The district's economy had been dominated by forestry and fishing, but over the last decade these industries declined. Pressure from new developments began to pose a threat to Ucluelet's natural environment.
"There had been a lot of construction activity and Council realized that development pressures would only increase," says Felice Mazzoni, Ucluelet's Director of Planning. "To be proactive, rather than reactive, Council sought to ensure that future developers would give back to the community."
In 2003, the district created an Economic Development Corporation to promote and steer new economic activity, and also began reviewing its Official Community Plan (OCP).
"We want to achieve sustainability while protecting our sense of place," says Mr. Mazzoni. "The character of the town had to be protected but we also wanted to encourage the right kind of development."
- An inventory of archaeological sites and environmentally sensitive areas was developed to guide and control future development. The data will be forwarded to B.C.'s Ministry of Environment to augment their database. "We consulted with First Nations bands and we may allow some of those sites to become interpretive areas, or simply leave them in their natural state."
- The density bonus system has netted the district approximately $9 million in combined cash, amenities and parkland, and has helped retain greenspace (between 40 percent and 60 percent of total natural greenspace area included in development properties, compared to a provincial requirement of 5 percent).
- In areas where the density bonus system has been applied, overall density has increased by between 20 percent and 30 percent. In addition, 108 staff and 90 affordable housing units have been secured through covenants and will be built before the developer receives occupancy approval.
- ADS have been applied in two developments and include French drains, narrow roads and pedestrian pathway vegetation buffers. Concrete sidewalks were replaced with asphalt and gravel pedestrian paths, located away from the roadside. The district also installed energy-efficient street lighting and underground hydro services. ADS have helped to reduce stormwater runoff in an area that receives up to 12 feet of rain each year.
- As a result of the OCP review process, and after the plan was adopted, residents formed the Ucluelet Development Task Force. "It was a group of concerned citizens who wanted to have a proactive discussion about development," explains Mr. Mazzoni. "I join them every once in a while to let them know what's going on and they give me their ideas and suggestions."
- PARTNERSHIPS ARE KEY. Malaspina University-College was an invaluable partner in the public consultation phase of the community plan and also helped by paying salaries to some students. In addition, the development community has reacted positively to the new guidelines. "One of the main reasons for that is marketing," explains Mr. Mazzoni. "There is a market here for green, low-impact and sustainable buildings. People want an extraordinary product rather than the typical curb-and-gutter urban development and because developers are giving back, it fosters trust and acceptance."
- GO BEYOND ACCEPTED GUIDELINES. Ucluelet chose to adopt both LEED standards and ADS. The LEED standards address environmental performance within buildings, while ADS cover stormwater infrastructure. Together, LEED and ADS will help create more sustainable neighbourhoods in the future.
- IMPLEMENTATION IS OFTEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE POLICY. It is often the case that innovative municipal policies fail due to poor implementation. Since 2004, the OCP has been amended only once, to change the density bonus ratio. As well, the OCP was structured so that new development pressures trigger policy changes.
- PUBLIC AND POLITICAL SUPPORT IS CRUCIAL. "A policy document is only as strong as its political support and our Council championed the process," says Mr. Mazzoni, reserving his greatest praise for the citizens of Ucluelet. "Without their input and determination, it would have been impossible to build those policies."
Partners and Collaboration
- District of Ucluelet
- Malaspina University-College, Community Research
- Alliance Partnership
- University of Victoria
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- Parks Canada
- B.C. Ministry of Environment