FRANCES BULA | The Globe and Mail
As Burnaby faces increasing protests over planning decisions that have allowed cheap apartments to be demolished for condos and permitted so-called “supersize density” at four key sites, a community group is appealing to the province’s ombudsperson to investigate.
The Burnaby First Coalition says council dramatically changed the overall plan for the city when it put through a zoning amendment in 2010 that would allow the heightened density in its four town centres: Brentwood, Lougheed, Metrotown and Edmonds.
“Consultation should have happened before the increases in density,” said Helen Ward, the chair for the coalition, which did not win any seats on council in the last election. The group has, since then, joined forces with resident and rental-advocacy groups to protest against the loss of the Metrotown apartments, with more than 300 demolished in the three years after 2012.
Ms. Ward said the coalition has chosen to get the ombudsperson’s office involved rather than filing a lawsuit as resident groups with similar complaints elsewhere have done in the past, because “I couldn’t find anyone to cough up any money.”
Ms. Ward said the demolitions around Metrotown are “the most egregious effect” of the zoning amendment, but that other negative effects are coming when all the new development begins.
Her official complaint to the ombudsperson’s office, initiated in May, said Burnaby is approving rezoning applications that do not conform to the official community plan.
It is not following the notice requirements legally required for plan changes, she said.
Her official complaint to the ombudsperson’s office, initiated in May, said Burnaby is approving rezoning applications that do not conform to the official community plan and is not following the notice requirements legally required for plan changes.
Individual citizens and residents’ groups have appealed to the provincial ombudsperson’s office in the past when they believe council or city staff have acted inappropriately.
A Prince George group asked the office to investigate after the city advertised that it was going to amend the zoning to allow a women’s recovery centre in a particular neighbourhood.
In fact, the amendment would have “provided the city the power to permit affordable housing and special needs housing, of any density, in all residential areas including rural zones,” according to the description in a 2014 decision by the office.
It asked Prince George to pay the group’s $557 bill for an advertisement it took out before the meeting about the change advising citizens about the wide scope of the proposed amendment.
However, there’s no indication in the office’s records of decisions that it has taken on something as significant as the Burnaby zoning amendment.
The amendment did not change the zoning classification because the town centres had already been designated as future sites for multi-family residential development.
But it did alter what could be done within those sites, opening the door to much greater height and density.
The Office of the Ombudsperson’s annual report indicates about 10 per cent of its 7,800 complaints and inquiries a year involve local governments.
Vancouver, Surrey and the Sunshine Coast town of Gibsons have generated the highest numbers.
Ms. Ward provided correspondence from the office that asked her to attempt to communicate with the city first to resolve the issue.
When she received a letter in which deputy city manager Chad Turpin said he was confident the city followed all required processes, she pressed the office again to investigate.
In July, the office asked her for additional information.
Office spokesman Brad Densmore said the office never confirms whether it has an investigation under way, in part to protect the privacy of complainants.
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