Chilliwack moves to next phase in OCP review

The City of Chilliwack is gradually uncovering residents' visions for the city's future through the Official Community Plan review.

A vision of future Chilliwack is gradually taking shape as the city assembles feedback received on its Official Community Plan (OCP) over the past year.

The City of Chilliwack is reviewing its OCP in order to manage growth for the next few decades. The review tackles issues from densification to green space to commercial development to street art.

“The community is growing, and we have to plan for growth. If we don’t plan for growth, we have unintended consequences. We have people living in unsafe conditions, we have people living in illegal suites, we have people that are couch-surfing. We need to plan ahead,” said mayor Sharon Gaetz.

To that end, the city has been holding surveys, interactive community planning events, and social media discussions to gather local views on how Chilliwack should look from now until 2040.

Although opinions diverge, most residents seem to envision a walkable city with lots of green space and street-level shops and homes, according to the city’s latest public engagement report. The report presents results from an online survey than ran May to July 2013, “community cafe” public forums in June, and a workshop in Yarrow.

When it comes to architecture for commercial buildings, preference is for buildings with large windows and tree-lined patios. Buildings with too simple facades were deemed “bland,” and those with graffiti art were least preferred. Over half of the people polled at the community cafes vetoed any regulation of the colour of commercial buildings, but 30 per cent felt it would be a good idea.

For residential neighbourhoods, the majority of those surveyed preferred single-family detached homes. Only about 40 per cent leaned towards multi-family dwellings such as townhouses or duplexes. All the same, nearly 80 per cent of people polled at the community cafes felt that apartments of more than eight storeys are appropriate in Chilliwack.

“I can imagine that most people, if they had a choice, would want to live in a single-family home, but the economic reality of that is slim for a lot of people,” said Gaetz. “Realistically, multi-family housing is part of any mix of any community nowadays just for affordability and affordable housing choices.”

The single biggest contributer to a better neighborhood is a denser and livelier core, according to 70 per cent of community cafe participants. But to densify, communities should have enough parks and schools, pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, and commercial services.

Nearly half of cafe attendees felt that the vitality of Chilliwack’s downtown was the city’s biggest long-term economic challenge. About one-fifth disagreed, noting it was sufficient land for manufacturing and industry. Another fifth thought that the growth of the knowledge economy is most important.

Gaetz estimates that about 5,000 residents have participated in the OCP consultation process over the last year. The community of Yarrow has been particularly “stellar,” she noted, as residents came out prepared for a meaningful discussion. Their vision of a Yarrow with village charm, restored older buildings, and a cozy shopping district with lots of independent stores came through clearly. Residents frequently pointed to Fort Langley as a model for how Yarrow should develop.

“It’s just really good to hear what their vision is. And of course any community is built incrementally. So when development comes forward to the city, we’ll weigh it against that kind of criteria. We’ll say, ‘Does this really fit in with the vision of the community?'” said Gaetz.

A draft of the OCP, “a living, breathing document,” will be available in the fall, and recirculated publicly for final comments. The plan should be adopted before the end of 2013. The city invites residents to continue sharing their thoughts.

“We just want to encourage people to use their voices. If people hadn’t spoken to us about issues like tree retention or hillside development and their concerns, or if they hadn’t given us their opinion on transportation and how they use it, our plan would be much poorer because of that. So just keep talking to us, we’re listening,” said Gaetz.

Information about the OCP and opportunities for consultation are at chilliwack.com/ocpreview.

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