‘Bold’ action for Chilliwack’s downtown

The implementation of a plan to spur redevelopment in Chilliwack's downtown will take courage and political will.

The preamble to Chilliwack’s long awaited downtown action plan makes no secret of the challenges faced by the task force in crafting its ambitious and far reaching document.

However, the bigger challenge still lies ahead: Convincing a spend-thrift public and a wary development community that the recommendations in the report are worth it.

The report, presented to council on Tuesday, identifies 20 steps the committee argues are necessary to spur development in Chilliwack’s downtown. The creation of incentives, the elimination of disincentives, and the application of resources, says the committee, will reinvigorate the downtown core and speed its resurgence.

“Bold” is an adjective often used in the 30-page report.

But the proposals are not unusual. They are planning tools that other cities have used with success to shape development in their communities.

One of the recommendations, for example, would give the city (and CEPCO) more latitude in assembling properties in the downtown and preparing them for redevelopment. It is a strategy that cities like Burnaby have employed with success to spur the kind of redevelopment it wanted – not what the whims of a fickle market dictated.

Neither is it new to Chilliwack; the city has already taken steps down that path with the purchase and demolition of the Empress Hotel.

More controversial is the recommendation that the city give the downtown priority in its density allocation, This would limit higher density developments elsewhere in the city, giving preference instead to the downtown.

Again, this is not new. City planners and politicians routinely use rezoning and land use strategies to direct growth where they want it. But it may raise the eyebrows of developers who believe market demand is the best judge of where development should take place.

The downtown action plan carries no price tag, but it makes clear that the recommendations will carry a cost (in staff allocation at the very least).

Ironically, its release comes the same day that the city’s financial plan forecasts tax increases of roughly 10 per cent, spread over the next three years.

The challenge facing the committee will be convincing the public that resources directed toward the downtown is money well spent.

The case can be made. History is littered with cities that have allowed their downtowns to decline past the point of no return. But as the report makes clear, Chilliwack has a chance to change that. It has the opportunity to reopen the boarded up buildings – to bring the people, the services and the employment opportunities to Chilliwack’s historic heart.

Let’s see if we have the courage to do it.

~ Greg Knill, Chilliwack Progress

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