Town looking to review direct control districts to cut red tape

by Colin Smith

The Town of Morinville is reviewing the use of direct control district zoning with the aim of improving flexibility and reducing uncertainty for developers.

At its July 13 meeting Council approved without discussion an Administration recommendation that the districts be looked at for possible rezoning.

The decision followed the presentation of a report by Brad White, Senior Manager, Planning and Economic Development in the agenda package.

According to the report, Planning and Economic Development staff members have conducted a review of direct control districts in Morinville in response to situations in which development permit applications for these land-use zones required decision-making by council.

“Morinville’s investment attractiveness requires a response to the challenges direct control districts inadvertently create, including a shift away from overly prescriptive zoning to more flexible and adaptable zoning that integrates a broader mix of compatible uses in a standard zone,” the report declares.

Direct control districts are intended to provide for development that may be outside of the land uses and regulations of standard zoning, the report states.

The districts can be used to customize rules for a specific site or form of development, establishing, preserving or enhancing areas of environmental concern or of cultural or historical significance. They can also control and support innovative development.

However, the report points to the drawbacks of direct control zoning.

“Direct zones create an investment barrier and block a path to new development due to the uncertainty of approvals. This leaves investors and their financial backers in a difficult position with uncertainty of the project’s development conditions.”

Issues with the districts specified in the report are longer review and approval times; future site redevelopment constraints; increased complexity of the Land Use Bylaw process; unclear regulations that are open to interpretation (e.g. “at the discretion of the development authority”); and the need for Administration to recommend conditions of approval.

Morinville’s Land Use Bylaw sets out six types of direct control districts, DC-1, DC-2, DC-3, DC-4, DC-C and DC-T, with several subtypes. This type of zoning applies to 158 parcels in the Town, for a total of 32.65 hectares of land.

Council is the approving authority for development in DC-1, DC-2 and DC-T general districts, which are intended specifically for unique properties that may require its involvement in decision-making. These include Town infrastructure lands, Paul Krauskopf Court and historic buildings.

Site-specific direct control districts (DC-3, DC-4 and DC-C) are intended for detailed control at the rezoning stage where developers are seeking relaxation of standard district regulations. The DC-C district applies to residential development in the Coeur de Morinville area.

The report argues that while this site-specific development zoning can work well in some cases, standard zoning is generally preferable.

“A DC designation can make a property stagnate, whereas standard zoning allows greater flexibility in development where investors know what to expect, can pre-plan and secure funding with lenders,” it states.

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