Spot zoning

What is spot zoning

“Spot zoning is when, for whatever reason, a city is willing to repeatedly allow changes to its own zoning map on a site by site basis. Because it is necessarily one proponent who requests the spot zone change, the practice has traditionally been criticized both for negating the document that in ordinary circumstances governs municipal development, the zoning map, and because it quite obviously allows some voices to speak louder than others when development decisions are made. After all, with spot zoning, tens of millions of dollars in potential profits or losses can rest on one decision made on one parcel by one city council on one day. And in Vancouver, there are no limits on the amount of money that development corporations can supply to political parties. Those two facts leave politicians and their donors open to at least the appearance of conflict of interest when spot zoning occurs”

from Vancouver’s ‘Spot Zoning’ Is Corrupting Its Soul
Patrick Condon, Chair, Urban design program
University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Source: The Tyee, July 14, 2014

Where are we now and where are we going

Spot zoning is a dominant practice in the City of Vancouver and a common practice across the Greater Vancouver Region. It seems to place municipal governments in a conflict of interest because they become directly involved in proposals that significantly increase city revenues from specific individual proponents . There is also a lack of transparency in the negotiations that lead to establishing the value of the economic uplift awarded in the rezonings. The City budget forecast on how much revenue is expected from the City’s share from rezonings for big developments is an indication of the extent of the practice.

Also of interest is our city government’s intentions in the June 2012 posting for the job of General Manager, Planning and Development. A primary emphasis in the posting was as follows.

“Advancing the bold objectives for sustainability, liveability, and affordability and working within the regional context, the ideal candidate will have the proven capacity to lead high-profile, complex projects. Collaboration, both within the City organization and with a wide range of external stakeholders, will be fundamental to your success. You also bring strong business acumen and change management capabilities to deliver on a mandate for transformation of the processes and technologies supporting the City’s primary revenue-generating business.”

Although many people in development and planning are concerned about this, there doesn’t appear sufficient concern among decision-makers to address the issue.

Ray Spaxman
Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver, 1973 to 1988