After much discussion and a fair amount of confusion among councillors, the City of Port Moody approved changes to its development application approval process last week that would see the traditional Advisory Design Panel (ADP) stage scrapped and replaced with a new process.

Advisory Design Panels are used by many municipal governments in the Lower Mainland and typically consist of a group of volunteer industry professionals — architects, landscape architects, engineers, accessibility design experts, urban design experts — that review development applications and provide feedback to councils on the design aspects of development projects.

As General Manager of Community Development at the City of Port Moody Kate Zanon explained to the Governance and Legislation Committee on March 19, ADPs were put in place back when municipal governments had fewer staff with expertise regarding these design aspects.

"The ADP composition is intended to complement the staff reviews bringing a technical expertise that the City does not employ," she wrote in a report to Council. "Many municipalities including Port Moody also receive architecture and landscape architecture design review through contracted services. These reviews are conducted on a fee for service basis and are included in the fees paid to the City when a development permit (DP) application is submitted."

Zanon goes on to point out that some municipalities have transitioned away from utilizing ADPs and pivoted to contracting outside design review or in-house experts, with some using a mix of the above, because of a variety of challenges that can arise when using ADPs for both local governments and developers.

Wesgroup Properties' Inlet District

One such problem is that the volunteer ADP is typically scheduled to meet just once per month. At January's meeting, the ADP was scheduled to review a three-tower project by Beedie as well as the first phase of the Coronation Park project by Wesgroup Properties that was rebranded as the Inlet District that month.

However, the ADP ended up spending an extensive amount of time discussing Beedie's application and was unable to get to Wesgroup's, pushing it to the February meeting. Just prior to the February ADP meeting, however, Wesgroup Properties sent a letter to the City seeking a waiver from the ADP process.

"Since the start of work on Coronation Park, Wesgroup has consistently communicated to Council and Staff the urgency of this project due to extraordinary land, construction, and interest costs," wrote Wesgroup Properties Development Manager Louis Landolt. "The ADP meeting on January 25th had 2 agenda items, including ours, and without any conversation or understanding of the impacts of the delay, the ADP panel chose to spend 2.5 hours on Item 1 and defer this application by one month. There was no effort made to schedule a special meeting or any other mitigating measure. As a result, we have been delayed one month and believe by attending ADP we will be delayed further."

Landolt went on to say that each month the project is delayed from moving to the construction stage is costing Wesgroup Properties "upwards of $1,000,000" and "significantly impairs our ability to deliver the robust amenity package the project currently has."

STOREYS has reached out to Wesgroup Properties for additional comment, but has not received a response.

A rendering of Phase One of the Inlet District, formerly named Coronation Park, in Port Moody.Phase One of the Inlet District, formerly named Coronation Park, in Port Moody. (Wesgroup Properties)

Advisory Design Panel Change

Port Moody's City Initiatives and Planning Committee was set to review Wesgroup's waiver request on March 19. However, just prior to the meeting, the Governance and Legislation Committee received a report from staff during their own meeting regarding the form and function of the ADP, which staff said had been in the works since before Wesgroup's waiver request.

The committee ultimately voted to disband the ADP, with Councillor Amy Lubik and Councillor Haven Lurbiecki opposed, in what is the City's second time disbanding the ADP (before reinstating it in June 2020). In its place, the City of Port Moody will now primarily utilize the aforementioned practice of contracting design review to outside parties, the fees of which are recovered from developers during the development permit application process. This change will be in effect for 12 months.

The change, approved by the Governance and Legislation Committee, resulted in some confusion for the City Initiatives and Planning Committee, as the item called for waiving the ADP process, but there was no longer an ADP process in existence to be waived. Some Councillors were also concerned about the timing of the ADP change and whether it was in response to Wesgroup's request and the optics of that. City staff said that the ADP review was initiated prior to Wesgroup's request.

One Councillor also wondered out loud whether Wesgroup shot itself in the foot with the waiver request, by opting out of the February ADP meeting and delaying itself, but Zanon said that work had already been underway between the staff and Wesgroup regarding the design review outside of the waiver request.

The first phase of Wesgroup's Inlet District project will now continue through the development process under the newly approved process.