To Be a Church on Main Street or NOT to Be a Church on Main Street…

by David Biltek

…that is the question.

and whether it was nobler and right for the Downtown Association and neighbouring businesses to take up “arms” and oppose it? and was the Council Committee right to turn it down?

It was an interesting question for Council and an interesting one for the Downtown, it revealed planning issues and the basics of planning and development laws.

The basic request was  to change the zoning of a property so as to  allow  churches in that zone.  The property is in a zone that permits retail businesses and lists churches as a discretionary use. Every plan for the downtown, every strategy for redevelopment, every redevelopment scheme ever approved by City Council for the last 40 years has called for 100 avenue to be a precinct primarily for retail, to be a “walkable” retail space, the existing General Plan, the plan with the highest “authority” in the City, the Land Use Bylaw, all designate the area as one for retail.

The precise location in the building is not relevant, it is the property that is zoned, not a floor or space within a building. Nor was the nature of the church or the Who, What, or Why of the church considered, nor should they be. The decision should be made solely on the merits of the land use for that site and zone.

The fact that there are other churches downtown is almost immaterial, those churches are in other zones which permit churches, or were “pre-existing” before the zones were established. Just to be clear, if a zone lists a “use” , a land use, as a permitted use, it may go ahead, and if it is listed as a “discretionary use, the application goes to Council to decide, and if a use is NOT permitted, an applicant may ask Council to change the zone to allow the use.

Is a church, any church, compatible with this? Will this “discretionary” use assist or inhibit the intent of the zone? Those were essentially the questions that Council had to address and answer.

I think the Council committee made the right decision and in so doing enforced the intent to have a predominantly retail precinct along that zone on 100 avenue. In so doing they were not anti church, they were simply making a planning decision based on what is the best use for the land. Neither is the Downtown Association opposed to churches, in fact the DA announced yesterday that they have offered to work with the church to find suitable space in the downtown area and have identified two such spaces.

And what do you think?

For full disclosure: I own a business on 100 avenue, which is located a little better than one block away from the property in question. I do not own the building, we rent. The business has been in the downtown area for many years, always on 100 avenue and as a result of being located downtown I  am automatically a member of the Downtown Association