The city has created a new urban and design standards manual to promote high quality urban design and ensure contextually appropriate development in Brandon, including downtown spaces such as this stretch along Rosser Avenue. (FILE PHOTO)
From pedestrian walkways to building facades, the city is moving toward new urban design standards.
Currently, there are guidelines and suggestions when it comes to new developments, but the goal now is to make much of the newly created Urban and Landscape Design Standards manual mandatory.
"Essentially the new manual will be considered standards, and the new developments will have to demonstrate compliance," said Ryan Nickel, the city’s acting principal planner. "Where under the previous standards and guidelines, that wasn’t always the case."
The planning department has been busy consolidating the current guidelines for urban design and landscaping — narrowing down roughly 130 pages to 14 pages.
"What we’re hoping is that the different developers and the public — because it’s simpler to read and easier to understand — will start to use it more, and also from our perspective, it will be easier to implement," Nickel said.
"Many of the guidelines were written just like that, they were guidelines so they weren’t considered mandatory for many development applications, such as a building permit."
There were some mandatory urban standards that did exist before, but that was when a property was rezoned, or there was a variance or conditional use application. But not for a building permit.
The new manual will be mandatory for all development applications, which includes new residential, commercial and industrial construction. The residential component does not include single family homes.
There have been two public open houses on the Urban and Landscape Design Standards manual, with the latest one just last week. The planning department will now make any warranted revisions based on input they have received.
"I think we’re at a stage where we’re very close to a product we’re happy with and we hope the community’s happy with so we can move forward now," Nickel said.
The purpose of the new manual is to promote high quality urban design and ensure contextually appropriate development in Brandon.
Nickel says the goal is to "improve the quality and liveability of developments in the City of Brandon."
As outlined in the draft manual, sites should be designed to "promote pedestrian connectivity, safety and convenience" and pedestrian crossings should be "emphasized through wider walkways, enhanced landscape treatments."
Hard-surfaced parking areas should be clearly defined with curbing, while walkways and landscaping should be provided as a buffer between parking areas and buildings.
Refuse areas are to be "enclosed and screened from view" on three sides by solid, opaque fencing or landscaping.
Signage, safety, sustainable practices and lighting are all included in the manual as well.
Building materials, height and design "shall be contextually compatible with those of the surrounding neighbourhood."
Buildings should also be designed to include a variety of building materials, colour, roof lines and architectural features. Perennial and/or shrub plantings are required to screen the building foundation of any street-facing facade.
"We’ve seen a lot of progress recently and a lot of credit goes to the development community for leading the charge," Nickel said. "We want to continue that progress as we move forward. The building requirements deal with breaking up the facades, including a variety of materials. We’re not expecting high-end design, just attention to detail."
These standards will not only make developments aesthetically pleasing, but they will also function well.
Many developers are already incorporating these types of design aspects into their plans.
"For the most part, the developers in the city have already kind of started to embrace…better quality design," Nickel said.
VBJ Developments is one company that has already been incorporating a lot of these design standards into their developments.
"Our multi-family sites, we’re providing pedestrian connections, we have different exterior looks on the buildings, so … we’re doing a lot of it already, so it just makes it more of a standard, city-wide," said Steve McMillan, vice-president of planning services with VBJ Developments.
McMillan said the manual does leave some things open to interpretation, but agrees it will be good to give developers a "baseline."
The only aspect builders might have an issue with, he said, is the added cost of transitioning from different building materials and adding more architectural articulation.
"If they’re wanting buildings to have jut-outs, and different things like that, that’s a bigger cost," he said. "Those corner cuts cost the contractor, the builder, more, which ends up costing the home buyer more."
The next step will be taking the bylaw to council for first reading, which is expected to happen in May or early June.
The planning department says there will be opportunities for developers to appeal the regulations.
"For maybe some developers who disagree with the city’s interpretation of the regulations, design can be a little bit subjective at times," Nickel said. "We’re trying to set an appeal process in place where they could appeal the decision."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 16, 2014