The urban design standards manual now essentially finalized by Brandon’s planning department will have a lasting — and we think welcome — impact on this city’s future development.
The paring down of the 130 pages of guidelines and suggestions for urban design that were prepared in an earlier manual nearly a decade ago was completely necessary. For years, community leaders, councillors — both current and previous — and this newspaper have called for building standards that would prevent the construction of bland eyesores that do nothing to enhance our neighbourhoods.
So it is gratifying that this council and Brandon and Area Planning have finally moved to rectify a long-standing problem — a lack of sufficient — perhaps a bare-minimum — vision of what we want our city to look like.
As the city’s acting principal planner told the Sun earlier this week, the new manual has condensed a large and hard-to-navigate guidelines manual into a simplified set of standards that will be easier to read and understand for the public and developers.
“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,” Ryan Nickel said.
As we reported, there were a few mandatory urban standards that existed before, but only when a property was rezoned, or if there was a variance or conditional use application.
This new manual will apply to all development applications, including new residential — though not single-family homes — commercial and industrial construction.
We are especially pleased with two lines of the manual in particular, which note that building materials, height and design “shall be contextually compatible with those of the surrounding neighbourhood,” and that “building materials and colours are encouraged that complement and enhance the existing neighbourhood character.”
If and when council ratifies these new standards, the manual will have an immediate effect on any new construction permits issued by the city. Already, companies like VBJ Developments are incorporating many of the standards outlined in the new manual in their architectural designs.
With these changes coming, it appears the planning department is bracing for blowback from some developers who are wary of the added costs associated with transitioning from different building materials and adding architectural articulation.
Certainly these standards impose new headaches, but in the long run the overall look of the city can only improve — think aesthetically pleasing facades visible down our city streets instead of a front door with metal cladding.
Nickel states that developers will have opportunities to appeal regulations, but the key here will be enforcement — though details regarding how the City intends to that have not yet been made public.
It’s too early to know what the planners have in mind, but we urge the administration to ensure the City has the ability to enforce these new standards.
After all, standards without conviction are no standards at all.