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Video: Nolan Gray in Vancouver
It's bad to require discretionary approval for everything
Nolan Gray, research director for California YIMBY and author of Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How To Fix It, was in Vancouver a couple weeks ago. He did a talk at the library (sponsored by Abundant Housing Vancouver and Happy Cities), hosted by Frances Bula. The entire event was recorded and posted to YouTube.
He also spent some time going around Metro Vancouver and taking photos:
More by Nolan Gray:
Why Is Japanese Zoning More Liberal Than US Zoning?, March 2019.
AMA on Reddit, June 2022.
Does Discretion Delay Development?, November 2022.
A talk in Hawaii, February 2023. With transcript.
From the Hawaii talk:
Because the zoning restrictions in so many U.S. cities are so strict and so out of sync with reality, almost every project that gets approved has to go through some type of discretionary approval process.
Sometimes this is requiring/requesting a change from the zoning — requesting a rezoning or requesting a text amendment. Sometimes this is a special permit, it’s a site plan review. There are a thousand different ways that you can get thrown into what’s called [the] discretionary permitting universe, where you’re not entitled to your permits.
You might have to undergo multiple public hearings. Your permits are at the discretion of an elected official. As again, coming from LA, we’ve had two Council members be indicted for zoning-related corruption recently, so it gets you corruption issues.
But this process stretches it out and often does actually kill projects. It politicizes new development. And what it does is it creates a process that can easily be captured by NIMBYs — the “Not In My Back Yard” interests — particularly [from] higher opportunity wealthier neighborhoods who can come to all these meetings and sway the process maybe in a way that doesn’t reflect the broader needs of the community,but reflect maybe their parochial self-focused interests.
We talk a lot about individual zoning fights, but scale that up over the course of a city, over the course of decades, and what you get is kind of an inevitable housing affordability crisis.