Sounds like a plan

City planning manager Blake Laven walks some Penticton residents through a housing exercise at ExpOCP in January 2018.

After nearly three years of work, Penticton has a new Official Community Plan – but at a cost at least double what was originally approved.

Council adopted the new OCP, which will guide the city’s growth through 2045, at its meeting Tuesday night.

The final stated cost of the exercise was $261,000: $166,000 for consultants and $79,000 for public engagement, according to development services manager Anthony Haddad.

However, what he failed to include was city staff time, in particular that of special projects manager Ben Johnson, who was hired in September 2016 specifically to oversee the OCP update.

Haddad estimated Johnson spent 65-70% of his time since then on the OCP. Johnson makes about $120,000 per year, meaning his work on the OCP cost taxpayers approximately $240,000 since he was hired. That lifts the total cost of the OCP to $500,000.

“I guess when you add that percentage to that salary you can make a good assumption that’s the cost that would be applied to the OCP, for sure,” Haddad responded during question period at the conclusion of Tuesday’s council meeting.

But back on July 4, 2016, when council of the day authorized staff to go ahead with the update, it was on the understanding the exercise would cost in the range of $200,000 to $250,000.

Jules Hall, the city’s former development services director, came up with that estimate based on “similar reviews in other jurisdictions,” according to his report.

And the anticipated cost, Hall noted, “includes any necessary staffing, required background studies and public engagement.”

Mayor John Vassilaki, who wasn’t on council in 2016, acknowledged Tuesday the final cost of the OCP vastly exceeded the original estimate.

“It was more of a complex OCP than what they imagined to begin with, and in order to put something in place that’s proper it takes time, you can’t do it overnight,” the mayor said.

“It took a lot longer than they expected it to take, and that’s the reasoning behind… the excess funds that went towards the cost of the OCP.”

Vassilaki, who was on council during the last OCP update in 2002, said that version didn’t live up to expectations because it was rushed.

That OCP projected the city’s population to be 45,000 by now, rather than the 34,000 recorded in the 2016 census.

The new OCP predicts more moderate growth of 0.6% annually, which would put the population at 42,000 by 2045.

“The OCP establishes a growth plan that directs much of our new development to already-developed area to minimize impacts on the natural environment, reduce traffic and congestion, and capitalize on existing infrastructure and facilities,” Johnson told council at a previous meeting.

“The look and feel of new development is intended to align with the character of Penticton, focusing on lower-scale infill development, such as townhouses, duplexes and low-rise apartments in appropriate areas.”