Highlands Sustainability Appraisal Form and Policy

The District is committed to ensuring all elements of sustainability are taken into account in land use planning and other major decisions. The purpose of using the Highlands Sustainability Appraisal Form is to inform Council, the applicant, District staff, and the public about how a rezoning/OCP amendment application or other project is proposed to affect the District’s sustainability policies and desired directions. It is meant to be a high level informative tool, not intended to be the primary method of analysis.

In the summer of 2012 after the form had had some use, Council provided staff with feedback for improvement to the form that included:
  • Having one only rating column
  • Putting the scoring/rating guide directly on the form
  • Coordinating colours
  • Include a penalty for buildings without permits (for health and safety reasons)
  • Weighting more important issues
As a result, changes to the form included:
  • Reducing the amount of rating columns
  • Placing the scoring/rating guide directly on the form
  • Coordinating the colours
  • Including a penalty of -1 for each building on a subject property without an Occupancy Permit. This item is in the “Manufactured Capital” section, second line.
  • Weighting selected issues by a blanket factor of 20% (for simplicity’s sake) that staff considered of higher import based on values expressed through the OCP (Official Community Plan) and the ICSP (Integrated Community Sustainability Plan) and informed by the Community Energy and Emissions Inventory (CEEI). These include:
a. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced through transportation
b. Four items relating to ground and surface water quality and quantity, and
c. Gardens, farms and markets.
The form is not meant to be complex, and staff considered that one magnitude of 20% for weighting would provide simple yet adequate direction. While all items on the form are important and have policy reasoning for their presence, staff considered only those six to merit extra weight based on policy and values. Water has special meaning in the Highlands due to it being the main potable source for residents, to its ecological importance, and its inherent connections with so many habitats. Two of the most important factors contributing to a more sustainable
Highlands include reducing GHG emissions from transportation, and creating more opportunities for food growing in the Highlands.

In the Sustainability Task Force's (STF) January 2010 Final Report, 'Adopt and utilize a Sustainability Appraisal Form,' is listed as one of the priority items. The form was described in detail in an appendix of the report. From that appendix, the purpose of the form, "...is to provide (a) structured tool to identify how an application, proposal or decision changes elements of value (to the District)...it can provide guidance to proponents on ways to reach net mutual benefit on land use changes." The Task Force's intent was that all applicants for development variance permits, development permits, rezoning applications, subdivision applications and major building permits fill out such a form.

From there, that well-developed concept was transferred to the Sustainability Strategy process. The appraisal form was slotted as a project within the larger Sustainability Strategy project, and timed to specifically occur after the ICSP was drafted.

The form is essentially that recommended by the Sustainability Task Force, and is based on the Five Capital Stocks model.

The key elements here for ease of reference:
  • The form is designed to balance flexibility with structure
  • Each capital stock (natural, manufactured, financial, human and social) is like an account - having assets and liabilities. Each subcategory is a specific element of importance - as communicated through OCP policy or generally desired direction - to Highlands.
  • For example, in the natural stock, subcategory "forests", protection of forests is considered an asset or a positive flow (therefore a "+"), whereas wildfire risk is considered a liability or a negative flow (therefore a "-"). Depending on the proposal, each element is assigned a value from O to 3 and a flow of either + or -. Each of the five capital stocks are calculated as one unit, and the end result is five integer values giving a idea of assets versus liabilities for each natural, manufactured, financial, human and social capital stock in Highlands.
  • These values are somewhat subjective according to whoever fills out the form.

Staff is aware of the desire to keep subjectivity to a minimum especially in development applications. The final ratings calculated by the form are subjective, and their actual numeric values should not be used to compare applications or as the only tool by which to evaluate any application. What is important is the direction of the flow - positive or negative, and if the rating value is especially high or low. The form is valuable as a high level informative tool to see how applications compare with the District's sustainability  policies and desired directions. It should not replace any current analyses by staff or the applicant.

Council will note that the policy only directs that the form be used for rezoning/OCP amendment applications. The policy also states that the form could also be used in other instances at Council's discretion by Council resolution. While the latter is implicit, it deserves visibility. Staff feels this strikes a reasonable balance for use of the form at this early stage and also provides a mechanism for clarity for Council and staff.