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Changing the subdivision code – Kapiti Coast District Council

Fast facts

Subject: Changes to the policy and practices of subdivision development

Location: Kapiti Coast District Council (40 minute drive north of Wellington)

Population: Current population 47,000 in 2007; predicted 57,000 by 2026

Website link: http://www.kapiticoast.govt.nz/DistrictDevelopment/ SubdivisionandDevelopment.htm

Case study researcher: Viv Heslop, Vivacity Consulting Ltd

Introduction

The Kapiti Coast is a narrow coastal plane of 73,000 hectares and 40 kilometres of coastline within commuting distance of Wellington. The area is facing high residential growth on greenfield sites.

Kapiti Coast District Council (the Council) wanted to achieve quality urban design and provide a planned response to high residential growth. However, traditional methods of dealing with growth simply focused on building more infrastructure and improving traffic management. As a consequence the Kapiti Coast’s natural environment was being adversely affected by development. For example:

  • there was an increase in stormwater flow, which affected the water quality of streams and coastal estuaries

  • the biodiversity of the natural environment was under threat

  • potable water had to be sourced from increasing distances.

The Council began to question the relevance of the Kapiti Coast District Council Code for Subdivision Development (the Code), viewing it as a barrier to innovative and quality urban design. As a consequence, the Council reviewed its approach to subdivision and development management.

This case study focuses on the policy and practices used by the Council to support changes to the Code and how this new approach, coupled with a changed organisational structure and culture, is leading to improved quality subdivision and development.

Rationale for changing the Code

Traditionally, subdivision and development on the Kapiti Coast was based on standards set out in the Code. The Code represented the Council’s minimum standards, and controlled the infrastructural requirements of new developments, as well as the layout, pattern and character of urban and rural development.

While the Code set out and maintained important health, safety, management and maintenance factors for new subdivisions, it had a negative impact on the environmental effects and design quality of new subdivisions. The wording of the Kapiti Coast District Plan (the District Plan), and the application of the Code, meant that alternative innovative designs were being treated as non-complying activities.

The Code supported flattening of land to provide easily serviced sites and over-width roads to ensure trouble-free parking and access. The result was subdivisions that had little character, and designs that did not relate to the important topographical and landscape features of the Kapiti Coast. Subdivisions were characterised by cul-de-sacs and low permeability between, and within, adjoining subdivisions and the wider urban area.

Developers were concerned about the prescriptive nature of the Code, especially when trying innovative subdivision designs. In addition to this, the community, in the 2003 Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP), had expressed a desire for better subdivisions in the district.

Old-style subdivisions in the Kapiti Coast were dominated by cul-de-sac development with low permeability and lack of connections with the wider urban area.

Kapiti Coast District Council Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements.

In 2002, the Council employed a sustainable subdivision engineer and gained a new chief executive officer, both of whom were instrumental in proposing and supporting new concepts for subdivision and development. These internal champions were well supported by a management team who was willing to see a change to subdivision development in the area.

The Council recognised that any new approach to subdivision planning and development would require a new application method and the formulation of an urban design skills base, both within and outside the Council, to support its implementation.

The Code was reviewed and changed to the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and was based on three key elements employed by the Council:

  • building relationships with key stakeholders

  • reviewing and strengthening organisational processes

  • strengthening the legislative framework.

Building relationship with key stakeholders

The Council’s sustainable subdivision engineer was tasked with reviewing and revising the Code. This involved consultation with developers and their representatives, as well as with the Council’s main clients. These meetings were key to changing the Code and provided an opportunity for the Council to communicate its vision and intent to promote sustainable development.

The development community, through a core group of developers, was involved in reviewing the new guide as it was being drafted.

During the review process, the Council also met with other key stakeholders, including environmental groups in order to make the process as transparent as possible, and to allow for all views to be considered and taken into account. As a result, only a small number of submissions on the subdivision district plan change were received.

Workshops held during review of the Code.

Reviewing and strengthening organisational processes

The Council set up an internal Design and Review Team to ensure ongoing links were made within the organisation, as well as with resource consent applicants. This team holds pre-application meetings with resource consent applicants to analyse:

  • proposed public space projects, such as roads, reserves and open spaces

  • strategic or community design issues

  • significant design implications, for example, road upgrading and community facilities

  • opportunities for innovative subdivision and development design, and best practice options.

Another key organisational change was the development of a strong culture of collaboration within the Council. Staff are encouraged to work together and discuss issues that cross departmental boundaries.

The Council is beginning to rotate staff amongst its various departments. The purpose is to build staff capacity for the various council processes and provide an environment that recognises individual development needs. To that end, staff rotation is seeking to create a stable working environment, where staff see internal, rather than external, opportunities for career advancement.

The Council has also included cross-team expectations and requirements in all job descriptions, highlighting its commitment to collaboration and an understanding that implementation is a council-wide process.

The Council has a focus on building capacity with staff and the wider community. An example was involving an external urban designer to train staff and representatives from developer and environmental groups. This helped ensure everyone had the same level of urban design knowledge.

Strengthening the legislative framework

The main regulatory change for the Council was adopting the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements into the District Plan – via a plan change. The Council also uses plan changes (private and council initiated) to give effect to structure plans and masterplans with a set of key development principles formulated through the 2003 LTCCP.

The Council also developed supporting non-statutory guidelines to help developers meet the outcomes being sought. These guidelines include a Best Practice Subdivision Guide and a Medium Density Housing Best Practice Guide. The Council is in the process of developing a streetscape strategy and guideline, and a rural subdivision guide These are now statutory documents under the District Plan and are companion documents to the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements.

The Best Practice Subdivision Guide, developed by Urbanism Plus, won the Resource Management Law Association’s 2007 Project Award because of its ‘outcomes focused approach to integrated resource management’.

The Council has a commitment to reviewing implementation of Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements on an ongoing basis. Although it has only been operative since 2005, a review is planned for 2008.

Public access to the coastal edge – Best Practice Subdivision Guide.

Integrating streams and vegetation to become a valuable natural asset and amenity of the new development – Best Practice Subdivision Guide.

Outcomes to date

Since the adoption of the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements in 2005, there has been positive change in both the development process and built developments. The urban design ethic is filtering through the Council, as well as into the development community.

Developers are getting positive benefits from the Council pre-application meetings. The Design and Review Team is proving to be effective in presenting a united front on the outcomes the Council is seeking with developers. The Council also takes the opportunity at these meetings, and through other contact with developers, to discuss the economic benefits of quality design. The benefit to Council is quality urban design resource consent applications.

Developers are seeing a market advantage in providing innovative subdivisions that respond to the local environment and provide better places for people to live. The Council assists developers in getting innovative subdivision solutions with a non-notified resource consent process if they comply with the standards for medium density developments as set out in the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and Medium Density Guide in the District Plan. This provides developers with an economic incentive, because it reduces their costs while increasing certainty of how their consents are going to be assessed.

Jade Garden, Paraparaumu: An outcome highlight

Jade Garden, part of the Waterstone Development, has 26 houses, and has a higher housing density than normal subdivisions in Paraparaumu. It was designed and built by Jade Garden (Kapiti) Ltd and is a good example of how the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and the companion guidelines support quality urban design outcomes.

The urban design features of Jade Garden include:

  • a connected road network and roads that are narrower than many of the other developments in the local area

  • living spaces that face the street and private outdoor areas to the rear of each house

  • fencing that can be seen through

  • building materials chosen for long-term durability

  • proximity to a planned railway station.

Jade Garden is innovative in its use of low-impact design features on each lot and within the development as a whole. The houses are all two storey, with two or three bedrooms, open-plan living areas and single or double garages. Each house has a ‘watersmart’ system installed that captures rainwater from the roof for external use and greywater from the shower for a trickle irrigation system for the lawns. Each house also has low-flow showerheads, which reduce water use. The maintenance of these low-impact design features is included as a covenant on the title of each property.

In terms of the low-impact design features in the overall development, an extensive open space area consisting of ponds and a wetland also provides stormwater treatment. The incorporation of onsite stormwater management has added a useful feature to the area, and is seen as an asset by both residents and the wider community.

Benefits to house buyers in this development include:

  • connections with the neighbours

  • good quality, low-maintenance houses

  • the environmental features.

The community is mixed, and includes older people, investors seeking rental properties, single people, families and new immigrants. The development’s success has given the developer confidence that consumers and the community want to see increased housing density with high-quality public open space and good transport connections.

Jade Gardens.

Evaluation of urban design principles

Context

As stated, Kapiti Coast is characterised by rapid urban growth, which presents challenges in terms of:

  • planning to accommodate subdivisions and development

  • providing the infrastructure and facilities required to fit the Kapiti Coast environment.

The Council believes that the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and its companion guidelines support developments that better fit the local context and the outcomes being sought by the Kapiti Coast community. They acknowledge the area’s unique dunes and landforms and aim to ensure that any development is responsive to the site.

Character

The Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and supporting guidelines allow for more consideration of, and a flexible approach to, enhancing, local character. The Design and Review Team process also allows the Council to work with developers to achieve the outcomes sought by the Kapiti Coast community.

Choice

The old ‘cookie cutter’ approach to past subdivisions created developments with a standard plan laid over a flattened landscape. This layout was characterised by cul-de-sacs, lack of permeability, car dependence and lack of pedestrian and cycle options. The outcome was subdivisions that were similar and offered limited choice in terms of living environments and housing types.

Through the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements, guidelines and the Design and Review Team, the Council now works with developers to ensure there is choice and diversity, and that any developments respond to the local site. Over time, as shown by Jade Garden, this approach will lead to diverse development types.

Connections

An objective in developing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and the supporting guidelines was the integration of urban design principles, including connectivity, between new and existing subdivisions. In its transportation section, the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements refers to the Council’s wish to encourage pleasant, walkable neighbourhoods, with low-speed environments that enhance connectivity and decrease the area of ‘black top’ asphalt by differentiating parking bays and providing associated landscaping.

The Jade Garden medium density development demonstrates these outcomes through its narrower, connected streets, and options for pedestrians and cyclists.

Creativity

The Council has displayed a high level of creativity in both developing and implementing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and its supporting guidelines. This has been supported by council senior management, who are open to trying new strategies, and developers and the community, who are open to trying new subdivision approaches to create quality urban design.

Custodianship

The Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines support low-impact design, sustainable stormwater management, water saving and energy efficiency. Developers are incorporating a range of sustainability components into new developments, including passive solar heating, rainwater tanks, onsite stormwater management, reduced earthworks and restored and enhanced natural features and vegetation.

The new patterns of subdivision and development promoted in the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines will lead to less dependence on motor vehicles for transport, helping to reduce carbon emissions.

Some of the provisions that support custodianship include developers:

  • ensuring natural ecosystems are able to continue to function and are not degraded or lost as a result of the subdivision or development

  • enhancing existing natural ecosystems as a priority form of mitigation

  • ensuring that new subdivisions and developments are compatible with existing natural (ecologically intact) water systems as far as practically possible, or replicating natural systems and minimising the increase of stormwater runoff from those sites.

Collaboration

Collaboration has been a core element in developing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and its supporting guidelines, the creation of the Design and Review Team, and the use of pre-application meetings to encourage developers to consult early with the Council. Further collaboration has occurred, with urban design training being provided that incorporated council staff, developers and environmental group representatives.

Lessons learnt

Champions and organisational culture change

Support from senior management has been critical. The Council’s senior management team played a key part in championing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines, creating new teams with a changing culture of communication and collaboration, and supporting ongoing implementation.

A key learning outcome for the Council was to up-skill staff on urban design in order to ensure smooth implementation of the provisions of the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines. Staff need this knowledge to discuss applications and to articulate the outcomes the Council is seeking for urban design and development.

It is important to have motivated staff who are responsible for a project. Their enthusiasm and commitment often drive the development process. The appointment of a new subdivision engineer helped with changing the Code and implementing a new approach to subdivision and development. The Council’s reporting and organisational structure now also supports the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines – subdivision engineers sit in the strategy group, and report to the Sustainable Development Manager (Planning Manager).

The Council considers the pre-application meetings with the Design and Review Team one of the most important ways of working with developers to achieve quality urban design subdivision outcomes. Pre-application meetings encourage early discussion between councils and developers, so there is opportunity to influence the outcome of the process. Discussions at these meetings must be well documented and distributed to all parties so that all issues are addressed and there is no misinterpretation.

Councillor involvement

Ideally, support and buy-in should extend to include councillors because their support and understanding is invaluable and strengthens the delivery of quality urban design outcomes. Councillors should also be included in training and development initiatives around proposed changes to policy and plans. The Council has identified that, if it was to develop the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines again, it would seek more involvement from politicians because this would increase their commitment to policy and plan changes.

Inclusion in the District Plan

The Council has included the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements in the District Plan in order to achieve the desired outcomes it is seeking. The development process of the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements ensured the Council had support for its inclusion in the District Plan from developers and the community. The Council is, however, concerned that the District Plan may not be responsive to the changing community outcomes that are being developed through the LTCCP.

Consultation with development community

Because the Council involved the development community in reviewing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements as they were developed, a good working relationship was formed. Developers’ support for the changes was demonstrated when they began using the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements before it was included in the District Plan. This relationship is based on trust and a willingness of the development community to consider new urban design ideas and gain pre-application support from the Council.

No need to reinvent the wheel

The Council drew on international and national examples to develop the general and performance requirements in the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and supporting guidelines, including the New Zealand Standard Subdivision for People and the Environment. While the approach taken by the Council was new, many of the ideas embraced in the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines are found in a range of other urban design documents and publications.

Leading by example

Because the Council needs to lead by example, it would like to see further innovative urban design approaches used in its internal projects, such as capital works. This has meant the Council is using processes such as the Design and Review Team for its own road, building and open space projects.

Conclusion

The Council responded to the pressing issue of growth on the Kapiti Coast with an innovative and collaborative approach to subdivision and development. It has led the way in supporting quality urban design and development by updating the old engineering code of practice.

The Council is already seeing improvements in the quality of applications and on-the-ground developments. A commitment to developing good working relationships within, across and outside the Council has been rewarded by enthusiasm from staff, developers and the community, and resulted in urban design-led approaches leading to better outcomes.

While it is still early days for the Council in implementing the Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements and guidelines, its approach is leading to improved design and development outcomes for the Kapiti Coast. The Council has led the way in reviewing policies and plans to provide more of a sustainable development focus to planning, and in recognising the need to build organisational capacity to ensure implementation is successful.

Resources

Heslop, V. and Guerin A. 2007. Out with the Old and in with the New: The Kapiti Coast experience with changing the rules of the game for subdivision and development. A paper presented at the Annual New Zealand Planning Institute Conference, April, Palmerston North.

Kapiti Coast District Council Subdivision web pages

http://www.kapiticoast.govt.nz/DistrictDevelopment/SubdivisionandDevelopment.htm

Kapiti Coast District Council 2005. Subdivision and Development Principles and Requirements.

Kapiti Coast District Council 2007. Best Practice Subdivision: A design guide for developers, planners, surveyors, architects, engineers and others. http://www.kapiticoast.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/59E6C7BB-BDC6-4431-A9D4-37156103686B/39732/FINAL031206FULLsmallest.pdf

Kapiti Coast District Council 2007. Best Practice Medium Density Housing: A design guide for developers, planners, architects and others. http://www.kapiticoast.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/59E6C7BB-BDC6-4431-A9D4-37156103686B/44648/KapitiCoastMediumDensityHousingBestPracticeGuide.pdf