Ask Pat: Pier Park overpass

Harvey asks—

What’s happening with the new Pier Park overpass. It was originally announced to be completed in the Fall 2019 but now it appears as if no work is being done.

The overpass at the foot of 6th Street will provide pedestrian and cycling access to the west side of Pier Park prior to the closure of the through-a-construction-site access currently provided, which needs to be closed because that construction site will spend more than a year being a hole in the ground. The idea is that there always needs to be a second access to the park to compliment the current 4th street overpass and elevator.

It was originally going to rely on an elevator for accessibility, like the 4th Street one, but our experience with that elevator has been infamously problematic, first with some design issues delaying opening, then with ongoing vandalism that puts the elevator out of service periodically. The ramp was seen as a better choice for the west side, giving people more and different options (for some people, long ramps are a barrier, for others, elevators are). There has also been a long-standing complaint at Pier Park that it lacks shady areas in the heat of summer, especially for kids to play. To meet accessibility guidelines for grades (less than 5%, with regular “landings”), the ramp must be quite long. By building a light, airy structure with a wide platform, the ramp also provides shade for a redesigned children’s playground that will be in the center of it.

Now to your question. The new overpass is a partnership between the City and the developer of that soon-to-be-a-hole-in-the-ground-before-it-can-be-rebuilt-into-a-permanent-park as one of the conditions of the rezoning. Early plans to have the overpass open in 2019 ran into some permitting problems between the developer and the railways. There are 4 rail companies that need to sign off on a new overpass spanning those lines. These four Purveyors of the National Enterprise have head corporate offices in Montreal, Calgary, San Francisco and Fort Worth and combined annual revenues just under $60 Billion, so getting them all to set aside a little time to sign off on a pre-approved design for a little ol’ overpass in New Westminster is sometimes a challenge. Arranging for a window of time to lift a span over their rail lines that doesn’t interfere with their operations or possible operations is also a challenge. Especially as their empowering legislation (the Rail Safety Act) essentially puts them in a power position more akin to the Jedi Council than than any level of government, never mind the power usually granted to publicly-traded multi-national corporations operating in our communities. This means these highly profitable corporate entities not only choose not pay property taxes for the lands used in our community, they are also not required to comply with noise or nuisance bylaws, or any laws that establish community standards. They are not even expected to pay for the basic infrastructure required to keep their operations in our community safe, instead passing those costs on to the local governments they don’t pay those taxes to. They even have their own armed police force operating inside our community with no accountability to local or provincial police oversight. So each and every one of them has veto power, and they rarely feel any specific rush to respond to requests from communities or third parties trying to make good things.

Didn’t see that rant coming did you? It’s been building up.

Anyway, the overpass will be built as soon as the developer and the railways can get their regulatory thing figured out, hopefully by the spring, and then the access to the west side of the park will be via the Parkade entrance at the foot of 6th Street, and probably 2 years later, the underground construction part of the development to the west of Pier Park will be done enough that pedestrian access at the west end can be re-established on the waterfront.

ASK PAT: Noise bylaws

CG asked—

Noise bylaws. Why are the allowable hours different for construction (which I presume includes homeowners working on their property) and for other noise?

Because that’s the way things have always been! That as bit of a tongue in cheek, but the real answer to why the City (and most other cities) do most things the way they do. However, in this case I can see why the bylaws are set up this way.

The “regular” Noise Bylaw in the City says no-one in the City can make a sound that “…disturbs, or tends to disturb, the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience of the neighbourhood or persons in the vicinity” unless that noise is specifically permitted by the Bylaw. There is another part of the Bylaw that says sounds can further not exceed some legislated level (60dBs in the day, 55dBs at night), but the Bylaw is written so that even a sound under those prescribed levels could be considered disturbing.

Most people (including me, but I listen to a lot of the Pixies) have no idea what a decibel is, but there are lots of on-line examples that will tell you 60dB is about regular conversation level, 55dB is about the noise level of a coffee percolator, and 110dB is a jet engine. I’m not sure those help.

There are various exemptions in the Bylaw for things like “power equipment” which can be used within certain hours, so leaf blowers can continue to disturb the many for the benefit of the few. There are also obvious exemptions like emergency vehicle sirens, street sweepers, parades, concerts, and the such, some requiring specific authorization, some not.

Like most Cities, New Westminster has a different Bylaw regulating noise made at construction sites. This is because construction sites are (usually) temporary in nature, and they are places where noise is made outside of the regular standards that would apply in a community. We relax regulations for construction sites because of their ephemeral nature, and because we, in general, want things to be built. However, we limit construction noise hours to those typical of business (daytime and Saturdays). We have recently made some changes to the bylaw to reduce those hours and bring us more in line with adjacent cities, and to more tightly regulate pile driving.


It has taken me forever to answer this, but funny that this ASK PAT raises two different things that have been on my mind a lot recently: whether predictable sleep is more important than predictable traffic, and Oslo, Norway. I promise this will make sense.

A few months ago, I did something I had not done before. I voted against a nighttime noise variance for a road construction project. The City often hands these out to utility companies, Metro Vancouver, or construction companies to allow them to do noise-generating construction work at night because the work involves digging up a major road. The thinking is that the traffic chaos caused by digging up a road during the day is worse for community well being than some people near the construction site not being able to sleep at night. I voted against this one variance because I wanted to challenge that idea – maybe the livability of my community is served more if residents can get a night’s sleep than it is if regional through-traffic is inconvenienced. I made some comment about this being my new position on these variances.

Of course, in governance, when you make a strong proclamation of principles like that, something else comes along a challenges it immediately. In this case it was a request to close Front Street in a way that would impact Quayside Drive and River Market at a time when they are already dealing with significant traffic disruptions that is hurting their business. Is a good nights sleep for one night more important than a day’s traffic chaos *and* another hit at a keystone business in the City already reeling from the impacts of adjacent construction? Then we recently got a request for nighttime work for track maintenance along the Skytrain line which we approved. Is a good night’s sleep more important that providing timely maintenance to a regional transit line where there are literally not alternative routes? In the end, I voted “no” and “no” to those two questions and voted to allow the night work. Then around the same time, I once again said that traffic disruption on Brunette Ave is not reason to keep people living near Brunette up all night for three days, and Council agreed.

This is not to say I was right, it is to say governance of complicated, and guidelines are not standards. I can see how this looks like inconsistency (nay, hypocrisy?), but balancing various community standards is part of the reason why these variances have to come to Council in the first place. The answers ultimately require some kind of compromise of one community standard to satisfy another, and as much as I’d like to think I am consistent on what I think our standards should be, there are subtle differences in every application.

Now, what does this have to do with Oslo? A friend of mine who happens to be the Mayor of another BC City was recently on a tour of Oslo where the city has developed a progressive procurement strategy. The City has said that all City construction sites are going to have to shift away from using diesel equipment. No more diesel excavators or cement mixers. No more diesel generators to spin the hydraulic pumps or air compressors or drill rigs or cranes. Through a combination of wiring up the sites for electricity and battery tech on equipment, they have major building construction happening without burning fossil fuels.

My friend noted one thing first while visiting the site – how quiet it was. Aside from the folks next to the drill rig (busting rock still makes noise), no-one as wearing ear protection. The sound of shovels and nail guns and saws are still there, but the difference was (apparently) profound in how the construction site integrates in to the neighbourhood.

I think we are a decade behind Norway on progressive policy like this. The City of New Westminster doesn’t have the procurement power of the city of Oslo (The “County of Oslo” apparently procures about 10% of the construction in the entire nation), and you know, socialism and all, but it is interesting to challenge our own assumptions about what are reasonable community standards. It is also interesting to think that so many GHG-reduction strategies have spin-off benefits that make our community more livable. Dare to dream.

UBCM 2019

This year’s Union of BC Municipalities meeting was a crazy week for me, and I didn’t report out right away because I got behind on e-mail and council stuff and my other work and enough excuses I have a bit of time this weekend so here we go. Being a month and a half after actual event, I will try to keep this short, and if you want to hear longer details about what happens when a couple of thousand local government types get together and talk policy, you will have to buy me a beer, I guess.

Yes, there is a socializing/networking part to UBCM like any convention. It is often inspiring to meet your cohort from other Municipalities, like the super cool and visionary leadership of the District of Squamish.

The annual UBCM conference has several different elements for most participants, but I am going to skip past the AGM and appointment of executive stuff that is pretty inside baseball. The big three elements, and the reason we are all there, are the resolutions, the workshops, and the meetings. With so much going on, it is impossible to attend them all, but here were my experiences this year:

The Meetings: The City of New West had official meetings with several Ministers and senior provincial government staff to discuss specific issues. We share the load between my Council colleagues a bit on these meetings, so I was not able to attend them all. I did get to take part in the meeting with the Premier to discuss some aspects of our capital and strategic plans, and ways we thought the province could help us achieve them (and, of course, how us achieving them helps the provincial government meet some of their goals!). I’m not sure of the Premier deciding to put on his Victoria Shamrocks cap as he saw the New West contingent enter the meeting room was a good sign. New West Council also met with Ministers to discuss the future of the Massey Theatre site, the state of Indigenous Courts in New West, and the urgent need for support in building Child Care in New West.

I also serve a role on the executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is kind of a professional association for local government elected officials and acts as a sort of local chapter of the UBCM serving the Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and Sea to Sky areas. The Lower Mainland LGA has its own resolution sessions at our spring conference, and the Executive takes the highest-priority resolutions from the conference and requests meetings with the appropriate Ministers to lobby on the resolution topics.

Through this process, I was able to attend a meeting with senior officials in the Ministry of Environment, calling on them to match Local Governments’ commitment to climate action by declaring a Climate Emergency and consummate acceleration of their efforts to get BC in line with the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement. I took part in a meeting with the Attorney General asking for better support for the Indigenous Court System, with the Ministry of Transportation reiterating our need to make it easier for Local Governments to reduce speed limits within our jurisdictions, and with the Minister of Finance to discuss expansion of the vacancy tax and speculation tax programs. Finally, we had a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation where he and his staff outlined the Province’s intentions in introducing UNDRIP legislation.

The Resolutions:
This is the part of UBCM where the group collectively calls on senior governments to change policy or provide funding. The UBCM resolutions session is a bit of a gong show, not in the least because there were more than 200 resolutions on the agenda this year. As the meeting has a fixed schedule, there was no chance we would get through them all. Some are moved through a “consent” block, but some others take a long time to work through as amendments and debate are inevitable, especially when talking about potentially divisive topics like whether we are killing the planet and maybe should do something about that.

Yes, they literally throw you on the Big Screen when delegating on resolutions. It’s true what they say about TV adding 5 pounds to your beard.

New Westminster had seven (7!) resolutions, but only 6 were being considered:

B80: Declaration of Employee Compensation as Part of Annual SOFI Reporting was endorsed by the Membership. This was covered a bit here, and I was happy to hear that the members of UBCM supported this move to reduce harassment in our workplaces, especially for our public-facing workers.

B109: Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign call to open up voting in local elections to Permanent Residents was endorsed by the membership after a hearty debate lead by Councillor Nakagawa, and framed brilliantly by Councillor Sharmarke Dubow of Victoria.

B174: Investments in Local Government and Not-For-Profit Seniors’ Services and Supports;
B184: Creation of the Office of the Renters Advocate;
B194: School Bus Safety; and
B207: Support of Indigenous Court System.
None of these resolutions made it to the floor for debate. Simply put, the resolution session ran out of time, before these items got to the floor. We had about 220 resolutions (plus more than 60 “C” category resolution, see below), and only got through the first 168. These resolutions are “referred back to the Executive”, which means for the most part, they will disappear into a black hole. Some we may try to bring back next year.

C14: #AllOnBoardCampaign. This was the City of New West joining the call on the Province to make transit more equitable by removing fares for those under 18 years of age and to address the punitive structure of fare evasion fines for youth and those with low or no incomes. As a “C” category resolution, it was put aside in favour of another resolution that was thought to materially address the same topic. In this case, the UBCM resolutions committee saw Resolutions B113 and B114 by Burnaby (which addressed youth and restorative justice in fines, and increasing the low-income transportation subsidy, respectively) as being a more comprehensive approach to the issue, which is, in the technical term, bullshit. So we will have to go again next on this one with a better-structured resolution.

Alas, the resolutions session at UBCM is both exciting and frustrating. I can’t help but feel there needs to be a refresh of how resolutions are prioritized, and how the session is managed, as letting half of the resolutions die on the floor for lack of time is unsatisfactory to everyone. There is also a strange dichotomy of debate on the floor. I pledge next year to do a “slippery slope count” for how many times that phrase is used in an argument to not make change because it implies some sort of endorsement of much larger change. Not only is the “slippery slope” a logical fallacy – indeed I think it is the only logical fallacy we actually name while we make it – I think it is too often used to defend a status quo that even the delegate admits is not functional. Ah, governance.

Workshops:
This is the most typical “conference” part of the conference, where there are workshops and forums that let local government types find out what is happening around the province, what legislation is changing, what we could do better or stop doing badly so we can be better at our jobs.

Yes, passenger vehicles are a complex legislative framework in Canada and BC. And it is all going to have to change.

I attended a Policy Session on Ride Hailing “Passenger Directed Vehicle Services” legislation that was a bit of a hot mess, as it is clear that the provincial government is trying to responsibly regulate an industry whose business model is based on lack of regulatory oversight, and the audience’s essential message was “I want” despite the regulatory hurdles – which is a weird piece of cognitive dissonance for elected officials. I attended a Plenary on BC’s Energy Futures where the need to take immediate and meaningful action on climate was moderated against not asking a few “resource dependent” communities to change.Yes, this is a Panel on Energy Policy in local government featuring some powerful and intelligent local leaders, and some guy from Langley who was there for undefined reasons.

I was at the Large Cities Forum, where the dominant topic of conversation was clearly the housing crisis and the housing affordability crisis. I attended a workshop in the changing face of waste management and recycling as this area is shifting fast as the amount of waste we are generating is starting to increase again at the same time as global markets for recycling products is shrinking, and what that means for the targets we have set. I also attended a Cabinet Town Hall on Infrastructure investment.

there are always lots of bar charts at UBCM, and like every Homer ever, I am always looking to see how we measure up, even in the bad news statistics.

We heard addresses by the Premier (well done, funny at times, nothing ground-breaking, and clearly more directed towards the more rural communities present), the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Green Party. The star of the room, however, was Selena Robinson, who as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is clearly getting a lot done and is building a lot of respect across party lines for the work she is doing.

I took part in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership breakfast with members of the Council and representatives from all three Provincial parties to discuss the alignment of local and provincial goals towards climate action. I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, so I was tasked with a bit of Awards Ceremony MCing, as the Minister of Energy and Mines handed out Climate and Energy Action Awards to local government across the province that have done exceptional work or are breaking new ground on reducing energy use and GHG emissions in their community.

So, yeah, looking back, it was a busy three days.

Council – Nov 4, 2019

We had a shorter Agenda in our Council Meeting this week, but a couple of important pieces were presented right at the beginning as Presentations:

Strategic Plan
Our Strategic Plan was presented by the Mayor himself. This was formally adopted in a meeting more than month ago, but we never had a chance to describe it in detail because that was a busy and long meeting. This outlines our vision, our strategic priorities as a Council, and some of the measures we will use to guide our decision making through to the end of this term. As we start delving deeper into discussions of our budget in the months ahead, this is our guiding document. You can read the entire document here.

2020 Climate Action Budgeting Framework and Ten Year Carbon Targets: New Westminster’s Seven Bold Steps
This report answers the oft-repeated question: What does a declaration of a Climate Emergency really mean?

When Council moved to support this declaration we gave staff clear direction: We want the City to set emissions goals that get us to where the Paris Agreement says Canada has to be, and we want staff to be bold in telling us what that transition looks like. We also wanted to make clear for the public where we are going so that operational and budget changes made in light of this declaration fit within a context.

This report outlines some ambitious goals for the first 10 years of this transition, with the hope to get our emissions down by 45% by 2030 by prioritizing the biggest sources of greenhouses gas emissions in the City. It includes 7 Bold Steps, each with a clear measure for 2030.

But more than these 7 steps, it is clear from this report that Climate Action is an all-hands-on-deck operation. It will be part of every departmental work plan, and our city ide priorities are going to be viewed through a climate lens. It is also going to come with some costs in the short term that we are going to have to bake into our financial plans. We will have, in the 2020-2024 Five Year Financial Plan, the first carbon-focused budget for the City.

I’m clearly not done talking about this, and as we go through the implementation of these ideas and shift in our budgeting, there will be a lot more discussion, but overall I am excited about this work. And note that by happy coincidence, the things that will change in the City to reduce emissions are also things that will make the City a more livable and healthy place: fewer cars burning less gas, more efficient housing, a more robust energy grid, and more green spaces.

2020 Utility Rates
As we are going through work on our budget, it is time to set some utility rates for next year. We have four utilities in New West, and the biggest cost driver in all of them is the cost of the stuff the utility provides – be that water, sewage treatment, tippage fees for solid waste, or wholesale electricity. I had fun drawing flow diagrams last year to show where this money goes, which you can see here.

The proposed increases for water/sewer/trash are consistent with what we talked about last year (we do this as part of 5-year plans), so nothing changed here.

The Electrical Utility, however, is proposing to shift how the 5% Rate Rider is managed. Instead of going into general utility revenue (like the BC Hydro Rate Rider that it was originally modeled on) we are taking a portion of the rate rider revenues to fund a Climate Action Reserve to fund the acceleration of some climate actions.

These are the proposed rate changes, and Council supported them in principle. This will now get baked into a Bylaw and Council will review again.


We then moved the following items on Consent:

Completion of Appointment of Members to the new Grant Committees
We talked last meeting about re-alignment of committees, but skipped over the Grant Committees, as they are a bit unique – they exist to provide community input to the job of sifting through our many grant applications to determine who gets those grants. We are also assigning a senior staff member to each of those grant committees to help guide the process from a policy side.

Recruitment 2020: Appointment of Chairs to 2020 Advisory Bodies of Council and External Organizations
This is our annual appointment of Council members to Advisory Committees, and internal and external boards. With the change in committee structures, there is quite a bit of shifting around here. I’m on the Electrical Utility Commission, the new Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Advisory Committee, and will Chair the Sustainable Transportation Committee. I will also be a member of the Environment and Climate Task Force, the Facilities, Infrastructure and Public Realm Task Force, and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force.

TransLink/SkyTrain Guideway (22nd Street Station to New Westminster Station): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
Translink is doing some guideway maintenance of the SkyTrain, which simply cannot happen during the day when the rails are energized and have trains running on them. They need a construction noise exemption to do this work.

Provincial Housing Needs Report Program
The provincial government now requires local governments to do annual Housing Needs Assessments. I was ready to get all huffy about downloading work, but the Provincial Government also provided funding to do the work! More good news is that Metro Vancouver is going to coordinate collective data collection to inform these reports as part of their work plan. So we are going to apply for the provincial funding to pay for the part of the report we need to do, and join our metro partners in the group data collection. I love it when governments work together.

705 Queen’s Avenue: Temporary Use Permit for Group Living Facility – Preliminary Report
Westminster House provides residential programs for women recovering from addiction. They run several support houses in residential areas in New Westminster. This is another house they would like to use for the same purpose, but need a Temporary Use Permit because the type of service they provide doesn’t strictly fit the zoning. This is a preliminary report, and the application will go to public consultation and an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

550 Sixth Street (CIBC): Development Variance Permit to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
The Bank at 6th and 6th wants to replace their fascia signs, and though they are basically consistent with what is there now, they but they would not comply with the Sign Bylaw, so they are asking for a variance. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

330 East Columbia Street (Royal Columbian Hospital): Development Variance Permit to Vary Sign Bylaw Requirements – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
Perhaps not surprisingly, our Sign Bylaw also doesn’t reflect the unique signage needs of a Hospital, so RCH is applying for a variance for the signage on their new building, and some wayfinding signage around the campus. This will go to public consultation and an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

221 St. Patrick Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Height Limit – Consideration of Opportunity to be Heard
This property owner in Queens Park wants to lift their house to make an underheight basement in to a livable space. This requires a variance because the height of the house would be about two feet higher than currently allowed. This will go to an Opportunity to be Heard, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Special Limited Category Study Completion – Official Community Plan Amendment for Consideration of First and Second Readings and Direction on Proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment
This is our ongoing refinement of the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. In the original Bylaw, we had 86 properties in the “special study” netherworld between protected and not protected. Through further study, 33 of those were removed from protection, leaving 53. Through yet again, another level of evaluating the remaining houses, we are now looking at removing 7 more, leaving 46 which we would move into the protected category, which requires an OCP amendment.

We also had a request to formalize the zoning of a duplex in Queens Park, and identified two more that are in the same state – long-standing duplex, without the consummate zoning. Duplexes are exempt from protection in the QP Heritage Area, but all three of these duplexes are too young to subject to protection anyway.

This will, as you may have guessed, be going to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8159, 2019
Development Cost Charges are money we collect from developers to pay for infrastructure upgrades identified to be required because of the increased density that comes with development. To release money from the DCC reserves to pay for that infrastructure work, we need an authorizing bylaw, which this is.

1111 Sixth Avenue (Wisdom Forest Early Learning Centre): Official Community Plan Amendment and Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The Shiloh Church on Sixth Ave near 12th Street is a designated heritage building, but the owners want to replace the accessory building beside with a new building to host a childcare centre. Because the property is designated, that need an OCP amendment to make this happen. This will go to Public Hearing on November 25th, C’mon out and tell us what you think.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Amendment to the 2020 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
We are going to adjust how we do Public Hearing days, starting our regular meetings at 6:00 and starting Public Hearings at 7:00. This has a couple of advantages. We can get some priority work done before the Public Hearing starts, reducing the amount of staff who have to stick around late into the evening for longer Public Hearings, and it gives people with busy schedules an commutes a little more time to get to City Hall if they want to take part in the Public Hearing. We will try this out a few times, and I suspect it will work better.

User Fees and Rates Review
As part of our annual budget work, we review our fees for everything from cemetery plots to renting studio space to connecting your house to electrical service. Each department compares the fees to the actual cost to provide the service, and compares us to other municipalities and comes up with recommended changes. Most changes are linked to CPI (a 2% increase this year). One thing going up more is the charge for car storage in public space, which we talked about last meeting. We also removed the charge for casket services for infants, which I think is a subtle nod to being a more compassionate City.


We then did our usual multiple-reading bylaw exercise, which included moving Adoption fo the following Bylaws:

Delegation Bylaw Amendment No. 8163, 2019
This Bylaw that shifts some language in the Bylaw that delegates some of Council’s responsibility to senior staff so they can do their jobs without waiting for us to meet and review everything was adopted by Council.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8158, 2019
This Bylaw that allows the City to borrow up to $3Million in the very short term to keep us from going overdraft, which we renew every year and hardly ever use was nonetheless adopted by Council.

Street and Traffic Amendment Bylaw No. 8160, 2019
This shift in how we define “truck” to better coincide with neighbouring communities was adopted by Council. Keep on Truckin’, but please stick to regulated Truck Routes.

Public Hearing- Oct. 28, 2019

Of course last Council meeting was a long one less because of all of the business I reported earlier, and more because there were Public Hearings on 4 items:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (837-841 Twelfth Street) No. 8139, 2019
This project would see a 5-storey residential building built where there is currently an empty lot on 12th Street at Dublin Street. This is a project that has shifted a lot over the time it has been through public and committee review, including reducing from 6 stories and a shift in unit mix. It landed at Public Hearing with 29 residential units, 8 of them being three-bedroom and 21 being two-bedroom, with 4 units ground-level townhouse style units facing 12th Street. It would also meet “Step 4” of the BC Step code making it the most energy efficient multi-family building in New West.

We had no written submissions, but two neighbours came to speak with concerns about the massing, and about the impact of pile driving during construction (this issue was raised during public consultation, and the builder provided a geotechnical report indicating there would not be pile driving required during the construction).

Council moved unanimously to approve giving this project three readings.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment (540 Ewen Avenue – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8108, 2019
This was the application that had the most delegations for the evening. The application is to permit the sale of cannabis in an empty retail storefront in Queensborough. This was the first of two cannabis retail applications for review this evening (with three other locations – Uptown, 12th Ave and Queensborough Landing already approved), but it certainly was the most contentious application we reviewed. We received something like 600 pieces of correspondence on this application, with more than 500 of those individually signed copies of a form letter in opposition. Of the other correspondence, it was evenly mixed between people in favour and those opposed. We had about two dozen people delegate to Council, with a few more in favour than opposed.

Much of the discussion both for and against seemed to be re-litigating the case for cannabis legalization. One of my council colleagues wisely pointed out that the fears people have about cannabis legalization are based not on ignorance or prudishness, but on the legacy of a century of Canadian government, schools, police, and other “authorities” telling people that cannabis was evil and one of the most dangerous things their kids could ever be exposed to. People are afraid of cannabis because they have been relentlessly told to fear it their entire lives. That the federal government has now made it legal, and is not investing any time or energy undoing those narratives has essentially set people up, and communities up, for these conflicts of conscience.

Even in much of the discussion of this specific location, much of the concern was related to fears of the product. It shouldn’t be near a toddler daycare, 150m is not far enough from a playground, and a general idea that people will feel “unsafe” near the store. I did have more time for people concerned about noise and nuisance in a location that is near several residential properties, but the application is being made by a local business owner with deep roots in the community and experience running a nearby neighbourhood pub and is experienced at managing these type of issues, helped assuage some of these concerns for me.

On the bigger issue of cannabis retailing, I do hear people’s fears and concerns. It has been decades since I was a cannabis user (hey, I grew up in the Kootenays!) but I am aware how ubiquitous it is in British Columbia. I don’t believe it is a harmless product, but I think the potential for harm is much lower than alcohol or tobacco, and those harms are best managed through a legalized and regulated industry, not through prohibition. Pot exists, and is not going away, lets allow a regulatory regime suck all of the cool out of it and saturate the black market out of it, and it will be easier to address the externalities.

So I voted to support this location, and in a split decision, Council voted to approve the location.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment (71 Sixth Street – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8107, 2019
This second Cannabis Retail application of the night did not draw quite as much response as the first. The location is in a corner store location on Sixth Street and Agnes in the Downtown. We had 5 written submissions, and about a dozen people came to speak to the Public Hearing, about evenly mixed between those in favour and those opposed. There were some difficult delegations, as the conversation moved to a bigger discussion of the current addiction and fentanyl crises, though the understanding of what the role of Cannabis regulation (and other aspects of “safe supply”) was not really explored at length.

In the end Council voted unanimously to support this application.

Official Community Plan Amendment (318 Fourth Street) Bylaw No. 8147, 2019
This application was to remove a house from protection under the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. The house is old enough (1908) to merit protection, but there is a process through which people can apply to have the protection removed through a combination of limited heritage merit, low potential for restoration, or unreasonable impairment of zoning entitlement. There is a scoring system developed to guide evaluation of the merit of these applications, and houses that score 61% or higher are not recommended for removal. This house scored 60%, which means it is recommended for removal by staff, but is obviously right on the edge, and ultimately, this decision is up to Council. Because removing protection requires an amendment of the Official Community Plan, they must go to Public Hearing.

We had 14 written submissions on this application, almost all opposed to removal of protection. We also had 11 people come and delegate to Council, all excepting the applicant opposed to removal.

The argument for removal was that the homeowner wanted to build a different style of house, and did not feel that the exiting house could be renovated in an affordable way to meet his family’s needs. This 0.47 FSR house on a 7000 SqFt lot could be replaced with a slightly larger (up to 0.50 FSR) house. With the incentives available through the HCA program, an extension or carriage house totaling more than 0.70FSR could be built with preservation of the house. I would argue that his zoning entitlements are much better (by 1,600+ Square Feet) with preservation.

In the end, the house is intact, and there was no compelling evidence provided that preservation was particularly onerous. Arguably, this is the type of house that the incentive programs were developed to encourage the preservation of, and I believe the spirit of the HRA was reflected in its protection. Council moved unanimously to not permit removal.