The March 9th Council meeting was a long one, and at time frustrating. We had the annual draw of the May Day Royal Suite, which is always fun for kids and parents, except when there is random political posturing. Then we had a large number of public delegations from across the lower mainland about an issue that was completely inappropriate for debate in a City Council chamber in New Westminster, especially when we had a full agenda of work to do… ugh.
We had a daytime workshop where we worked through some more details of the annual budget, but I’ll hold off on detailing more of that here until we get some Bylaws coming to City Council later in the Month. If you have opinions about the draft Budget, go here and get the data you need to make an argument, then some time in the next two weeks would be a great time to send Mayor and Council an e-mail.
The first Item of the night was a presentation:
Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Century House Association
I assume most people in New West know Century House exists, but not as many know it was a ground-breaking model when opened 60 years ago – the first stand-alone municipal “Seniors’ Centre” in Canada. And since 1958 or so, the running of Century House has been a collaboration between city staff and a non-profit volunteer society called the Century House Association.
Staff and the CHA have been working on an MOU to formalize this relationship and assure it continues to support the programming and operation of Century House. Nothing is changing here in the relationship between the City and the CHA, but there are advantages for both parties to having a non-binding MOU that clarifies roles and responsibilities ad avoids future conflicts.
The following items were Moved on Consent:
Appointment of Acting Director of Finance
Our Finance Director is changing Municipalities, and we need to formally name a new one because of a statutory requirement under the Local Government Act. We are doing so in an Acting role until we can complete a search.
Withdrawal of Motions Resubmitted to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LGA)
This is what happens when Councilors don’t do their homework and show up at a meeting and try to make decisions on the fly. The late add-on of two resolutions to the Lower Mainland LGA resolutions list last meeting were not required, because the resolutions had already gone to the UBCM executive and been endorsed. So we are withdrawing them now.
909 First Street: Rezoning and Development Permit for Infill Townhouses – Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8188, 2020 for Two Readings
This proposal is to rezone a property in Glenbrook North to replace the single family house with four townhouses. The lot is a little smaller than envisioned in the Infill Townhouse and Rowhouse zoning (though still over 9,000 square feet), but is a corner lot with alley adjacent and the neighbouring property is also a large lot, so this application could be thought of as a bit of a test whether this type of development fits well in that specific instance.
This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.
45 East Eighth Avenue: Rezoning and Development Permit for a Four Unit Rowhouse Project – Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8189, 2020 for Two Readings
This proposal is to rezone a lot in the Massey Victory Heights neighbourhood to build four rowhomes. There would be fee-simple row homes of the type that are not common in New West, but we are hoping to see more of as a “missing middle” housing form.
This project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.
Metro Vancouver 2018 Regional Parking Study
TransLink and Metro Vancouver recently did a study of regional residential parking supply and demand, and we can use that 2018 data to inform how we plan and allocate parking in new developments.
The region-wide study looked at 73 buildings, included 5 Strata buildings in New West, two in Sapperton, two Downtown, and one in Queensborough. All are relatively recent builds, but all build (and therefore had their parking allocated) prior to the 2014 changes in New Westminster’s off-street parking requirements for buildings near SkyTrian. Unfortunately, there was sparse rental building data in the study.
The big take-away is that apartment parking supply exceeds use across the region – we are building too much parking. This is doubly true near SkyTrain. And interesting related finding is that bicycle storage is poorly executed across the region in multi-family buildings, and this is actively discouraging cycling. That said, our Zoning Bylaw provides incentives to reduce parking requirements (such as end-of-trip cycling facilities, car-share parking, etc.) align well with the findings of the study.
There is a lot more in this study, and I look forward to a deeper dive. As we look at updating these parking requirements, this study will provide us some good data to underpin new policy. More to come here!
Port Royal Dog Off-leash Area Update and Launch of City-Wide Strategy for Dogs
We are still looking at a new off-leash dog area at Port Royal since the one near the old animal shelter need to be closed. We had some proposals that went to public consultation, and all of them had significant push-back from neighboring properties. Everybody wants a dog park nearby; no-one wants a dog park too nearby, and hence governance is hard.
The City is going to step back and launch a City-Wide Strategy for Dogs. We have unmet need in a couple of neighbourhoods for dog socializing and exercise areas, increased demand on parks space for all users, and no real unified vision of how to manage this.
The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
Inter-Municipal Ride-Hailing Business Licence Bylaws: Bylaws for Three Readings and Opportunity to be Heard
This introduction of a multi-jurisdictional business license scheme for ride-hailing businesses was a more monumental task than most people will ever realize. It had to happen fast because it really could not be developed until the provincial regulatory framework was made clear, and getting 25 of 31 Municipalities to agree on a framework and roll out a comprehensive Bylaw in such short notice is unprecedented outside of wartime. Serious kudos to the Mayor’s Council and its Chair for guiding the region through these challenging political discussions, to the Bylaws staff in those 25 Municipalities for doing the work, and to Vancouver for taking on the extra administrative burden for the rest of the region of being the licensing authority for the region.
I am still not convinced that the current ride-hailing model provides a net benefit to the region, or that the well-established safety, traffic congestion, workers’ rights, emissions, and equity issues that result from it are offset by the convenience gains for so few. However, it is clear that society has accepted those costs, that the provincial government is not interested in proactively addressing them, and that local governments will, once again, be required to take on those burdens without a proportionate share of the revenue. If a regulatory approach is available to local governments, it will be through Business Licensing, and we may be able to react with regulatory measures when these operations start to show local impacts that residents will inevitably be asking us to address.
The sharing of data from the ride-hailing providers that will allow the region to track how the service is being used is a significant win, and will provide vital data to any future regulatory changes.
New West has to pass its own Bylaws to support this regional initiative, and an opportunity to be Heard on these Bylaws will occur on March 30, 2020, C’mon out and tell us what you think!
Interim Business Property Tax Relief Program
Our property tax system is borked. It is not progressive, and as a policy framework it creates a variety of intended and unintended economic signals. However, it is the system we have, and many have ideas how to fiddle with the edges to address those unintended impacts.
One problem has been identified in how properties are assessed at “highest and best use”, which means as a growing region develops and puts pressure on land use, underdeveloped lands see their value increase as much as developed lands adjacent – which is a structural problem exacerbated when land values are much higher than the value of the buildings/improvements on that land. Over decades, our property tax system has also become skewed to charge much more on commercial and industrial lands than on residential lands, and most business leases make the tenant, not the landowner, responsible for paying taxes. Pile all of this up, and increased tax pressure is most felt by small businesses.
The provincial has looked at this issue, and proposed an interim tax relief regime for 5 years starting in 2020 to be offered to a locally-derived list of small business types, not-for-profits and/or arts and culture organizations. There are some problems with this plan, including a lack of time to properly implement it in a way that would be fair and immune from court challenges, especially as we already in the middle of putting together our 2020 budget bylaws right now.
Several cities have signed onto a letter drafted by a group of a dozen Mayors saying “No Thank you, please give us Split Assessments instead”. This is the idea that a piece of land can be split so the value at current use can be changed one tax rate, and the difference between that and “highest and best use” can be charged a different, presumably lower, tax rate. I have my own concerns with that proposal as well as it appears to provide a significant financial incentive to leave land vacant or underdeveloped (not a great economic signal in a housing crisis) and act to encourage speculative holding of that land as an investment. With those concerns in mind, I see no reason to sign onto this letter – I don’t like asking the province for something unless I am sure I want it.
Council decided not to sign on to this letter, but we will have a report beck form staff on potential property tax changes that may be available to us to address some of the structural issues this idea is meant address.
Motions Passed at the December 4, 2019 Meeting of ACTBiPed and the February 27, 2020 Meeting of YAC
The last meeting of ACTBiPed (it has been replaced with a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee) was a busy one, with discussions resulting in two calls for better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure related to two of the bigger development in the near future of New West: The High School replacement and the Sapperton Green project at Braid Station.
Thanks to some pressure applied by the local HUB chapter, a safe cycling connection between the Crosstown Greenway and the new high school has been identified by staff and Council as a priority, and staff have proposed that a connection on the Moody Park side (8th Street) can be accomplished by the time the high school opens. HUB has identified a connection along 6th Street as preferable, and are asking that it be built by the time the School opens. Staff has several technical reasons why this is a much more difficult project to complete (mostly due to the need to accommodate safe and accessible transit stops and a lack of road width available). They are not saying it is impossible, they are saying there are challenges that make it very difficult to get it done in short order, and unlikely to get through those hoops before the School opens.
I am not comfortable moving other cycling and pedestrian priorities to this project, and would rather the connection via 6th be completed as part of the planned upgrades to the Crosstown Greenway. We equally need to support students taking transit and walking to school, and making all three integrate is a challenge we need time o address responsible. We have committed to having a safe separated cycling route vie the Moody Park route, and will incorporate a 6th Street connection along with the work we are doing to change the 6th Street streetscape in the next year or two.
On the Sapperton Green project, the ACTBiPed were asked to opine on the plans for the site, and felt that it was not as “car light” as it could be, considering its location on a Transit Station and the “blank slate” that the developers have been given to work with. It still looks like the dominant mode at surface is cars, and that avoiding cars will be the #1 priority of people attempting to walk or roll across the site. Cars will be the #1 concern of residents walking their kids to daycare, to the community centre, to school. I would support changes that reduced the surface expression of car space and reduced parking requirements for the site.
We then did our regular Bylaw Shuffle (with a nuanced difference that only the most astute Council-watchers will notice) including the following Bylaws for Adoption:
Housing Agreement (65 First Street) Bylaw No. 8178, 2020
This Housing Agreement that will provide some security for the renting residents of this strata complex that is being sold for potential redevelopment was Adopted by Council. It’s the Law of the Land.
Heritage Revitalization Agreement Amendment Bylaw (815 Milton Street) No. 8179, 2020
This Bylaw that amends the Heritage Revitalization Agreement for this heritage house so it can be slightly raised and have tandem parking was Adopted by Council. Lift away!
We had a couple of pieces of New Business</b:
Partnership with Earth Day Canada
Motion THAT the City of New Westminster partner with Earth Day Canada and Potentially Local Environmental Groups to coordinator an annual Earth Day
celebration or activity in our community.
The Mayor moved this idea that the City support a bump up in our earth day participation, and partner with groups to make it happen. This is totally in line with the work we are doing to address the Climate Emergency and raise awareness of the work we need to do as a community and a society to reduce our impact on the ecosystems that support us. Council moved unanimously to support this.
Notice of Motion: A Resolution to Oppose the Indian Government’s Citizens Amendment Act and National Registration of Citizens, and to Seek Action from the Canadian Government
Therefore be it resolved, that the City of New Westminster asks the federal government to take a position in opposition of these regressive discriminatory acts, and that the parliament of Canada supports the pluralist coexistence of all residents of India regardless of culture, religion or caste.
This Notice of Motion (a notice that the Motion will come to Council next meeting) was the source of almost two hours of delegations at Council from people across Greater Vancouver, about equal numbers supporting the motion and opposing. Although I learned a variety of things about the internal politics of India during the delegations, I was pretty frustrated that this was how we spent the bulk of our meeting time. As much as I am troubled by some actions of the current Indian government, I feel completely uninformed about this specific issue, and honestly do not have the time or energy to do the research necessary to inform myself on this issue enough to support any position. I heard the passion of the people who delegated, and I am sure this issue is close to their heart, so I do not want to take anything away from them, but this is not an issue I am comfortable with New Westminster City Council getting involved in.