ASK PAT: Small trees and Beg Buttons

neil21 asks—

Howdy. Two questions having just moved here from Vancouver’s West End.

1. Why are the street trees so short? Is it just time (but I thought this city was older) or the species? The streets are really hot without that shade.

2. At 6th and Carnarvon, pedestrians don’t get to cross without pressing the button. Even if pedestrians are crossing the same way on the other side.
2b. Also why aren’t your beg buttons those buttonless ones like you have for the bikes? Those are better.
2c. Also why does 6th and C have beg buttons at all? Just let peds cross with green cars always.

Welcome to New West. I would love to hear more about your decision to move here from our western suburb, and your experiences since making the shift. The theme of my answers to the above will be “A City is always a work in progress”. We are now headed the right direction, but have more work to do.

1: (caveat: I’m not an arbourist, but I have a couple of suppositions) First, the trees may be younger than you are used to. The City of New Westminster, with the exception of Queens Park (the neighbourhood) and a few parts of Glenbrooke North and Sapperton, really lost the plot on street trees a few decades ago. It may have been the fashion of the time, the cost of development, a mandate by the electrical utility, or just short-term thinking, but our urban forest was cut back in a devastating way. Our canopy cover City-wide is less than 18%, which is similar to Vancouver, but low compared to much of North America. It was only a few years ago when New Westminster introduced a new Urban Forest Management Strategy, and started to a) proactively protect the trees we have; and b) ramp up plans to plant trees and bring back more canopy cover. Unfortunately, the ultimate results of this will not be seen for another decade or two. That said, although the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today, and we are getting on it.

That said, it is also possible that trees are smaller above ground because they are smaller underground. Trees need healthy root systems to prosper, and our 150-year-old streets and sidewalks and utility corridors mean that the area of healthy nutrient-rich and porous soil around many of our newer trees is limited. This may mean staff decided to plant diminutive tree species to respect the available growing area, or it may be that the lack of soil is keeping the tree from meeting its ultimate size. There is a bunch of new engineering practice around creating “soil cells” as part of new street tree installations, but see last paragraph about 20 years.

2: (Mostly) because the City is old, doesn’t have endless money, and until recently, it wasn’t a priority.

Beg Buttons (the pejorative name given by pedestrian advocates to buttons that must be pushed by pedestrians in order for the red hand to become the white man at light-controlled intersections when the cars get a green light) were all the rage at one time, because everybody important drove, and pedestrians were just another thing that needed to be managed within car spaces to get traffic moving.

Our new Master Transportation Plan, however, prioritizes pedestrians for the first time, so we are working on changing these things. That said, Beg Buttons can still serve a purpose for system-wide traffic management in more pedestrian-oriented urban areas. They can assure that crossing times for wider roads are adequate for slower pedestrians when they are present, and not too long when they are not. They also make the audible crossing signal for the hearing impaired work better. As always, the devil is in the details.

In some places, we still have older Beg Buttons (even old-style small-button ones in place of the larger panel-type ones) in places where more modern treatments would be appropriate. These are being replaced as budgets allow on a priority basis. Every year, Transportation staff do a review of all  identified crossing improvement needs, place some draft priorities on them based on safety, potential to dovetail with bigger projects or adjacent development, and other factors. They pass that priority list through the Advisory Committee for Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians, the Access Ability Advisory Committee, and the Neighbourhood Transportation Advisory Committee, then spend their budget making the changes. Sometimes that means curb bulges, marked cross walks, lighting changes or updating the signal operations. All of these things are ridiculously expensive, hence the need to set priorities.

In some places, the Beg Buttons will remain (although I hope we will eventually migrate all to the more accessible panel-type ones) because they are a useful tool. If well applied, they make crossing safer for pedestrians, especially in lower-pedestrian-traffic areas. However, when they are not well applied (as you point out a 6th and Carnarvon, and I can point out a few more in the City), they create an impression to pedestrians that are not a priority in our public spaces, and sometimes go so far as to create inconvenient barriers to pedestrians. Perhaps a good example is all of the crossings along Columbia Street in Downtown, where there is an almost constant east-west flow of pedestrians, and pedestrians should see the white walking guy every time cars get a green light.

Ask Pat: Permit times

Someone asked—

I am a rental tenant at [redacted to protect privacy – a downtown Strata building]. I have heard our Strata is considering dissolution & sale of our building to developers. How long does a demolition process take per the City of New West’s permit(s) process etc.?

This is really not a question I can answer with certainty, because I am not involved with these kind of front-counter operations. The short version of your answer is that a Demolition Permit can probably take less than a day or several months (depending on things like the need for hazardous material surveys, Environmental Site Assessments, and safe disconnection from City utilities) but it isn’t the Demolition Permit timing that would necessarily be a limiting factor here.

It sounds like the feeling in your building is that the current building will be demolished and a replacement building built. I suggest that, if this was the case, a new owner would not apply to demolish the building until they had a certainty that they would be permitted to build a replacement on the site. That would likely require a Development Permit, and may even require a Rezoning or an Official Community Plan amendment, depending on what the owner wishes to build. The more of these you add, the more time it takes to get through the process. Those processes also include extensive public consultation, and would likely result in a Public Hearing. All told, these processes can take a year or more. The more complex the project and the more it varies from existing land use, the more complicated and time-consuming these applications go. It is also possible that a developer’s proposal will not be found acceptable by City Policy or by whim of Council, so the wait an be literally endless.

That said, I have no idea what process your building will have to go through, nor do I know what the new owner would plan to build. No application for your address has come to City Council yet. I did a quick scan of the Land Use and Planning Committee agendas for the last year, and don’t see it mentioned there at all (as a preliminary step, any application would likely go to LUPC before it came to Council). I also checked the on-line “Projects on the Go” table, and see no reference to your location, so I am pretty sure no formal application has been made to the City.

In researching your answer, I stumbled upon a report that I am a little reluctant to link to, because it was authored by an organization that has a long reputation of producing dubious reports using sketchy research methods. But for that it is worth, a third party with no reason to make a progressive city like New Westminster look good found that we are comparatively quick in getting new buildings through the approval process. They found that our staff and process are able to process applications faster than most Municipalities in the Lower Mainland: generally in the top 3 or top 5 in the region (depending on the application type). They also found we had among the lowest “Costs and Fees” for a typical application (those fees are ideally set to act as cost recovery). I started by saying I am somewhat separated from front-counter activities at the City, so none of this credit goes to me, but kudos to our great professional staff!

So, in summary, if you are curious about redevelopment plans for your apartment, keep an eye on the City’s LUPC Agenda and the “Projects on the Go” list. Also remember, as a renter, you have rights under the Residential Tenancy Act, including appropriate notice and compensation for being evicted. If you have questions, you should contact those professional staff in our Planning Department. They almost certainly know more than I do. Good luck!

Ask Pat: Climbing (pool) walls

Jason asks—

I’m very interested about how the new pool is coming along and would like to know if there is still opportunity to give input on what amenities go into this new centre.

This coming summer Olympic games in Tokyo will feature a new sport: rock climbing. The climbing event will include three disciplines: sport, bouldering, and speed. 40 climbers (20 men and 20 women) will compete over four days, and the medalists will be chosen based on the combined results of all three disciplines.

I understand that adding a full-scale rock wall, bouldering wall AND speed wall might not be in the budget or have space for it in the new facility. Perhaps only one discipline could be incorporated into the new building… I propose speed climbing. This is because there are already dedicated facilities who offer a wide range of sport and bouldering walls, but speed walls are few and far between. Creating a place for speed wall competition would add a truly unique, exciting, cutting edge component to New Westminster that no other municipality in the country offers. The square footage required of a climbing wall would be fairly minimal as the space needed is more vertical than horizontal. New auto-belay systems are very safe and would allow for individuals new to climbing to try out the sport without needing a partner to belay for them.

We live in a part of the country that offers mountains and the ocean, all in one city. But we all know that it rains for the better part of the year, so why not offer swimming AND climbing in this new state of the art facility?

So my question to you is: What would it take for council to seriously consider incorporating the idea of a speed climbing rock wall into the plans?

The short answer is people need to ask for it, and convince staff it is a good idea. A good case can be made that this improves the overall program in a meaningful way, and makes the entire pool a better grant application. Of course, as always, there is a longer answer.

The Canada Games Pool replacement is a big project, likely the biggest single capital investment the City has ever made. We have spent a couple of years doing extensive public consultations and project planning work – from figuring out a financing model to determining where a new 140,000sqft building can be built without tearing down the old pool first to developing a business plan around what the different major program elements (natatorium, pools, gyms , meeting space, etc.) look like. As we reported last month, we have a pretty well developed plan around these “big questions” and are now working on the next steps: developing a solid senior government grant application and procurement processes.

With clear direction on the bigger questions (square footage, major program elements, buildability), we still have a tonne of smaller questions to answer. I don’t mean smaller in the sense that they are less important, but smaller in that they are more fine-grained details that we need to design, the can hang on the larger framework once built.

I was able to attend one day of  conference out in Harrison last winter where recreation programmers from around the province met to talk about new trends in recreation. It was interesting to hear, especially, how community recreation spaces (centres and outdoor spaces) were changing in Europe. The old-school gyms where basketball and badminton and indoor soccer lines shared floor space between four blank walls were being replaced by more organically-shaped mixed use spaces. They still accommodate the traditional team sports, but were designed to also accommodate adventure playing, climbing walls, and “free play” areas. Outdoor areas where there used to be a soccer pitch within a running track used free spaces to create three-dimensional workout and fun areas, again emphasizing unstructured and creative play instead of just traditionally-structured team sport. It was inspiring, as there was clear integration of traditional sports with spaces designed to be more flexible and share space, and our recreation staff were paying attention.

So when I think about the Canada Games Pool replacement, I see gyms that can house basketball and pickleball, but I also imagine a space designed to have this kind of flexibility. I think a climbing wall would be a great addition, and could easily be fit within that space.

I’m not a climber, so I would need to hear from the climbing community what they would want to see, and to know how it can fit within the space. This should happen soon, as every new and creative use idea (especially ones that appeal to emerging competitive sports) actually strengthen the case for significant Federal and Provincial grants. Could you rally Sport Climbing BC into sending a brief to Council and staff? Let me know!

On a somewhat similar point, I can answer a question for a resident who dropped by my Ask Pat booth a couple of weeks ago and asked about the future of the diving board at Moody Park outdoor pool. As I wrote this answer to you, I see that Staff have come up with a creative replacement plan, so here is the background on that.

The diving board had some structural problems last year, and required repairs. However, the diving board was increasingly an area of concern at the pool, as the depth of the pool and nature of the slope in the tank was such that it did not make our lifeguard staff happy. They restricted head-first diving, and it had been increasingly causing them concern, so the decision was made to not replace the diving board. This is a disappointment to some of the regular pool users.

The good news is that staff have found a creative play element that can replace the diving board, and not have the safety concerns of the springboard. It is an adjustable climbing wall apparatus that bows over the water. Kids and adults can challenge themselves to do climbing moves and try to get to the top of the apparatus, and will splash down in the deep end of the pool if (when!) they lose grip.

I recognize this is not a “competitive” climbing apparatus, but it is adjustable to different skill levels, and should be a fun piece of equipment, and may give a generation of kids a first taste of the newest Olympic sport.

Council – July 9, 2018

The last full Council Meeting before we take our summer break (back in late August – in the meantime, I’ll have to find something else to write about) had a fairly full Agenda that started with an Opportunity to be Heard

Temporary Use Permit TUP00017 for 620 Third Avenue
I recused myself from this conversation, not because of an actual conflict of interest, but more because of a standard practice when a member of Council’s home or property are very close to an applicant’s, there may be a perception of unfair bias. There is no hard-and-fast rule about how close it too close, but this property is only few doors down from my home, and it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to perceived conflict.

This application is from Westminster House, who would like to operate a supportive housing facility for young women recovering from addiction in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood near their other properties. We received some correspondence on this (all in support, though some concerned about the need for a painted crosswalk or other safety improvements at this corner), and I can’t comment on how many came to the Opportunity to be Heard, because I wasn’t in the room!

Council voted to approve the Temporary Use Permit.

We then moved onto a Report for Action:

Recreational Cannabis: Summary of Consultation, Proposed Regulation Framework, and Next Steps
Following up on our previous workshops and other discussions about the local regulatory framework on cannabis legalization, Staff came with some final discussion on the work they plan to do over the summer to get our local regulatory regime worked out. The City has been having, I think, a pretty fulsome discussion of a local regulatory regime around the legalization of cannabis, and Staff now has a good framework to put together some model Bylaws and changes to existing Bylaws to make the transition as smooth as possible.

We had a few of open houses for the general public in June, along with one targeting the local business community. Neither was overwhelmed with response (indicating, I think that people are not as worried as perhaps us regulators are about impacts), but some positive feedback was provided to staff. We also had an on-line survey, with more than 300 responses (and I love that staff provided a concise summary of over- and under-represented demographics in the consultation, this is really valuable info for a detail geek like me!). Here is where we are at:

Locations: The City is putting a 200m distance between cannabis retail locations, and are creating a 150m buffer from schools and other “child-centric” land uses. The only change made to the map proposed by Staff was to remove the 150m buffer from our core Downtown business area (although the 200m separation would still apply).

Business licenses: The rules around business licensing will very closely parallel those for liquor stores, in regards to external appearance, staffing, hours of operation, etc.

Manufacturing: as suggested earlier, will be limited to M-2 zones that provide appropriate security and other site characteristics.

Cultivation: the City is not going to make any rules above or beyond the ones by the provincial and federal government regarding growing your own for personal use.

There was quite a bit of discussion around the rezoning process that we will undertake. It will not be a quick one by the look of it, and will eat up quite a bit of staff resources. I hope (and asked staff to evaluate) some sort of group rezoning application process to avoid the duplication we will see with a number of first-time applicants. With extensive public consultation (Advisory Planning Commission, Resident’s Association, Open House, Public Hearing, etc.) for each individual applicant after a year doing public consultation on where we will and will not allow these operations seems incredibly redundant, a draw on staff resources, and a burden for the community.

We also had quite the discussion about whether “first come- first served” for the limited number of initial applications is fair, or whether we should have some objective/subjective evaluation of application quality, or even a lottery system for initial applicants that meet some minimum threshold of application. This speaks to procedural fairness, and wanting to incentivize local entrepreneurship over global multinationals (to keep more of the benefits in the community). It is a tough process to wrap ones head around.

In the end, we came up with some advice for staff, and will see how that pans out at the end of summer when we hope to have these regulations drafted into Bylaws.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Status of 2015-2018 Strategic Initiatives – Update for First Half of 2018
Staff are reporting out (as they are wont to do twice a year) on progress on the Strategic Initiatives that Council identified for this term. From a Council point of view, most of the work for this term is done. We have three council meetings until the election, and the last two will no doubt be clouded by the pall of that oncoming storm. That said, staff are still working away, and summer is a time when a lot of actual work gets done in the City, as time- and effort-consuming council meetings and public consultations head to the back burner.

BC Penitentiary Cemetery – Interpretive Signage and Unveiling Event
There has been an ongoing effort to recognize the BC Pen cemetery. It is a place where predominantly marginalized people were buried, including hard criminals, and it is difficult for some to think about these graves as something worth memorializing and saving, but this is an important piece of our History as a City and a province. The court and penal systems, imperfect today, were generally atrocious in the early part of the last century, especially for people of colour, for the indigenous population, and foe people with mental illnesses. Our ideas of what constitutes “society” today is different than it was then, and it is worthwhile for is to spend time contemplating those changes and what we can learn from them. New West is a compassionate city, and a historical City, and respectfully memorializing this site could be thought of as a encapsulation of that.

An interesting side-point for a Child of the Kootenays is the Doukhobor names of several men who died in prison the 1930s. I suspect (but can’t be sure) that these men were part of the 1930’s crack-down on “un-Canadian activities” in the D0ukhobor community that occurred in the area around my home town. Alas.

Recruitment 2018: Seniors Advisory Committee Appointment
There is a change in one of the community representatives to this committee.

Recruitment 2018: Restorative Justice Committee (RJC) Appointment
There is a change in CERA representative to this committee.

Recruitment 2018: Parks and Recreation Committee Appointment
There is a change in SD40 representative to this committee.

Recruitment 2018: NTAC Appointment
There is a change in MVHRA representative to this committee.

509 Eleventh Street: Remedial Action Requirement Update
We had a longer discussion about this problem property back in November, and this report is an update on enforcement actions. It is problematic, the many steps we must go through to take action on someone’s private property, but staff are carefully working through the process and assuring that we are following a defensible path.

838 Ewen Avenue (Modular Housing): Development Permit to Facilitate a 44 Unit Housing Development with Support Services for Women – Issuance of Development Permit
The Temporary Modular Housing project in Queensborough requires a Development Permit, but that permit does not require a complicated public process following the rezoning because there are no outstanding variances in the development. Council just needs to agree to issue the Permit, which we did.

Naming of the Interim Multi-Sport Facility
There is going to be an “Interim” facility built in Queens Park to replace many of the functions of the Arenex, and it needs a name. As it is interim, I am ok with the fairly innocuous and descriptive name “Queens Park Sportsplex” as proposed by Staff. I am sure a nickname will develop organically (Sporty McSportsface?)

315 Fifth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary the Height Requirement – Consideration of Opportunity to be Heard
The property owner here wants to finish a basement, which requires lifting the house so it is a little more than a foot higher than permitted in the zoning. This requires a variance, which will require a public process. There will be an Opportunity to be Heard on August 27th, if you want to come out and tell us what you think.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Preparation of a City Theatre Policy –Workplan
With the City currently the owner of two performance theatres, and potentially the owner of three if the plan for the future of the Massey pans out, we need an plan for how to get the most value out of these assets. The discussion of how to balance the desire to support local artists, students, and arts programming, while also providing stages for major performances, and balancing the revenue stream to minimize the amount of subsidy the City needs to provide while still meeting its goals- that takes some strategic thinking. This report provides the workplan for developing that theatre strategy.

Official Community Plan: Launch of Phase Two of the Infill Housing Program
As the next phase of policy work coming out of our new Official Community Plan, staff is looking at ways to accommodate more flexible housing options through allowing different infill density types. This could include more duplexes on smaller lots that traditionally used for duplexes and more common subdivision of single family lots into more compact lots (think 25-foot lots instead of 50 or 60 foot).

I think there have been some significant changes in the region and in New West since 2016 when we adopted the OCP. The regional housing crisis was percolating around our edges then, we are fully immersed in it. The $1Million line for single family homes has swept through New West, and how we measure “affordable” or “family friendly” family housing has changed remarkably in just two years.

The work plan here includes several steps around one of the more modest forms of infill density, including economic analysis of the viability of it in the current land price environment. I’m not a land economist but I would need to be convinced by one that making a single family house in to two single family houses will solve any of our most pressing problems. We need to have a more frank discussion about more middle-density housing further from the arterial roads if we hope to build the flexible, affordable, and accessible housing stock for the next generation. So I asked that staff expand this economic analysis to take a renewed look at the economics of the “next step” of infill – tri- and quadraplexes, cluster homes, and other alternative forms that can maximize flexibility of some of our single-family-detached areas.

The ground is moving so fast on land value. We need to not be afraid to challenge some of the assumptions make two years ago when we finalized the OCP.

302 Twelfth Street (Key West Ford): Development Permit for Building Addition and Façade Improvements – Council Consideration of Issuance
Key West are great community partners in New Westminster, and am glad to see them investing in making their commercial space more viable. They came to the city to ask for a Development Permit, and have worked on it for a while.

The corner of Third and Stewardson is an aggressively pedestrian-unfriendly location, with heavy traffic and not a lot of room between the Key West fence and that traffic. And because the SkyTrain ROW and the railway, this is the only pedestrian crossing of Stewardson for more than a kilometer and a half. It is an important pinch point for pedestrians, and a horribly uncomfortable and arguably unsafe one. Through this application, Key West has given a corner cut that should improve the pedestrian experience at that corner.

Pile Driving Technology: Consideration of Restrictions on the Use of Diesel Impact Hammers over 30,000 Foot Pounds – Bylaw for First, Second and Third Readings
The City is essentially banning the loudest form of pile drivers, those that use a diesel impact hammer to advance the pile. This should result in a measureable reduction in pile driving noise in the City.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Outstanding Referrals: Update and Five Related Bylaws – Consideration of Readings and Public Hearing Waiver
These are five recent rezoning-type Bylaws that, due to a procedural SNAFU related to determining the buffer distance from MOTI infrastructure, missed having appropriate Ministry of Transportation review. So we need to back them up and do them again, excepting that we do not have to go to Public Hearing again, reasonably assuming that the public engagement process for these application was fairly met in the original process.

We then finished up with the regular run through of Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment (1050 Boyd Street and 1005 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No.8033, 2018;
Zoning Amendment (1102, 1110, 1116 and 1122 Salter Street) Bylaw No. 8034, 2018;
Zoning Amendment (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 8035, 2018;
Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street) Bylaw No. 8036, 2018; and
Wood-Boyne Street Road Closure Bylaw No. 8037, 2018
As mentioned above, these five rezoning bylaws that are being re-launched in order to correct a procedural mistake in relation to Ministry of Transportation consultation were each given two readings.

Building Bylaw Amendment (Pile Driving) Bylaw No. 8030, 2018;
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment No. 8031, 2018; and
Municipal Ticketing Information Bylaw Amendment No. 8032, 2018
These Bylaws that makes diesel-impact hammers for pile driving in the City and set the appropriate fines, were given three readings.

Five Year Financial Plan (2017 – 2021) Amendment Bylaw No. 8023, 2018
This Bylaw that updates our five-year financial plan was adopted by Council. It is now the law.

Official Community Plan Amendment (838 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No.8021, 2018; and
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (838 Ewen Ave) No. 8022, 2018
These Bylaws discussed at the last Public Hearing that permit the building of a 44-unit Temporary Modular Housing project in Queensborough were Adopted by Council.

Utility Commission Bylaw No. 8029, 2018
This Bylaw that updates the name and mandate of our Electrical Utility was Adopted by Council.

And that was the last meeting of the spring session of Council. Our next regular meeting is in late August, meaning Staff can get some work done without being hassled by Council! Have a good summer!

Council Top 3!

This is episode 2 of my hopefully-regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda tomorrow* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in.

#1: TUP for 620 Third Ave
I have recused myself from discussion on this topic, because it is close enough to my house that there may be a perception of conflict of interest. Regardless, Monday will have an Opportunity to be Heard where the public can provide feedback directly to Council on this proposal to allow (on a temporary basis) supportive housing for youth recovering from addiction in this Brow of the Hill residential property.

#2: Recreational Cannabis: Summary of Consultation, Proposed Regulation Framework, and Next Steps
There has been a lot of conversation about cannabis regulation in the City, including a recent Council workshop. This report outlines the results of this work including a summary of public open houses and surveys, and outlines the regulatory framework staff is endorsing going forward, in preparation for Bylaws to be approved by Council at the end of the summer, in time to meet the October 17 date set by the Federal Government for legalization.

#3: Presentation from the Art Council:
The Arts Council of New West does a tonne of the heavy lifting on great events in the City, including their major role in organizing the three cool events this last weekend (Music by the River, Fridays on Front, and the New West Craft Summer Night Market that spanned the QtoQ this year. New West is a Fun City, and that Art Council are a major part of that. They are coming to Council to present their Strategic Plan for 2018-2021, and get Council updated on what they are doing! (this is a good day to update your summer even calendar!)

*footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage, so these are only my guesses. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

TMH and the Public Hearing

We had a Public Hearing on Tuesday, and I have gnawed the ends off of a few metaphorical pencils thinking about how to write about it. Partly because it was an emotional night for a great many people, including members of Council. So I’ll start by talking about the facts, and save the emotions for after the fold.

The Public Hearing was to evaluate an OCP Amendment and Rezoning to permit the construction of a 44-unit supportive housing project on City land in Queensborough. This project is funded by the provincial government’s rapid response funding program, where capital and operational cost of a temporary modular housing (“TMH”) building will be covered by BCHousing, if a local government can provide land it owns (for a 10 year lease) and a reliable service agency agrees to operate the facility.

The City went through an extensive search for an appropriate site, and several sites were evaluated in Q’boro and other New West neighbourhoods. Of the three “short listed” sites, only the site at 838 Ewen Avenue was found to be viable. After some initial feedback from the community, we did some more evaluation of a second site in Queensborough, but again found it was not viable for reasons I discussed here. In short, if we wanted to take benefit of the rapid response funding, and have a TMH project in New Westminster, the Ewen Ave site is the only location.

Going into the Public Hearing, we received about 200 pieces of correspondence, and almost all of them were in favour. There was also an electronic petition circulated in the neighbourhood that opposed the project. The Design Panel, Advisory Planning Commission, and Community and Social Issues Committee all voted to support the project. I attended the public open house back on May 1, and heard concerns expressed by some residents, and also had some of my questions answered about the project. I had meetings with people who expressed specific concerns about the site, and the project in general, and also had many conversations with people who supported it, including many people who approached me at the Queensborough Children’s Festival two weeks ago. Along with other members of Council, I did a tour of the similar (but larger) TMH project in a residential Marpole neighbourhood that received significant public attention when it was proposed, but has been operating for more than four months without significant issues.

All this to say I had a *lot* of information going into the Public Hearing, but I was not sure what feedback we would receive, and only hoped for a rational and respectful conversation about concerns and benefits. In the end, we had about 80 people delegate to Council, with a majority in favour of the project. Even if we separate the presentations from the proponents (BCHousing and E.Fry), there were still as many community voices speaking in favour as opposed. That said, Public Hearings should not, in my opinion, be about raw counts of Pro vs. Con presenters, but should be about the weight of the arguments when seeking balance between benefits and costs of any project.

Fundamentally, this is a land use issue. The question before Council was whether this is an appropriate use of the land. This being the only piece of City land available does not by itself make it the right place for TMH. Every land use decision is about balancing positive and negative impacts, including opportunity costs. This lot was purchased by the City along with an adjacent piece of land a couple of years ago from the owners of the previous gas station on the site (demolished in 1991). It had recently been used as a construction staging and supply stockpile during the Ewen Avenue reconstruction, but is currently bare gravel. The location is close to the Queensborough Community Centre, adjacent to a bus stop with fairly regular service, and about 800m from major shopping. The service providers think the site is a good balance of being close to services but also in a residential area.

I am cognizant of the green space concerns, but do not see this project as a significant takeaway from Ryall Park. The lot is about 1,430 square metres, which is less than 2% of the Ryall Park area (when you include the Community Centre and adjacent playing fields, but not including the schools). Despite some comments I heard during the Public Hearing, Queensborough has more green space by area and per capita that the City’s average, made even more so with improvements over the last decade related to Port Royal Park, Old Schoolhouse Park, and greenway improvements along the waterfront. I am protective of the City’s green space, and agree that many neighbourhoods need more (which we are working on), but every discussion about green space is about balancing the opportunity costs and other community benefits.

A lot of the conversations and research over the last month has been around a “risk” argument – the argument that the residents of this housing will pose a greater risk to other park users than any other resident of a house or townhouse in the area. We met with BC Housing folks and reviewed the Community Advisory Committee and PAC minutes from the Marpole project and adjacent schools. We have talked to law enforcement and support agencies. We did everything we could to learn what the experiences in other locations were in relation to these concerns, talking to people who have dedicated their careers to providing assistance to people in need of housing. I could not find any evidence that this project will create some exceptional risk to neighbours or other park users. Quite the opposite, the evidence is ample that an amenity like this improves the lives of people in our community, and makes our entire community stronger.

Council each had their own reasons to support this project moving forward (and you can watch the video here, I don’t want to speak for others). For myself, I believe this is an appropriate location, the only location in New Westminster where this valuable amenity can be rapidly built, and I am convinced this project can and will be a positive for the entire community.

Now for the hard part.

This Public Hearing was soul-crushing. There is no other way to describe it. A week later, it is still causing me a mix of feelings, most of them negative. I cannot get over what was an unseemly display to me, and how it would look to someone observing from a detached distance: marginalized members of our community entering into that unfriendly chamber and publicly prostrating themselves to a panel of privileged individuals so members of their community could have access to a basic human need, while other members of the community maligned their character, intimidated them, questioned their intentions, and cheered on those who opposed those supports. This is not consultation. It isn’t democracy. I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know how we take a project that elicits such emotions and provide outlets for people to speak from their hearts and their minds such that they feel heard or understood without the antagonism that was displayed. I believe in community consultation, and in representative democracy and responsible governance as a force for good… this was none of those, and I feel heartbroken about this event.

One thing that was made crystal clear to me: the Public Hearing process is broken. This structure demanded by the Local Government Act is almost perfectly designed to create an 11th hour all-or-nothing us-vs-them divisive conflict event where opponents face off and speak past each other instead of providing a safe, inclusive, and collaborative conversation about the relative merits or costs of a project.

The structure is such that it makes it difficult for Council members (who must remain open minded through the process in order to act semi-judiciously in the ultimate decision making) to moderate the debate or pre-empt the conflict. Staff must balance on the razor’s edge of providing factual information about a project without appearing to be advocating for a project that must have had enough public policy merit to get as far as the Public Hearing. The delegates at any Public Hearing are almost exclusively people who feel strongly for the specific project, or are strongly opposed to it. This is evidenced by the fact that most Public Hearings are sparsely attended – you have to feel personally affronted to bother going out on a Monday night to speak at a boring public meeting. Of course, the stronger those feelings, the less likely one is going to accept or appreciate new data or varying opinions provided at the Public Hearing. And as it is always a last-minute winner-take-all debate, there is very little opportunity to learn, or discuss the larger policy implications that underlie a project, from affordable housing policy to transportation demand management to voluntary amenity contributions and urban design principles, because those are bureaucratic-sounding and technocratic solutions that are lost in the fog of parochial personal concerns and emotional battery. That is a terrible way to make decisions in a complex world.

I wish a week later I had suggestions, a model for a better way, but I don’t. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how we have a more nuanced discussion with the general public about any new project that comes down the pike. I don’t know how we provide space for the somewhat-interested and potentially-benefiting to engage when so much of the space is taken up by the personally aggrieved. All I know is that the current model of the Public Hearing doesn’t work. As currently structured, it is an affront to representative democracy, a barrier to good decision making, and a terrible form of consultation. It divides at a time when we should be coming together. It needs to change.

Council – June 25, 2018

The June 25th Council meeting was the Reports and Awards edition! We had a presentation of the City’s Annual Report (which you can read here), and had presentations to our staff for a recent raft of planning and economic development awards won by the City. We also had a chance to thank recently-retired Director of Planning Bev Grieve for the work she did – and her instrumental role in making New Westminster a regional leader on innovative affordable housing policy. Our community owes a serious debt to Bev, and I hope she enjoys a lengthy and enjoyable retirement, content in the knowledge that her career made a meaningful difference in the lives of so many residents.

But we also had business to do, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Five Year Financial Plan (2017 – 2021) Amendment Bylaw No. 8023, 2018
The City’s “budget” exists in the form of a 5-year financial plan, as required by Provincial Regulation. It is completely updated once a year, and we occasionally do interim updates to keep it compliant and assist with continuous financial planning and transparency. These amendments all fall under the category of “things our finance staff do their best to accurately estimate ahead of time, but are hard to predict”, such as how much DCC revenue we will receive and how much cost recovery we can achieve on disposal of capital assets.

The regulations say we need to give the public an opportunity to comment on changes to the Financial Plan before we adopt the Bylaw. We received no correspondence, and no-one came to comment during the Opportunity. Council moved to refer the Bylaw for Adoption.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Arts Strategy – Update
We had a framework for a new Arts Strategy come to Council back in May, and it received a slightly frosty reception, at least in part because of a similarly-frosty reception it received from the Arts Community during the last round of public consultation. This is a quick update on the roadmap moving forward that was developed by our Arts Strategy Task Force and our Arts Commission.

This is a positive step forward, and we have a clear path towards a more community-focused Arts Strategy that should come back to Council before the end of 2018.

The City is investing in the Arts like never before. From the building and running of the Anvil Centre, the expansion of arts programming, the Public Art strategy and amenity fund, and our commitment to invest in renewal of the Massey Theatre, it is clear this Council wants to support the Arts, so it is really important that we get the strategy right.

Cannabis: Public Consumption – UBCM Resolution
As reported last week, we are working through the municipal response to cannabis regulations. One aspect with high potential impact on local governments is the regulation of public consumption and integration with existing smoking bylaws. Part of the problem is that smoking regulations in BC are a mish-mash or overlapping jurisdictions. The many players who have some responsibility for enforcing smoking restrictions include private property owners (through WorkSafe), the Ministry of Health (and Fraser Health), TransLink (for Transit property), the Province and Local Governments, both through Police and Bylaw Enforcement. At least in the last case, every local government has taken their own approach, resulting in more confusion amongst all of the agencies about what just what the rules are where.

We are taking a resolution to UBCM requesting that the Province use the introduction of recreational cannabis and their authority to prescribe public smoking restrictions, so that the patchwork between local governments can be made consistent.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit for Signage – consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
An Uptown commercial property wants to update its signage in a way that does not strictly comply with the Sign Bylaw, which requires a Sign Bylaw Variance, which requires an Opportunity to be Heard so people can tell us if they like or hate this idea. That Opportunity will be on August 27, 2018. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

2017 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
Our drinking water is supplied by Metro Vancouver, but the local delivery system (pipes and valves and such) are operated by the city, so we have a joint responsibility to assure that Provincial Regulations regarding water quality testing are met. This is our annual report. We collected just under 1,000 samples in 2017, with no significant concerns.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Renewal of Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Areas – Results from Notification of Affected Property Owners
The 5-year term for the Uptown BIA is expired, (Has it been 5 years already!?) and it is time to re-up. As a reminder, a BIA is a business-community-led initiative permitted under the Community Charter, which allows a local government to collect a parcel or frontage tax from all commercial property owners within a geographic area and turn that tax over to the BIA members with the commitment that it will be spent on improving the viability of the commercial district and businesses therein.

After requesting that the City commit to another 5-year term, the participant businesses in the Uptown were surveyed. 6.1% of the businesses opposed participation, representing 1.15% of the commercial property in Uptown. So Council moved to approve the renewal of the BIA for Uptown.

Renovictions Action Plan: Update
Rental vacancies in New West are below 1%. Rents are going up. Much of our more affordable rental stock is reaching the age where extensive renovations are required. These factors add up to a serious “renoviction” crisis. The City has been very effective at reducing the types of wide-scale demovictions other communities are suffering, but renovictions are a more difficult problem to address because of our limited powers under the Local Government Act. As a result, we have had renoviction of at least 215 rental units in the City in the last two years (to put that in perspective, there are about 15,000 rental households in the New West).

In the last few years, New West has sought ways to do more than is strictly required by legislation to protect the vulnerable members of our community, and our staff have done many things to reduce renoviction, and assure people facing renoviction have access to as many resources as possible to assure their rights are protected. We have also advocated with the Provincial government to make changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that would provide the marginally housed more protection from renoviction (with some moderate success recently). This report provides a bit of a summary of what we have done, and an update on what we will be doing going forward, including taking part on the Provincial Rental housing taskforce work through 2018.

Sapperton/Massey-Victory Heights Transportation Plan
A new Transportation Plan for Sapperton and Massey Victory Heights was needed. The last comprehensive review of the area was last century, and with the introduction of the Millennium Line, expansion of RCH, the Brewery District and (eventually) Sapperton Green, along with regional transportation pressures, it is time to review again how we will balance the need for people to move through the region and the need to protect the livability and safety of our residential neighbourhoods.

There were some public workshops and a Community Working Group representing residents and businesses in the area. There was also extensive consultation with RCH. TransLink and other stakeholders. There was also a lot of data collection, research, and engineering planning work that went into this. As a result, the report has *a lot* of detail regarding traffic loads, future plans, and phases of implementation. Some parts are meant to be implemented in the short-term (mostly traffic calming improvements), some in the medium term (more complicated network improvements), and some more longer-term priorities are identified.

Although the 320+ page report was more than I could dig deeply into before Monday’s meeting, my initial impressions are that the estimates for “Trip Reduction” (diversion to transit or active modes as opposed to single-occupant vehicles) seem very conservative, both locally and regionally. We currently have 16% of all trips generated in Sapperton as walking/cycling only, and the report estimates 20% for Sapperton Green – a pedestrian-oriented community on a SkyTrain station to be built out in the 2030s. Throughout the document, current mode shift is projected to the decades ahead, with little gain over current numbers. I recognize the need to be conservative when planning far in to the future, but if we do not achieve much greater mode shift to transit and active modes by 2040, then the regional plan and regional transportation plans will have completely failed. In this eventuality, the regional call to pave Sapperton down to accommodate through-drivers will be deafening.

On a related topic, the data around traffic and parking related to an expanded RCH is concerning. Unless Fraser Health starts to recognize that dependence on single-occupant vehicles as the “default” transportation option is a public health concern and makes Transportation Demand Management a priority for its community, starting with its staff and patients, the impact on Sapperton threatens to offset the benefits of having this important community health amenity in our City.

Another important aspect not discussed in the Plan (and I have been harping on about this for a while) is that East Columbia will never be a Great Street, and we will never achieve the goals we have for that commercial streetscape and pedestrian realm if it is the sole access for all traffic to RCH and the Brewery District. Those two uses are incompatible. There must be access to the expanded RCH via Brunette Avenue, and that means a fully signalized intersection at the foot of Keary, Allen, or Sherbrook. (I think Keary works best, as that is the direct access to the RCH underground and the later phases of the Brewery District underground – however a traffic barrier will be required between Brunette and East Columbia to prevent this becoming a major rat-running throughfare).

Of course, installing a signalized intersection will impact through-travel “capacity” on Brunette, which is a truck route and on the Major Road Network, meaning the City cannot make these changes without buy-in from everyone one from TransLink to the trucking industry. However, as this plan talks about re-aligning the East Columbia & Brunette intersection to improve flow, and making Brunette four lanes between East Columbia and Spruce we need to assure these things are designed as a single package, or we will never receive this important amenity for our community.

Anyhow, besides these point, which fall squarely in the “medium- and long-term” category, and as the plan is a living document, I do not want to delay the short-term traffic calming and livability improvements. Council endorsed the Traffic Plan with this in mind.

New Utility Commission Bylaw No. 8029, 2018
We are updating some of the language in the Bylaw that regulates our Electrical Utility, mostly as a result of how we have really expanded the responsibility of the Utility as of late, to include power generation (Solar Garden and District Energy) and information networks (BridgeNet). We are really lucky in the City to have this resource that not only pays a dividend to taxpayers, but provides us an ability to take on new and exciting challenges.

Emergency Advisory Committee: Request Provincial Government to Provide Access to Alert Ready (Emergency Alert System) to Local Governments
This recommendation from the Emergency Advisory Committee is to take a resolution to the UBCM meeting in the fall that the Provincial Government provide better access to real-time emergency alert system info to better plan our local emergency response in the case of a large, regional emergency event. Endorsed by Council.

We then had another Opportunity to be Heard:

Temporary Use Permit for 218 Queens Avenue
This is an interesting project. The owner of an exceptionally large residential lot in Queens Park wishes to relocate a couple of smaller heritage homes that may otherwise be demolished onto the back part of his property so they can be preserved and renovated. There are two challenges to this. When a house becomes available, it must be moved fairly quickly, usually because the current owner just wants the house out of the way so they can re-build, and moving it is only considered over demolition when it doesn’t delay the project. Of course, permitting the moving of a house onto a property from the City’s side is not a fast process, so the property owner here wants to get a sort of “pre-approval” for the land use. The best path is a Temporary Use Permit, with the idea that the full Zoning change would happen after the house is moved, in the event a house is moved.

We received no correspondence on this item, and only the Proponent came to speak on the Temporary User Permit. Council moved to approve issuance of the permit.

Finally, we went through our regular Bylaws approvals:

Utility Commission Bylaw No. 8029, 2018
As mentioned above, this Bylaw that updates some of the language and mandate of the Electrical Utility was given three readings.

Uptown New Westminster Business Improvement Area Bylaw No. 8019, 2018
As discussed last week, this Bylaw that renews the Uptown BIA agreement was adopted by Council. Adjust your buying habits appropriately.

Street Naming Bylaw No. 7984, 2018
As discussed previously, this Bylaw that officially names a new street n Queensborough Roma Avenue was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement (406 to 412 East Columbia Street) Bylaw No. 8000, 2018
This Bylaw that secures rental use for the residential portion of this development in Sapperton was Adopted by council. More Purpose Built Rental in New West!

Animal Care and Control Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8026, 2018
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8027, 2018 and
Municipal Ticketing Information Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8028, 2018
These Bylaw changes that remove charges for the licensing of therapy dogs in New Westminster was adopted by Council.

Council Top 3!

I write about Council a lot here, always after the fact, and always in a long form that isn’t really the fashion these days. People’s on-line attention is short, arguably shorter than the long run-on sentences I have the tendency to write. And listicles, apparently listicles are a thing. So I’m going to add something new to my Blog, and hopefully it becomes a regular thing:

Council Top 3

This is my regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda tomorrow* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in.

#1: Sapperton/Massey-Victory Heights Transportation Plan: Staff have provided a summary report of the result of two years of data collection, stakeholder workshops, public meetings, and planning work. They outline some short-term, medium-term and long-term capital investments and policy work that will hopefully help reduce the livability impacts of regional population growth, RCH expansion, and local development.

#2: Renovictions Action Plan Update: The City has taken a lot of measures to protect the affordable rental housing stock, but renovictions still occur, and we have little regulatory authority to stop them. We are, however, working to make sure tenants have resources and understand their rights in the event that they are facing renoviction, and are continuing to call on the Provincial Government to take more measures in updating the Residential Tenancy Act.

#3: 2017 Annual Report presentation: This is the annual summary of what the City has done in the 2017 Fiscal Year, from how we spent your money to Changes in policy and new capital works. Our CAO will present a summary of the report, the public will be provided an opportunity to speak to it, and the published report is already available on-line.

Finally, breaking my own rule (not 300 words after I made it), I’ll add a fourth to my Top 3:

Public Hearing on 838 Ewen Avenue: This is actually on *Tuesday*, as we expect it to be a lengthy Public Hearing, and don’t want it to undermine the important work being done on Monday. If you have feelings for or against the Temporary Modular Housing project in Queensborough, Tuesday night is the time to let Council know.

*footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage, so these are only my guesses. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

Council – June 19, 2018

Our second Council meeting last this week was held on Tuesday, with Special Public Hearings to hear from the public on two Bylaw changes related to the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area, and our ongoing efforts to improve the policy.

Zoning Amendment (Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Bylaw for Incentives to be Implemented in the Short Term) Bylaw No. 8024, 2018
The City committed, when implementing a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) to also add some incentives to provide better positive benefits for those who investing heritage conservation. Although ideally we would have done this at the same time as introducing the HCA, the statutory limits to the Heritage Protection Period and intensive community conversation and policy work that went into getting the HCA right and rolled out on time simple left us with limited resources to do the incentives work. This work has now been done, and a first phase of incentives are ready to be implemented.

We have had quite a bit of conversation about this, and I talked about some of it in my May 14 Council Report. Through these conversations, the proposed incentives were pared down to three groups: those to be implemented immediately, those that need more policy work, which should be implemented within the next year, and those that either are longer-term or more City-wide, and will take yet more work to bring about. This Zoning Amendment is to support a couple of those “immediate” incentives, those that require an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw.

In short, we will permit a slightly larger house on protected properties than is generally permitted in single family residential zones (FSR 0.7 instead of a usual 0.5), and will allow homeowners to “shift” some of this density (if they don’t want to improve their principle residence) over to a laneway of carriage house, as long as that secondary building does not exceed 958 square feet.

There is a bit of nuance in this. First off, the maximum allowable site coverage (that is the amount of a lot covered by buildings as opposed to lawn or garden) is not going to go up, so this should not result in a big change in the amount of green space. There is also some detail in how we count attic and basement space towards FSR that may be too complex for this quick summary. This incentive structure should provide the most flexibility to homeowners to maximize their living space, and add secondary rental suites.

We had a bit of correspondence on this item, about a dozen written submissions, almost all in support, and we had about a dozen people come to speak at the public hearing, again generally in favour. Some concerns were raised in regards to loss of green space (which I think will still be protected by the limit on site coverage), and some delegates are still irritated by the concept of the HCA, but I go the sense that the public understand and appreciate the incentives offered so far.

Council gave this Zoning Bylaw Amendment third reading and adoption: it is now the law of the land.

Official Community Plan Amendment (To remove Heritage Conservation Area Related Protection from Phase 1 Special Limited Category Study Properties) Bylaw No. 8025, 2018
When the HCA was put in, all residential properties in the Queens Park were put into one of three categories: Advanced (meaning they are fully protected, due to age and inferred heritage value), Limited (meaning they are not protected against demolition, as they are not old enough to constitute heritage), and Special Limited, which was somewhere in the middle, partly because their heritage value was uncertain, and partly because the nature of the residence may have created an unreasonable burden to the homeowner if they were fully protected. At the time, it was acknowledged that further analysis of these 85 “in the middle” properties would be required before eventually re-classifying them to one or the other category.

As moving properties between categories requires an Official Community Plan Amendment, staff recognized that doing these by groups will be easier than doing each individually. They created a phased screening approach to this, and the first phase is currently complete. As a result, 35 properties were recommended to be moved from Special Limited to Limited, essentially reducing the protection on the properties.

This first screening was done by the City with the help of consultants. The screening was a desktop exercise where the age and heritage value of the property was evaluated at a very basic level, as was the potential for the homeowner to achieve their zoning entitlement while still protecting the intact residence. Of the 85 Special Limited properties, 35 were found to have a combination of low heritage value and severe infringement of zoning entitlements such that removing them from protection made sense. Each of these homeowners was contacted to let them know that staff would be recommending removing their protection. They were given an opportunity to “opt in” to Advanced protection, if they wished to avail themselves of incentives (discussed above).

This leaves 50 other properties of the original 85. Four of those properties already had higher levels of protection than the HCA (they were “Designated” already), 4 were owned by people who specifically asked to have their property put into the Advanced Protection category, and 42 others that will go through a more detailed screening process as part of a Phase 2 study. This table from the Staff report explains that all:

As a complication, one of the 35 property owners being exempted requested (too late to get into this OCP Amendment Bylaw) that their protection be increased instead of reduced, so Council tacked on a motion asking staff to fast-track their individual shift from Limited to Advanced protection, after this omnibus shift of properties to Limited. 

Again, we received about 20 pieces of correspondence on the OCP Amendment, almost all in favour. We also had about a dozen delegates, mostly in favour. Council moved to give this OCP Amendment Third Reading and Adoption.

The entire HCA process has been a challenge. The call of some level of protection for the Queens Park neighbourhood led to the previous Council appointing a community working group, who put together some recommendations for this Council. The temporary Heritage Protection Period that was necessary to prevent demolitions put a tight deadline on the development of an HCA, and a lot of policy work and consultation with the community resulted in a suite of measures that will bring reasonable protection to the heritage assets of Queens Park, but will still allow the neighbourhood to grow and evolve, so it can still be a vibrant neighbourhood with a variety of housing. There is more work to go yet, but I am happy with the approach we have taken. Many thanks need to go to the staff for putting this challenging program together, and to the community for continuing to be engaged in this program and providing valuable feedback that is making the policy stronger.

Council – June 18, 2018

This week we had two (2!) evening Council meetings. It is a little unusual, but have a lot to get done before the summer break, and some of it requires Public Hearings. As we rarely know ahead of time which Public Hearings will strike a chord in the community and result in hours of delegations, Staff have tried to pace things out to assure we don’t run into scheduling delays or situations where important issues that need a fulsome community conversation are overwhelmed by one another. So two meetings it was. I’ll write a second post about the second meeting, but first, a Monday Council Workshop on a single topic:

Cannabis Workshop: Implementation of Cannabis Legislation
This is a follow-up to a workshop Council held on January 29, and you might want to go back to this report to get caught up on where we are and where we are going here. It really explains the areas that the City needs to deal with – that is issues that are not already regulated by the Feds or the Province, and those where we are able to augment senior government rules because of our land use and business license regulatory powers.

After that January meeting, our staff did some work and some public consultation to develop a set of guidelines that they will draft into Bylaws. This workshop was meant to be a check-in with Council, and a conversation with the public, around that framework.

This is an evolving file, and Bylaws are yet to be drawn (this was even discussed before yesterday’s Royal Assent of the Federal Cannabis Act, demonstrating how quickly things are changing), and some may require Public Hearings. Therefore, I am going to speak in generalities about what the major areas of municipal legislation are, what the proposed direction from staff is, and what my initial opinions are (recognizing any and all three of these could change before the October 17th date the Federal Law is meant to be enacted).

Land Use for Cannabis Retail
As a City, we can regulate this, all the way from not allowing any retailing of cannabis in the City to having a complete free-for-all. The general direction would be to mimic how we deal with liquor retail: require a site-specific zoning. This gives Council a lot of discretion, in that the zoning would be based on a set of Guidelines, but Council could always be asked by a proponent to vary from those guidelines. At this point, staff have suggested limiting retial to commercially zoned areas (naturally), and to create limits on how close a store can be to a school or (potentially) to other areas like Parks and Daycares (100m). They also recommend having a prescribed distance between cannabis retailers (300m).

I suspect the first provision is a bit of a holdover from prohibition, both in how we apply it to liquor outlets and to cannabis: I don’t think it is based on risk mitigation or actual danger to children, but to a somewhat puritan “keep the sin away from innocent eyes” holdover from the temperance movement. I recognize that a community concern exists, however, and don’t think a 100m buffer to schools will be onerous for the businesses. I’m not sure I can say the same about Parks, because 100m from Pier Park and Sapperton Park (for example) does impact commercial areas.

I also have a concern that daycares are already scarce in our City, and are almost all in commercial areas, and as much as I don’t want their existence to unduly limit other retail business, I don’t want a new cannabis store to suddenly preclude the existence of new daycare centres if operators want to open them. I guess I don’t understand the risk we are hoping to avoid.

As for the 300m proximity buffer between retailers, I also think that may be too large. I used the example of the Starbucks on Sixth Street and Columbia: if it decided to shift to a cannabis outlet, it’s 300m buffer would encompass about 90% of the downtown commercial property. Similarly for Uptown if an outlet was built at Sixth & 6th. I suspect we are trying to avoid creating a “Cannabis district” where every second store is a cannabis outlet, just as a basic land use principle, but there needs to be a bit of work here to make sure we are not being too limiting for new businesses that want to open up.

Business License Regulations
The City can regulate things like operating hours, sign bylaws, and other details of how a retail business can operate in our community. The City is considering creating similar regulations (again) to liquor retail, but still have some work to do on signage and aesthetics. We don’t want businesses with blacked-out windows or bars in the windows, as that creates an uninviting street presence, but we want businesses to be secure. So there is some more work to do where, especially in consultation with potential operators.

Processing and Warehousing
Similar to retail, the City can regulate the type of industrial business that operates in the City. The City is proposing that cannabis processing and packaging be limited to the M1 zone, which is the heavier industrial zone. This is mostly related to the increased anticipated security these facilities will require under federal law, and that level of security not being appropriate for our M2 zones (which are commonly more light industrial-with-a-store-front). There will also be strict waste management and air quality protection measures required by senior government regulation, which makes M1 work better.

Public Consumption
This is where I suspect the most public concern with legalization of cannabis is going to appear: the simple nuisance of second-hand smoke. Public attitudes about public smoking have shifted significantly in the last decade, and the simple approach offered by the province (public use is legal wherever smoking is legal) may prove challenging. Although I suspect the actual use of cannabis will not increase significantly after October 17, the public exposure to its use (along with confirmation bias by its opponents) will lead to a lot of complaints.

The city will be updating our smoking bylaws to include vapor and cannabis smoke, and will continue to limit smoking with 7.5m of a doorway and in Parks. However, banning use in the way we do alcohol (i.e. no public spaces) is challenging, as we will not have “pubs” where people can go, and landlords and strata councils will have the legal authority to prohibit smoking in people’s homes, making it very difficult for some people to find a place to use what is a legal product. One of the delegates at our meeting pointed out the structural unfairness of limiting public consumption for those who may not be able to smoke at home.

Of all the regulations, this is the one that is going to be hardest to make people happy, because it runs up against a conflict between people’s individual rights. With the federal government specifically *not* legalizing edibles and tinctures at this time, smoking and vaping will be the primary delivery method. So we are going to have some learning to do as a society.

Personal Cultivation
The Federal regulations say you can grow a limited number of plants at home for personal use, and the province further restricts that the plants can’t be “visible” from public spaces, and that landlords and stratas are legally able to restrict growing of cannabis in multi-family units. As a City, we are not contemplating adding to these restrictions.

You have until June 24 to take part in the City’s on-line survey about these regulations if you have strong feelings. Otherwise, we will see some draft Bylaws at the end of the summer, and expect that we will be able to make them into law here in New West ahead of the October 17 federal legalization, and before the October 20, 2017 Municipal election!