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.

Council – Oct. 28, 2019

We had a long council meeting this week after a full day of meetings made longer by the awareness that it was glorious and sunny outside and more rational people were frolicking in sun. The Mayor did not see the wisdom in my suggesting we move the meeting to a hiking train nearby, so doomed to Council Chambers we were. The meeting was made longer by a couple of Public Hearing topics that had significant public input, but I am going to skip past those (watch for the next blog post) and just get to the Regular Council Agenda:

After the Public Hearing we started our regular meeting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit DVP00666 for 331 Richmond Street (Richard McBride Elementary)
The replacement school at McBride needs a few variances, because the unusual nature of the building and it’s zoning. We received a bit of correspondence, and had two people come to the Opportunity to be Heard about the height variance. Many homes on School and Devoy Streets do have spectacular views up the Fraser River due to the steep grades in upper Sapperton, and are concerned a three-storey school blocking that. The variance requested, however, was less than 4 feet over the allowable height, and with the grade of the school site and surrounding roads, I am of the impression the change in visual impact will be minor. And we need to replace the School.

Council voted to approve the variance.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Rescindments
We have had a couple of members of committees change their life situations and have to leave some committees, as commonly happens. We do this official rescindment so their lack of presence doesn’t have a big an impact on the quorum requirements for the volunteer committees

A Bylaw to Amend Delegation Bylaw No. 7176, 2015
This Bylaw defines the things that staff (our CAO or her delegate) can decide that are typically within Council purview. We are updating this Bylaw for the first time since 2015, mostly to update the names of departments and job roles that have shifted. The biggest difference is shifting the awarding for Grants from a direct Council decision to a staff decision based on Council policy guidance, which should remove some of the politics from the process.

City Small Sites Affordable Housing Projects: Recommended Sites for Two New Developments and Calls for Proposal
The City has supported small-lot affordable housing projects by providing grants of City-owned land to providers able to put housing there. This addresses one of the major hurdles to affordable housing in the lower mainland – the high cost of land. Unfortunately, the City of New Westminster simply doesn’t own very much land, so these opportunities are limited. Staff have, however, identified two undeveloped City-owned properties where housing may be appropriate; one in Queensborough and one in Connaught Heights. We will now reach out to Affordable Housing providers to see if anyone has the resources to put housing on these spots.

404 Salter Street (Summit Earthworks): Update on Port of Vancouver Permit Review Process for Soil Transfer Facility
These two related projects on Port of Vancouver lands in Queensborough are raising some concern in the adjacent neighbourhood. The lands are within Port jurisdiction and designated industrial by the Port, so the City has little to no jurisdiction over their use, we are essentially a “stakeholder” in the consultation much like the neighbours. We have asked the Port for some feedback on some significant points (traffic impacts, dike improvements, rainwater runoff management, etc.) and we will see where this goes. If you have concerns or want to learn more, the Port’s information page is here.

Development Approval Process Streamlining: Proposed Changes to Development Permit Process and Official Community Plan Updates
We have been working on shifting some of the established ways we run City Hall to make things more efficient and to stop getting in our own way on some of the strategic goals the City has. Staff in Planning have identified some practices in the how we do development approvals that make it smoother, quicker, and more consistent for applicants, the public, and staff. Some changes are internal practices that don’t need any official approval, but some others require that Council amend the OCP. Those latter ones are outlined here, and will need to be put into a Bylaw, and will need a Public Hearing after a bit of public consultation about what the changes mean in a practical sense. Council moved to approve this going to a bylaw.

909 First Street: Rezoning and Development Permit – Report for Information
This applicant would like to build a compact 4-unit townhouse development on a large single family lot behind the City Works Yard in Glenbrooke North. The site coverage is less than what would be regularly permitted, and the FSR is well within permitted, so no variances are expected from the Infill Townhouse and Rowhouse Design Guidelines. This is the first development of this type in this neighbourhood, though, so this is a “check in” report to Council to raise any red flags before it goes to public consultation and the rigmarole of committee reviews and eventually a Public Hearing if it gets that far. Council raised no concerns.

2018 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
The Greenhouse Gasses produced by our corporate activity (running garbage trucks and police cars and lawnmowers and swimming pools and libraries, etc.) have gone down in the 10 years since we established a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Plan, even as our City has grown. In 2008 we set the target of a 15% overall reduction from 2007 levels by 2017. We managed to make that reduction 12.6%, or just short of the target, for 2018. However, this is not a consistent number, as our overall emissions change every year based on things like the amount of snowclearing we need to do.

This is a look back, but we are now, through our Climate Emergency action plan, looking at some very aggressive targets in the decade ahead, ultimately aiming to be truly zero carbon by 2050. There is a lot to unpack here, and our accelerated Climate Emergency approach is going to be reported out soon, so stay tuned, planet-watchers!

Street and Traffic Bylaw No. 7664, 2015 – Revision to Harmonize Truck Definition
Like most cities, we have a Bylaw that regulates how our roads operate above and beside the boundaries of the Motor Vehicle Act. Unfortunately, there are parts of these Bylaws that vary from other Cities (they should all be like us!), and one of those is the definition of “truck” for truck routes. We are aligning these through the regional committee of engineers from all of these cities (“RTAC”). So we need to update our Bylaw to make that alignment work. Adjust your truck definitions accordingly.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8158, 2019
Every year, about this time, we update our borrowing authorization so that we can borrow some cash in case it is needed between the end of our spending year and when the next pile of tax payments come it. We have authorization to borrow up to $3M as a kind of “line of credit” for one year, but we are unlikely to use it.


The following items were, late in the evening, Removed From Consent for discussion:

Amendments to the Council Procedure Bylaw No. 6910, 2004
We talked last meeting quite a bit about proposed changes in the Council Procedures Bylaw, and this following some workshopping and a lot of hand-wringing over what works and what doesn’t with our current structure The changes are subtle, but will hopefully act to remind everyone involved that time in Council meetings is expensive and valuable, and that we need to make this time as equitable as possible so a greater diversity of voices can be heard. Council moved (in a split vote) to bring this Bylaw to a public Opportunity to be Heard on November 25. C’mon out and tell us that you think.

New Advisory Committee and Task Force Structure
We are changing the Committees and Task Forces that provide advice to Council. There is a tonne to say here, and this is already a long agenda, so I will only give a bit of a summary here and will talk more about it in a stand-alone blog post. The City currently has 38 (!) committees, way more than any other City in the region, and these committees eat up a lot of staff and volunteer time. We want to make sure we are getting the most value from that time, and have pared the committees down to those that directly relate to Council’s strategic plan, and those where lived experience and technical expertise do not exist in our staff or council to assure we are hearing voices that need to be heard in order for us to move forward on priority areas.

We are amalgamating some committees, moving some into internal staff-only working groups, and are starting a new committee. We will be reducing our total count of volunteer committees and staff task forces to 27 (with a couple of the amalgamated ones running for one more year to wrap up some ongoing projects).

Compassionate City Charter: Recommendation from Community and Social Issues Committee
The New West Hospice Society has done great work raising awareness and support for compassionate dying in New Westminster, but their great public profile raising may belie the point that there are no hospice beds currently offered anywhere in New Westminster. We, as a community, have a lot of work to do!

Hospice is, fundamentally, a health care issue that should be a regular part of our health care system, and that is 100% on the provincial government, but the City has found some resources to help the Hospice Society do its great work in the City. I am happy to continue that level of support (including grants and resource assistance with things like the Festival of Loss and Healing), but some of the wide reaching expectations in the Compassionate City Charter are not within our current budget or work plans, and likely exceed what would typically be expected of a City of 70,000 people. Council moved to support the principles of the Charter, and to continue to provide assistance to Hospice within existing budgets, and to continue the discussion about some of the larger goals and deliverables.

Five-Year Approach to On-Street Parking Fees & Rates
It has been a long time since the City did a comprehensive review of the pricing for car storage on public lands. We have not done a serious review during my time on Council, and with ongoing implementation of our newish Master Transportation Plan and further work on bringing in policies congruent with the Climate Emergency declaration, it is well worth us reviewing how car storage fits in our larger strategic visions for the City.

On-street vehicle parking is a valuable resource in urbanized communities, especially in commercial districts, around major institutions, and near rapid transit stations.” I may need to take an entire blog post to deconstruct this single sentence. I actually want to write a novel that deconstructs this sentence… but I digress. The point staff is getting at is that space for car storage is at a premium, so it has a value, and we need to price it appropriately to allocate that space, or it will not work well. To know if it is working well, we need to be clear about what we want from street storage of cars (aside from “MOAR!”)

The report outlines a good set of guiding principles: On-street parking should be priced equal to or higher than off-street, to encourage cars being stored off of the street; using a car should be transparently more expensive than using Transit; and Parking Permit rates should act to encourage use of private land for private car storage. I agree with all of these.

The report has suggested (and Council agreed) that we increase our rates for street storage of cars, especially since our meter rates are now lower than the regional median (often much lower than dense parts of Vancouver, Richmond, North Van, Burnaby) and on-street meters are currently cheaper than off-street garages. Part of this increase will be a Climate Action Levy (or something similarly named) to be dedicated to a Climate Action Fund in the City to pay for initiatives that reduce our community or corporate GHG emissions.

Drainage Improvement Program and Ditch Enclosure in Queensborough
Open drainage watercourses (“ditches”) in Queensborough are a long-standing issue. During the last election, they were easily the #1 issue in the part of the community where they are still present. We had a pretty comprehensive review of them back in 2015, and this report updates that a bit.

I think this is yet another topic I need to write an entire blog post about, because the answers are not simple. But some of the present issues with open ditches can be addressed without the monumental cost of installing complete covered storm sewers across the island. There are also places where open drainage is always going to be present because the flood storage capacity and resiliency offered by them cannot be replicated with underground storm sewers, not to mention the ecological habitat values of some of the canals.

We were shown pictures, and anyone who walks down there during the winter rain season recognizes that the drainage system is not operating in a way that encourages walking, or even guarantees access to some houses. This is related to downstream drainage capacity, sometime to illegal modifications of the ditches to widen driveways or provide street-side parking. Ultimate long-term fixes will sometimes require complete regrading of properties that have houses on them now.

This is a report for information coming out of a public delegation a few weeks ago, and there are some details here about the longer-term planning for drainage infrastructure in Q’Boro, and some operational strategies to address maintenance and illegal filling.

Brow of the Hill Neighbourhood Park Site Acquisition (1009 Cornwall Street)
The City does things like real estate transactions in camera for good reason – you can’t negotiate a business transaction like this in public, but it is great to be able to announce that we were able to secure a fair price for the undeveloped lot in the middle of the Brow of the Hill which the community definitely showed an interest in us acquiring as a passive park area. No big plans for it yet, but the City will do some minor maintenance with a bit of a passive park model.

Multiculturalism Advisory Committee: Formation of a Multicultural Festival Working Group
The Multicultural Festival on July 1st has become a mainstay of the City’s Canada Day celebrations, but it has up to now been run on a shoestring by a volunteer group from the local Philippine community with some grant support from the City. Our MAC is putting together a working group to see if they can provide more direction ans support to make the event more sustainable.


We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8150, 2019
This is our annual Bylaw to grant permissive property tax exemptions to charitable and civic uses in the City.

Zoning Amendment (886 Boyd Street) Bylaw No. 8100, 2019
This Zoning Bylaw amendment is to allow an electrical substation in the M-1(light industrial) zone so we can build a new substation in Queensborough to make the grid there more robust. We gave this a Public Hearing back in April, and have now adopted the Bylaw. Law of the land, folks.


Finally, we had one piece of New Business:

Motion: Renaming Begbie Square and Begbie Street
Be it resolved that New Westminster Council proceeds with removing the name of Begbie Square and begin a process to identify an appropriate new name for this important civic space;

Be it further resolved that through the City’s examination of our street naming policy that we review the name of Begbie Street; and

Be it further resolved that through our reconciliation process the City find a way to acknowledge, recognize and tell the history of the wrongful conviction and execution of the six Tŝilhqot’in chiefs in Qunellemouth and New Westminster.

This motion removes the name Begbie from the Square in front of the Courthouse, for reasons similar to this. The changing of a street name is a bit of a more complicated legal process, as people have addresses and such, and we have not yet completed the work on our new Street Naming Policy, so this motion does not change Begbie Street, but prioritizes its place in the policy once we get that developed. I was happy to support this motion, and Council supported it unanimously, but humbly.

Council, October 7, 2019

It was annual Council on the Road day at New West Council, when we hold our regular Council Meeting in sunny Queensborough. There were lots of proclamations and delegations, so it is worth watching online! But our regular agenda was fairly light:

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Innovate New West Proposed Work Plan
The City has run a couple of successful “Innovation week” events over the last couple of years. These have brought businesses, institutions, and government together to talk about how we can better foster innovation in public services and better support innovative businesses. As a major part of our Economic Development Strategy, Innovate New West is adapting to better fit the needs of stakeholders and participants. This biggest shift will be breaking up “innovation week” into several events spread throughout the year, which allows more participants to take part in more of the program – it is really hard for small businesses and people running institutes to take several days away from work to attend a week of events. The first will be a one-day Innovation Forum in February or March.

This is a great program, happy to support it!

Proposed 2020 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
This is the schedule for 2020 Council meetings: 24 meetings, including 9 Public Hearings. We will meet two or three times every month, except in July, August, and December, when people are less interested in City Council stuff, but we meet once to keep business moving along. Plan your year accordingly!

Acting Mayor Appointments for November 2019 to December 2020
We also need a Councillor to serve as Acting Mayor every month, in the event the Mayor is not available to sign timely documents, run a meeting, or do any of those other important Mayor-type things. Each Councillor takes two months of acting duty, mine are March and August. Plan your year accordingly!

Recruitment 2019: Advisory Planning Commission Appointment
The Advisory Planning Commission is a committee of volunteers in the city that has a legislative function in planning by providing a review of development projects from a broad community perspective. We have a short vacancy before recruiting for next year, so we asked on the original applicants to step up and fill the role so they can get the business done. Full recruitment for the next APC will start at the end of the year. If you want a say in how the City meets its planning policy guidelines, dust off your resume!

318 Fourth Street: Official Community Plan Amendment to Remove Heritage Conservation Area Protection – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The Heritage Conservation Area in the Queens Park neighbourhood protects older houses that have significant heritage value. Some older houses have been modified enough that there is little heritage value yet, and there is a process through which homeowners can evaluate whether removal from protection is reasonable given their specific situation. This applicant is asking to be removed from protection. Because this is an Official Community Plan Amendment, it will have to go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Major Purchases May 1st to August 31st, 2019
Every 4 months we put out a report of all of the major purchases the City makes. If you bid on a job, or want to know what the City spends your money on, this is the thing.

837 – 841 Twelfth Street: Rezoning and Development Permit for Five Storey Residential Building – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
This is an application to build a 5-storey residential building on the vacant lot on the corner of Twelfth and Dublin. There would be 29 units, all two- or three-bedroom, including 4 ground-level townhouses. This would be the first mutli-family building in New Westminster to be built at Step 4 on the Step Code, making it the most energy efficient residential building ever built in the City.

This will go to Public Hearing on October 28, so I will hold further comment until then.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2020 Pedestrian Crossing Improvement Program
The City has a Master Transportation Plan that prioritizes the comfort and safety of pedestrians, and one manifestation of this is a budget line item specifically to improve the safety of crosswalks, and a program to prioritize how that money is spent. This report outlines the 2020 program priorities, based on citizen requests, engineering review, and consultation through the City’s transportation advisory committees.

Litter Receptacles Within Public Streetscapes, Parks and Open Spaces
The City is adjusting how street litter bins are being maintained. The biggest problem we have right now is that some of these bins are being overloaded with residential garbage. For some reason, people are choosing to put their household trash in these receptacles, overloading them, creating mess and expense. Short of putting dumpsters on the street, or paying someone to stand beside garbage bins 24/7, it is hard to figure out how to address this.

Staff has removed, moved and down-sized some of these receptacles to see what that does to behavior. Surprisingly, this resulted in less litter on the streets (yes, the City has people who actually track and count litter, along with picking it up), and reduced volume of trash being collected, which presumably means people are taking their trash home or throwing it into a commercial receptacle. This reflects the experience in other cities when a program like this is implemented.

Another interesting and completely unsurprising point out of this: street recycling bins simply don’t work. People put everything and anything in them, and the resultant waste is too contaminated to go to the recycling stream, so it goes to landfill with the rest of the trash.

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre Update
This is an update on progress with the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre Replacement Project. Last week we dealt with the variances needed given the design, and talked about the energy and GHG efficiency goals of the new building, this is more a holistic update on the project.

Unfortunately, one of the base assumptions about how we were planning this project has been problematic. Since we started serious planning for this project, the federal government has been promising an Infrastructure Grant Program for local governments, the ICIP. We have structured much of this project around making it as fundable as possible under that program, and have a project that hits every checkpoint for ICIP eligibility. We also assumed that ICIP funding would be announced before the 2019 Federal Election, but it was not. When the writ dropped, we still did not know if we were getting an ICIP grant, or how much it would be. That is hampering our ability to advance planning on this project, and every week we delay adds costs to the project. The nature of these grants is that we have to be shovel-ready, but we cannot already be building. So we idle.

But there is work we need to do to reduce the risk and cost related to that idling, and we are at a point where we need to make some decisions about the two-path planning process. Are we going to build the pool that the community consultation asked for (“Base Program”), or are we going to build the much larger facility that the Hyack Swim Club was advocating for (“Enhanced Competition Hosting Facility, or ECHF”)? The larger option adds 18,000 square feet to the building, along with increased energy and staffing costs. Council has, up to now, said we will look at this option once we know how much federal grant money we can count on. As we are now doing some thorough life cycle costing of the facility, we need to provide some clarity to our finance department about how much grant is enough that we can afford to build the ECHF. There is a lot of financial calculus that went into this number, but $22.4 Million is the number that percolated out. We applied for much more than this, but we will not know until November at the earliest what the result will be, and we will have to make some decisions then.

Public Art Advisory Committee Request to Increase Sportsplex Public Art Funds
The PAAC has a bigger idea for public art in the space between the new Sportplex and the Skate Park, and they don’t think this vision will fit within the available budget, so they are asking for more. Note – they are not asking for new money here, just drawing more from the already established Public Art Reserve Funds – more spent here means less spent elsewhere on Public Art. Council gave them that authority.

331 Richmond Street (Richard McBride School): Development Variance Permit for New Elementary School – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
It looks like they were serious when they said they are building a new school to replace Richard McBride. Much like last week’s discussion of the Canada Games Pool replacement, this project will require some variances because of the uniqueness of the building doesn’t strictly fit our Zoning Bylaw.

The new, 430-student school will be 44,000 square feet, and the site has some obvious challenges with a huge grade difference across the lot and the need to build a school on a site while the old school still operates. The variances are for building height (3.6 feet taller than the allowed 30 feet), parking (56 spaces including pick-up/drop-off, where the Bylaw wants 62), sign bylaw (the undercanopy sign much larger than allowed for really wonky reasons), the presence of an on-site retaining wall required because of the grades, and a reduction in some off-site improvement needs.

This will go to a Public Opportunity to be heard on October 28, c’mon out and tell us what you think!

Council Efficiencies – Proposed Changes to the Council Procedure Bylaw
This is a follow-up report to a discussion we had earlier this year after a couple of pretty long council meetings, and this was a lengthy discussion, but messing with the way council procedures work is an important topic, so it was worth having the chat.

This is less about about trying to make Council meetings shorter, and more about trying to make them more efficient and our discussion more productive. Council time is valuable time, for the public who come to see these meetings, and for the staff who take so much of their time to be here. They deserve to not have their time wasted. And as a Councillor, I don’t think we make our best decisions at 10:30pm after a 13 hour day of meetings.

I like the recommendation that we have 5 minutes limit to councilors – as someone who does sometimes go off on tangents and talk more than I should, I think if you cannot make your point in 5 minutes, it shows a lack of preparation and you are wasting everyone’s time. This will force us to be clearer and more concise, to everyone’s benefit.

Honestly, I don’t think Public Delegations are the major problem, at least at most meetings when we have two or three. I would have agreed to reducing public delegations from 5 minutes to 3 minutes if we have more than, say, 20 people sign up, mostly so delegate #25 doesn’t have to wait two hours to get their chance to talk, but it didn’t look like that idea was well supported at council and the argument the it would cause problems for people preparing statements was a good one. In the end, Council agreed that we should limit the Public Delegation period to 1.5 hours, but can agree to extend this time limit in the event a significant community conversation is happening. This would only apply to public delegation, NOT to Public Hearings or Opportunities to be Heard.

This will come back to Council as a new Procedures Bylaw, so there will be some more talk about it.

Recruitment 2020: Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) Appointments
The Youth Advisory committee is one that assigns members on a different cycle than the others in order to align better with the school season. The appointments are named!


The following Bylaw was adopted:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (616 – 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 7997, 2019
This zoning amendment permits the development of a high-rise with a mix of market condo and market rental units on the corner of Sixth Street and Princess. It was given a Public Hearing back in June, and now that some of the approval conditions have been completed, it can move ahead.


Finally, we had one piece of New Business rising from the Public Delegation period and a piece of correspondence we received:

Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society email dated August 19,2019 regarding the Komagata Maru
Councilor Das moved the following:
THAT city staff do a report on the connection of New Westminster and the Komagata Maru incident. In particular, the report should provide documentation of the support the New Westminster South Asian community offered to the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

There is a call for the City of New Westminster to mark the role some of its citizens played in this historic incident. This motion will allow Staff to put some work in to putting those events into a local context, and will hopefully inform whether some formal marking is appropriate. Council moved to support this

And that was all for the Queensborough edition 2019. See you after the Thanksgiving break!

Council – Sept 30, 2019

Back at Council after our UBCM break. I have some writing to do about that whole thing, but need to get through this business first. Out meeting agenda was not too crazy long, but we got into some pretty meaty discussions on some policy issues that brought us to some split votes. We started with Public Hearings on three projects:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (34 South Dyke Road) No. 8087, 2019 and Development Variance Permit DVP00635 for 34 South Dyke Road
This project would see 16 townhouses built on a vacant lot on South Dike Road, including a swap of some lands to make the lot work better while providing the waterfront land for the City to enhance the dike, and continue the waterfront parks sue that is the big vision for that part of Queensborough.

There are a few variances needed here. The setback to the north is reduced 3 feet and the west side by a foot and a half. The Advisory Planning Commission, Design Panel and Residents’ Association all expressed support for the proposal. We received no written correspondence, and no-one came to speak to the Public Hearing.

Council moved to support the DVP and gave the Bylaw third reading.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1935 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7846, 2019 and Heritage Designation (1935 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7847, 2019
This application is to subdivide a largish lot on the corner of 20th Street and 8th Ave in the West End in exchange for giving permanent protection to the 1928 single family house on the corner. There would be some variances required: the resultant lots would be 66% and 50% of minimum size, with Floor Space Ratios 18% and 6% above the maximum. allowed. The Community Heritage Commission and Advisory Planning Commission reviewed and approved of the project.

I actually voted against this proposal. The idea that we are permanently preserving single family homes on the intersection of two arterial roads less than 5 minutes walking from a SkyTrain station in 2019 rubs me the wrong way. This is not the vision of sustainable, transit oriented development that I think of in the City. Unfortunately, our OCP leads applicants down this path – in that this type of preservation is exactly what our existing policy framework is encouraging, and the landowner here is perhaps being treated unfairly when I speak against the proposal at this late stage, but I could not support it.

We received no written submissions and no-one came to speak to the application at Public Hearing. Council voted to support the the project, and gave the Bylaws Third Reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 805 Boyd Street) No. 8140, 2019
The Government of BC wants to open a government cannabis store in Queensborough Landing. We have now approved 3 private cannabis store applications, have two more wading through the provincial security check process, and this would be the first government store approved.

This process has taken longer than most would like, including the City and the Province. At the UBCM meeting last week Premier Horgan admitted frustration that BC was not able to get their various regulatory changes and approvals done faster, but such is the nature of bringing in comprehensive changes. We received a single written submission in support, and two people came to speak in favour of the application. Council moved to support the Zoning Amendment, and gave it Third Reading and Adoption with only a single “high” joke. I’m proud of us for that.


We then had a single Opportunity to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit DVP00663 for 65 East Sixth Avenue (New
Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre)
The City itself has to go through formalizing the variances for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre replacement project, now that we have some certainty about the design. Though we are still not sure we will have the financial capacity to build the much larger facility that the competitive swimming community asked for, we are using that as the basis for our variances at this time.

The list of variances is not that long considering the uniqueness of the building. It includes building height (54 feet where only 30 feet is permitted), parking (We only have space for 422 cars, the zoning bylaw recommends 526), and the design of bicycle parking (we are building almost twice the requirement, but varying the design requirements to make it more appropriate for the building design). We had one letter of support and one member of the public came to express support for the reduced car parking and ample cycling space. Council moved to give ourselves these variances.


The following item was Moved on Consent:

Split Assessment through New Commercial Assessment Class
The way property taxes are calculated in BC is based on the assessed value of the property. The value of a property is based on “highest and best use”, not necessarily the current use, so in growing commercial areas the assessed value of even low-cost commercial lease property can be really high, with consequent impact on property taxes. New Westminster, like every other City in the lower mainland charges a much higher rate in commercial property taxes than we do on residential taxes. Businesses pay 3.5x as much property tax per $1,000 than residents do. And it is almost always the lease of the building – the small business in the building – that pays these property taxes, not the owner of the building. So small, independent business commonly cannot afford these triple-net leases, which is part of the reason you see more chain stores and national brands in new lease spaces. This is complicated by modern mixed-use zoning practices where it can be hard to separate residential value from commercial value in the same developable lot.

This is not a New West only problem, and the Province has been looking at creative ways to shift our property tax regulations to allow Cities to better support small independent businesses, and have received recommendations from an Intergovernmental Working Group on this. New Westminster’s BIAs have sent us a letter suggesting their support for these recommendations.

One of them is to separate the current use and “developable value” parts of the assessment, and charge a different tax on the latter which the city could set at anything from zero to a percentage under the full tax rate.

This is interesting, but I need to emphasize that any reduction in taxes to one property type will result in an increase in taxes to other property types. We can’t give businesses a property tax break without raising residential property taxes (except, of course by doing city-wide service reductions). The business community asking for tax reductions must be put into this context. The province has not made the regulatory changes yet, and this idea will have to get bounced off of the public a bit, and will need some financial analysis. Interesting, but not a slam dunk.


The rest of the items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre – Sustainability
Implementation and Certification Progress

A significant part in our City’s commitment to the Climate Emergency declaration is assuring the replacement of our largest corporate GHG point source is with as low-carbon a building as possible. We are pushing the envelope a bit here, and after some significant design and energy modelling work, it looks like we can do what no-one has yet done – build a 100,000+ square foot aquatic centre that meets the Canada Green Building Council “Zero Carbon Building” standard. That is pretty exciting.

The building will use carbon-free energy for all heating and cooling, for water treatment, air management and auxiliary energy needs. We are also hoping to add photovoltaics to the roof to produce 358kW of electricity – effectively tripling the City’s current Solar Garden photovoltaic capacity. This marks a major shift in how we build buildings, and will be a model for recreation centres in Canada.

Brewery District (Wesgroup Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
This is another application to do utility works at night, as has been a typical practice if daytime work would be expected to add too much road disruption or traffic chaos. Council actually had a long discussion about this, following some recent projects where we heard from residents not happy to be kept up at night by construction. I have started re-thinking these in my own voting, and am going to prioritize the peaceful sleep and livability of residents over the need for drivers to not be delayed while driving through New West. I suspect we will get grief for this, but Council in a split vote denied the application, meaning the applicant will need to adjust their works to change the night use schedule, or will need to do the work during the day.

Pop-Up Recycling Events
This is a report that updates on changes in our recycling systems in the City. As previously reported, the current recycling centre near Canada Games Pool will be inaccessible due to construction staging once the pool replacement project starts, so staff is looking at different ideas in how to use this as an opportunity to shift how we collect some of the harder-to-recycle materials that can’t go in our curbside collection system, like soft plastic and Styrofoam. At the same time, we can educate the community on the myriad of recycling options that already exist in New Westminster . Part of this strategy will be “pop up” recycling events on City lands in 2020 – where we can also have reuse and repair opportunities, with an emphasis on education of options, and to see what works. Far from “abandoning recycling”, the City is putting a bigger emphasis on the first two Rs (reduce and reuse) and will adapt our recycling options to fit the realities of the shifting recycling materials markets.

Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties – Review of Application Results
We give permissive property tax exemptions to some charitable organizations and community service agencies. These are “permissive”, because they are not required by provincial law like the regulatory exemptions given to Churches, but are up to Council to approve or not. Although there are a number of long-established recipients of permissive exemptions, the City has long had a practice of not awarding new ones. This is our annual report on the Bylaw we need to update every year listing the permissive exemptions.

Recently, however, there have been two significant expansions of Private Schools in the City, and we are still managing them as “permissive” exemptions. I have asked Council to have a review of policy around permissive exemptions for tuition-collecting private schools in the City.

Investment Report to August 31, 2019
We have about $191 Million in the bank in various reserve funds. Most is not cash we can spend, and it is not (as some may allege) in a vault at City Hall for us to roll around in. It is mostly in reserve funds that are earmarked for specific projects, like the Canada Games Pool replacement, or DCC funds set aside from development charges to pay for things like sewer and water and road upgrades those developments will cause us to build. Before we get all excited about that big number, a huge chunk of this is going to get spent over the next three years as we realize our aggressive capital program. Nonetheless, so far in this fiscal year we have made about $2.8Million on these investments.

We talked a few years ago about divesting our funds from fossil fuel industries, and took a resolution to UBCM a few years ago. The Municipal Finance Authority has net been excited about a fossil fuel divestment fund, though they have been tossing around an “ethical” fund, which is not really the same thing. That said, we have declared a climate emergency, and this is a new Council since the last time I kicked at this can, so I moved the following:

That staff report back to Council before the start of next financial year to determine what options for fossil fuel divestment are available to us, and outlining the process and implications of we moved our funds away from the MFA in the event they cannot provide a fossil-fuel free investment product to the City. This was supported by Council.


We then adopted the following Bylaws</b:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2019-2023) Amendment Bylaw No. 8141,
2019
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that updates our Financial Plan to reflect recent changes in revenue projections and capital spending was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement Bylaw (616-640 Sixth Street) No. 8131, 2019
This Bylaw that secures market-rental tenure for a new development in the Uptown that was approved back in the summer was Adopted by Council. Despite the gloom and doom predicted by the development community when the City took stronger measures to prevent renovictions, investors are still building new and much-needed rental stock in New Westminster.

And that was the work of the day

Climate Emergency

One of the big topics we discussed at Council last week was a report from staff entitled “Response to Climate Emergency”. This policy-rich, wonky, but still preliminary report had its profile raised by a variety of delegates coming to speak to Council, urging aggressive climate action. That many of the delegates represented generations of people who will be around and most impacted by the climate crisis was not lost to anyone in the room.

If you want to read the report, it is here (because of the way our Council agendas work, you need to scroll down to page 81 of that big, ugly agenda package). I want to summarize some of what is in there, and talk a little about what I see as the risks and opportunities ahead. When we declared a Climate Emergency, we were asking our staff to show us the tools we could apply if we want to act like it is an emergency and shift our emissions towards the Paris targets. Now it is up to Council to give them the authorization and resources to use those tools.

When New Westminster (or any local government) talks about greenhouse gas emissions, we talk about two types of emissions. “Corporate” emissions are those created by the City of New Westminster as a corporation – the diesel in our garbage trucks, the gasoline in our police cars, and the fossil gas used to heat water in the Canada Games Pool or City Hall. This is managed through a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy or CEERS. For the sake of shorthand, that is currently about 4,000 Tonnes (CO2equivilent) per year. “Community” emissions are all of the other emissions created in our community – the gas you burn in your car, the gas you use to heat your house, the emissions from the garbage that you and your neighbors toss out, etc. These are managed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan or CEEP. And again in shorthand they amount to more than 200,000 Tonnes (CO2equivelent) per year.

When Council supported the Climate Emergency resolution, it included the targets we want to hit for emissions reductions to align with the commitments that Canada made in Paris, and with the global objective of keeping anthropogenic climate change under 1.5C. This means reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. These targets are for both our Corporate and Community emissions.

Clearly, the City has more control over its corporate emissions. The two biggest changes will be in re-imagining our fleet and renovating our buildings. We can accelerate the shift to low- and zero-emission vehicles as technology advances. Passenger vehicles are easy, but electric backhoes are an emergent technology, and the various energy demands of fire trucks are probably going to require some form of low-carbon liquid fuels for some time. The limits on us here are both the significant up-front capital cost of cutting-edge low-emission technology, and the ability to build charging infrastructure. Rapidly adopting low- and zero-carbon building standards for our new buildings (including the replacement for the Canada Games Pool) will be vital here, but retro-fitting some of our older building stock is something that needs to be approached in consideration of the life cycles of the buildings – when do we renovate and when do we replace?

Addressing these big two aggressively will allow us some time to deal with the category of “others”. This work will require us to challenge some service delivery assumptions through an emissions and climate justice lens. Are the aesthetic values of our (admittedly spectacular) annual gardens and groomed green grass lawns something we can continue to afford, or will we move to more perennial, native and xeriscaped natural areas? How will we provide emergency power to flood control pumps without diesel generators? Can we plant enough trees to offset embedded carbon in our concrete sidewalks?

Those longer-term details aside, corporate emissions are mostly fleet and buildings, where the only thing slowing progress is our willingness to commit budget to it, and the public tolerance for tax increases or debt spending in the short term to save money in the long term.

Community emissions are a much harder nut to crack. Part of this is because the measurement of community emissions, by their diffuse nature, are more difficult. Another part is that a local government has no legal authority to (for example) start taking away Major Road Network capacity for cars and trucks, or to regulate the type of fuel regional delivery vehicles use.

We do have a lot of control over how new buildings are built, through powers given by the Provincial “Step Code” provisions in the Building Code. A City can require that more energy efficient building be built, recognizing that this may somewhat increase the upfront cost of construction. We can also relax the energy efficiency part in exchange for requiring that space and water heating and cooking appliances be zero carbon, which may actually offset the cost increase and still achieve the emissions reductions goals. The retrofit of existing buildings will rely somewhat on Provincial and Federal incentives (that pretty much every political party is promising this election), but we may want to look at the City of Vancouver model and ask ourselves at what point should we regulate that no more new fossil gas appliances are allowed?

Shifting our transportation realm will be the hard one. The future of personal mobility is clearly electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and shared vehicles. Somehow the Techno-optimists selling this dream fail to see what those words add up to: clean, reliable public transit. Yes, we are going to have to look at electrification of our private vehicle fleets, and getting chargers for electric vehicles into existing multi-family buildings is an economic and logistical barrier to complete adoption, but ultimately we need to reduce the number of motorized private vehicles moving through our City, because that is the only way we can make the use of alternatives safer, more comfortable, and more efficient.

Denser housing, more green spaces, better waste management built on the foundation of reducing wasteful products, and distributed energy systems linked by a smarter electricity grid – these are things we can build in the City that will get us to near-zero carbon. We can layer on resiliency of our systems and food security decoupled from fossil-fuel powered transglobal supply chains, but that is another couple of blog posts. If you are not getting the hint here, we are talking about transforming much of how we live our lives, because how we have lived our lives up to now is how we ended up in this emergency despite decades of seeing it coming.

The barrier to community emissions reductions is less about money and more about community drive / tolerance for change. Every time we (for example) take away 5 parking spots on 8th Street to provide a transit queue-jumping lane, it will be described by automobile reliant neighbours as the greatest indignity this Council ever imposed on residents. Building a separated bike lane network so our residents can safely and securely use emerging zero-carbon transportation technology like e-assist bikes and electric scooters will be vilified as causing “traffic chaos”, and opponents will somehow forget that “traffic chaos” has been the operating mode of New Westminster roads for 50+ years.

The questions will be: Do we have the political will to do what must be done? Will our residents and businesses, who overwhelmingly believe that climate action is necessary, be there to support the actions that may cause them some personal inconvenience, or challenge their assumptions about how their current practice impacts the community’s emissions profile?

The delegates who came to Council asked us to act, and I threw it back at them: they need to act. As helpful as constant reminders of the need to do this work are, we need to bring the rest of the community on board as well. We passed the Climate Emergency declaration, and now we have a toolbox we are ready to open. To some in our community still mired in denial, that toolbox looks like the Ark of the Covenant from the first Indiana Jones movie. How will we shift that perception?

Shit is about to get real. We need climate champions in this community to turn their attention towards educating and motivating their neighbours – the residents, business and voters of this community – that these actions are necessary and good. Political courage only takes us to the next election, real leadership needs to come from the community. Let’s get to work.

Council – Sept 9, 2019

It was an eventful meeting at New West Council on Monday, with some high points and some low ones. I’m going to hold off for a future post to talk about the two biggest events of the evening – a report on Climate Change Action and the conversation we had about specific reconciliation actions, so I can just get through the other business on the Agenda and get this already-epic blog post out without too much noodling on the writing.


We opened with an Opportunity for Public Comment:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2019-2023) Amendment Bylaw No. 8141, 2019
We are once again adapting our 5-year plan as we are required to do when changes cannot be absorbed in to the exiting plan, which requires and amendment bylaw that requires and opportunity for public comment. In this case, we are adding $1 Million to our 2019 Capital Program as we adjust what we are actually planning to get done and paid for this year.


We had one item of Unfinished Business:

616 – 640 Sixth Street (Market Rental): Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8131, 2019 – Consideration of Three Readings
This is the Housing Agreement to secure the market rental tenure of 40% of the units in the high rise development in Uptown that was approved at Public Hearing back in June. The units will be market-rental operated by a single owner, regulated by the Residential Tenancy Act, and this will be secure for “60 years or the life of the building, whichever is longer”.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Appointment to Access Ability Advisory Committee
One of our AAAC members had to retire, so we are naming another member.

Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Special Limited Study – Phase Two Completion
We are still adjusting the Heritage Conservation Area program in queens Park a couple of years after its implementation. We originally had a group of about 90 properties that fit in the grey area between (and I paraphrase, as there is probably more technical language to be used here) “definitely a heritage asset to be protected” and “too young to be heritage”. Back in June 2018, we moved 33 of these into the “non protected” category after evaluating their heritage merit. For the remaining 47, we are doing further investigation of development potential (i.e. what is the risk that the heritage value of the house will be destroyed through redevelopment within the existing zoning entitlement) and a condition assessment, and will make a decision in the fall about which houses will fall under protected or non-protected category. This report is basically a reporting out of the development potential study, which is also being sent to all of the impacted owners. More to come!

65 East Sixth Avenue (New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre): Development Variance Permit for Proposed New Facility – Consideration of Notice of Opportunity to be Heard
The City needs to apply for a Development Variance because several aspects of the planned replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre do not comply with the current zoning. The building (as planned) is too tall and has too few parking spaces, along with some design flexibility being sought to make the facility work better on its location.

This will come to an Opportunity to be Heard on September 30, c’mon out and tell us what you think.

Demolition Waste & Recyclable Materials Management Bylaw No. 7660, 2015 Compliance Update
You may not realize this, but much of the material generated when a building in demolished is recycled. The City has a program to encourage this, and initially about 47% of the demolitions meet the >70% recycled standard to receive the incentive. That number has slipped to about 30%. Some other cities have compliance rates of over 98%, and they have much higher deposit amounts (a stronger financial incentive) and a simpler process for processing the compliance. So the City is going to adjust its program to be more like the proven more successful ones.

Updated Council Remuneration Policy
This report describes the formal strategy we have adopted for future changes to how Council is paid. The next time Council salaries will be reviewed will be in 4 years.

719 Colborne Street: Rezoning for Secondary Suite and Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit – Preliminary Report
An owner of a single detached house in Glenbrook North wants to formalize a basement suite and convert part of their existing garage into a defacto laneway home. This will not require building new density, but will provide some more housing flexibility near a commercial node and immediately adjacent a school. This is a preliminary report, and the application would have to go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

34 South Dyke Road: Rezoning, Development Permit and Development Variance Permit for Townhouse Development – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
This is a proposal for a 16 – townhouse development in Queensborough that has been going through internal and external reviews for some time, and will be coming to a public Opportunity to be Heard in the near future, so I’ll hold my comments until that time.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Culture Forward Celebration
There is a one-day arts and culture festival being held on September 28th to invite people in to the Anvil Centre arts spaces and show off some of the arts culture and heritage offerings of the space. Think of it as an Arts Doors Open event, with music, performance art, sculpture and visual arts, with that special bit of tech new media art weirdness that makes the Anvil great. Should be fun!

Response to Climate Emergency
This is basically a report setting the direction of future work to come between now and the 2020 budget, and a re-commitment to the goals of the Climate Emergency declaration. I will write more about this in a follow-up post.

Draft Advisory Committee Policy
We discussed this last meeting, and staff have put together a draft policy to guide how we will change our Council Advisory Committees to make them work better and more efficiently. This means shifting how people are appointed, and assuring that committees have better defined mandates and workplans. This is a good start to making these important advisory committees more effective.

The Grant Funding Envelope 2020 and 2021
We are also making changes to our City Grant program to streamline it an (hopefully) make it work better for the many community partners we fund through cash and city services. This report sets the proposed budget for the next two years to help with our overall budgeting process. We are keeping the in kind services grants at the same level, and are increasing the cash grant envelopes a little bit to put the total planned grant envelopes for both 2020 and 2021 at just a bit under $1,000,000 per year.

Brow of the Hill Housing Co-Operative: Request for Funding
The City of New Westminster is lucky to have several Co-Op Housing developments built back when senior governments had proactive programs to encourage this form of development. Co-ops are a unique structure that provides a form of market ownership at below market values, because it strips the profit incentive out of ownership, and at the same time supports a portion of the property for subsidized non-market housing, and integrates the supportive and non-subsidized housing together to build stronger community. It is a form that brings the true “missing middle” housing form and bridges the gap between subsidized rental and market ownership. I don’t have the partisan inclination to get into the deeper details about why the program is no longer supported by governments (its treacherous and involves both Provincial and Federal Liberals demonstrating their lack of progressive values), but this type of housing should be supported by all levels of government.

One of the Co-ops in town is doing a major renovation, and as part of the work they had to apply for City permits and inspections and stuff, racking up a little more than $32,000 in fees. The Co-op provides 37 units of below-market housing, and they are asking that the City provide support to maintain those 37 units to a level equal to those permit costs. They are asking the City to provide this subsidy from our Affordable Housing Reserve Fund – a fund meant to support capital projects to provide affordable housing through partnerships. I cannot think of a better bang for the buck than supporting 37 units for less than $1000 each, representing only 1.5% of the total costs of the work, and am glad Council supported the request.

Proposal to Expand School Age Child Care Spaces in Queensborough
The childcare situation in Queensborough is reaching crisis levels. Though affordable childcare access is a problem across the region, most neighbourhoods of New West have availability much higher than the Metro Vancouver and Provincial averages, except Q’Boro, where the numbers are dismally low – less than half the spots per child as anywhere else in the City.

There is some longer-term relief coming with new Childcare spaces associated with development, but in the short term, the School District has some portables that they would be willing to contribute to a program. The City is being asked to provide $140,000 from our capital fund to do the required improvements of the portables, and we will act quickly in hopes to secure an operator so these spaces can be up and running as soon as next month. We are also planning to apply for a Child Care BC New Spaces Fund grant for another 37-space daycare on City lands, which will be more of a medium-term action.

Proposed Selection Process for Non-Profit Housing Providers of Below – and Non-Market Housing Units achieved through the Development Approvals Process
The City is working on an Inclusionary Housing policy – where we will take a greater amount of community contributions from new development and orient them towards the building of non-market housing as part of all significant new developments. One part of that is assuring that the non-market housing we are building is providing the type of housing that is most in need, and that we can find non-profit operators to provide that housing. So we are creating a transparent and easy-to-navigate process to connect not-for-profit operators with developers early in the process to assure the right kind of non-market housing is built for those operators.

Shared and Separate Community Areas: Policy Work Plan and Proposed Interim Guidelines
We are working on some policy guidance to inform the discussion that was had in the spring over mixed-tenure housing and buildings that have separate entrances for rental and strata portions. As we bring together an Inclusionary Housing Policy, this is going to be a more common occurrence. This is an early report the outlines the work staff will do to balance the operational needs of the buildings with social equity desires of the community. We will be working with the developers and (most importantly) the non-market affordable housing providers to figure out what works for them – if we create rigid rules that mean there are no operators willing to administer this housing, then there is little point in building it, and we can re-apply that community amenity value in other ways.

There is much more nuance to this discussion than the media-friendly “poor door” rhetoric, reflected by the fact there don’t appear to be any established best practices to learn from. Jurisdictions from New York City to Vancouver are struggling to make policy work around this, so I don’t expect we will find a magic solution quickly. But it is work the community wants us to do. More to come here, and we will need to have this discussion quickly because the last thing we want is to stop affordable housing from being built because of a lack of clear policy here.

Resident Permit Parking Application Process – Response to August 26, 2019 Delegations to Council
This is a follow-up to delegations that came to Council last meeting concerned that parking on Devoy Street has become problematic. There is a process for a neighbourhood to request permit parking, and staff have connected the neighbourhood with that process.

I want to note that every single house on this block has off-street parking, and many have back alley access and garages. I went by the location a few times over the last two weeks and my anec-data is that there was always ample curbside parking available when I observed the site, mid-day and at dinner time. That said, the site of McBride school is going to be a construction site soon, and that is going to put pressure on street parking, so things will get worse.

Aside from the access to personal free parking in front of their house, I heard at least two delegates expressed concern that parking on both sides of the street was resulting in poor visibility and making the situation less safe. I hope that will be addressed through the transportation plan for the new school at McBride, at least when the school is completed.

51 Elliot Street: Residential High Rise, Non-Market Housing and Not-for-Profit Child Care – Preliminary Report
This is a proposal for a new high rise development at the east part of Downtown, comprising 252 Strata units, 28 non-market rental suites and a not-for-profit daycare. It is fairly tall building, but there is a significant community amenity here. This is a preliminary report, with some work to do yet, including public consultation, so I’ll hold my comments for now.

1402 Sixth Ave: Life Safety Concerns and Tenant Displacement
Council discussed the details of the case of the tenants in the West End evicted because of life safety issues. Staff have been working to bring the landlord into compliance here, and Council moved to suspend the eviction for 120 days to give everyone a chance to find a resolution here.

Appointment to the Restorative Justice Committee
We had a change of representatives on the RJC. Moved!

Sports Hall of Fame Grant Request
We had a request for a small in-kind grant to cover room rental for an event at the Anvil Centre. There was a bit of strange discussion about this because the grant request was $200, and in-kind. This seems much below a threshold where the CAO should be bringing a report to Council for approval – it is waste of everyone’s time if staff don’t have the ability to make small decisions like this without Council. So we empowered staff to decide if this was a good idea.


We then had two pieces of Correspondence that resulted in motions:

United Way of the Lower Mainland email dated July 17, 2019 regarding how Municipalities can make a difference with United Way’s Period Promise campaign
The United Way is leading a province wide (national?) program to remove financial barriers to menstruation products. New West School District already took leadership by becoming the first in the Province to fund tampons and pads in schools, and the United Way is asking local governments to bring this idea to municipally-run public buildings like Libraries, Recreation Centres and parks facilities. Council moved the recommended resolution, which essentially asks staff to look into the implications and cost, and report back to us.

Sher Vancouver letter dated August 7, 2019 an Official Request for a Memorial for January Marie Lapuz
January Lapuz was a citizen of New West who was murdered in New Westminster in 2012. A community service organization for which she volunteered is asking that she be remembered in the City with some sort of memorialization. Council agreed that this was a good idea, but also recognized there needed to be a lot of details worked out, so we expressed support and decided we would connect with the organizers and determine what an appropriate path was.


Our Bylaws adopted were as follows:

Housing Agreement (228 Nelson’s Crescent) Amendment Bylaw No. 8142, 2019
This Bylaw edits the earlier one that secures a housing agreement for the Affordable Housing component of a new building at the Brewery District, clearly defining things like utility charges and access to amenity spaces. Council adopted it making it law.

Affordable Housing Reserve Fund Bylaw No. 8138, 2019
This Bylaw creates an official Reserve Fund for affordable housing programs to replace out old one – this one reflecting the policy changes adopted by Council on August 26. Same fund, just better driven by clear policy.

Building Bylaw No. 8125, 2019;
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8129, 2019;
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8133, 2019; and
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8134, 2019
All of these Bylaws are part of the update of the Building Bylaw we talked about at the August 26th meeting, to update the language to be compliant with changes in Provincial regulation and other timely edits.


Finally, we had two motions on the Agenda under New Business, one withdrawn and the other defeated. This report is already way too long, and this one is going to take some serious unpacking, so I’m going to make you wait for another follow-up post.

It was long night, not one of our longest, but definitely emotionally and intellectually taxing. But it’s good to be back!

Council – August 26, 2019

Summer is over! Well, not quite yet, but the August break is over and New West City Council was back into action with a fun-packed agenda:

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Evaluating the current state of Advisory Committees
New West has more advisory committees than most Cities – more than twice as many as average. This is both good and bad. The idea that we have so much citizen participation in our decision making can make for better decisions, but the downside is that all of these committees draw a lot of resources (staff time, volunteer effort) and too much committee review can slow down our ability to get things done. We need to assure the committees we have are working as effectively as possible to assure that tax money is being spent efficiently, and to assure our volunteer energy is not being wasted. We have never done a comprehensive review of our committees to know if we are getting the most value from them.

The City engaged a team of SFU Public Engagement experts to help us evaluate the effectiveness of these committees, as part of our larger Community Engagement Strategy. There were a variety of recommendations, leading with “Don’t let committees get stale; keep them relevant and valuable”. I’m not sure the current structure does this. To be frank, our current committees are an expensive way to receive engagement by a small, select group of people – people selected by Council, which results in an inherent bias (totally not exempting myself from this).

There will be more discussion of this in the meetings ahead, but Council generally agreed with the recommendations to 1) Reduce the number of committees through amalgamation; 2) Allow staff to review applications and recommend membership to Council instead of Council leading the selection process; 3) introduce annual Committee workplans; and 4) introduce nominal term limits for volunteers.

Affordable Housing Amenity Provision: Policy and Guidelines Bylaw for Three Readings
The City has a reserve fund for Affordable Housing that comes from three main sources: density bonus money we receive from high rise development in the Downtown, transfers from operations, and part of the revenue from those ugly digital advertising signs at the City gates. It has been used to fund small affordable housing projects like at 630 Ewen and 43 Hastings, and there is a little less than $2 Million in the fund right now.

This new Bylaw will essentially create some firmer guidelines about how this and future Councils can spend that money, based on recommendations for the Affordable Housing Task Force. There is A LOT here, and this is coming out of a lot of work by out Affordable Housing Task Force, and I cannot disagree with any of the recommendations made.

Introduction of New Building Bylaw: Including an Amendment to the Development Services Fees and Rates Bylaw (Schedule A), and Amendment to the Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw, and an Amendment to the Municipal Ticketing Information Bylaw – Bylaws for Three Readings
The City has a Building Bylaw that dovetails with the Provincial building code, which is being updated in various ways to reflect changes in the building code and City policy.

228 – 232 Sixth Street (la Rustica): Development Permit Application for a Mid Rise Multiple Unit Residential Development – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This property with the derelict buildings on it on 6th Street went through rezoning back in 2017, with a few of the neighbors in the adjacent building opposed, though the design was modified somewhat to reduce overlook and proximity issues. This DP application reflects some further minor changes to the design as it had to be modified to not impact a tree on the adjacent property that the neighbours would not agree to having removed.

It has been through Design Panel a few times, and was finally approved. As the building conforms with existing zoning and the modifications of the design since the rezoning approval are minor, this application does not need to go to further public consultation.

1111 Sixth Avenue (Wisdom Forest Early Learning Centre): Official Community Plan Amendment Section 475 and 476 Consultation Report
The owners of Shilo Church want to knock down the existing annex to the church, and build a new 4-story building that would house a retail spot, a significant childcare space (114 children), and a caretaker suite for the church. These uses do not fit with the existing OCP, and the part of the Church not being demolished is a protected heritage structure, so this building must be designed to be compatible with the goal of heritage restoration of the existing building. These two points mean this needs to go through the OCP process, So it needs to go to external review by First Nations, by the Regional District, etc. This will come to a Public Hearing in the fall, so I’ll hold my comments until then.

Cannabis Retail Locations: Public Operator Updates and Rezoning Application – Bylaw for Consideration of Readings
When Council went through our development of Cannabis Retail approval process, we admittedly missed the mark a bit in not recognizing that some of the fundamentals of the approval process would be different for the publicly-owned stores as they would for private stores. The public stores would have their own standards and processes regulated by the province that would supersede ones the City may put in place, and therefore a slightly different process for local approval would be good.

The process has been suitably revised for public store applications, and the received application for Queensborough Landing will go for Public Hearing on September 30, 2019. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Cross Connection Control Program
Keeping the poop out of the water is one of the primary jobs of City government, and probably the least appreciated (no-one mentioned poop in water during the last municipal election, did they?) probably because it is something we do pretty well here in the Lower Mainland.

Last year, the regulator of our water system advised the City (an others) that we must undertake and active “Cross Connection” system to assure that we are not getting back-flow contamination of our water system. There is no sign that this is a current problem, but Fraser Health is regulating this change, and we are required to comply. In short, we already had some measures to prevent cross connection built into our Waterworks Bylaw, but there is no current active program to assure that these requirements are maintained in real time. We require them during installations, but don’t go out and look to see if they are still operating in subsequent years. That’s going to change.

We are going to have to hire some staff to do this work, and it is going to cost, but that cost will covered by required inspection fees and fees for new connections to the water system, as required by how we are regulated to fund the Utility.

Soil Deposit and Removal Regulation Bylaw No. 8106, 2019: Rescind Second and Third Reading and Amend Bylaw Consideration of Readings
There was an administrative error in the recently-given-third-reading Soil Deposit and Removal Bylaw around how “invasive Species” was defined. It has been corrected, but requires we go back and re-do the Second and Third reading.

1935 Eighth Avenue: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation – Bylaws for Two Readings
This is a proposal to preserve a 1953 single family house on the corner of Eighth Street and 20th Avenue while subdividing the lot to build and infill house on the eastern half of the lot. This will go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.


The following items were Removed form Consent for discussion:

Proposed Key Directions Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy (CEERS)
This is the first half of the City’s response to the Climate Emergency. This will address our “corporate” greenhouse gas emissions – the stuff the City itself does. It will be followed up by a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (“CEEP”), but it is good to outline how we first plant to put our own house in order.

Our Climate Emergency declaration was not an empty gesture. We are setting our corporate greenhouse gas reduction targets to meet the Paris commitments, 45% below 2007 levels by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 85% by 2050 – while striving to have net zero emissions by 2050. And we are putting policy in place that we think will get us there.

I will write a bit more in a follow-up post about this, but we have three big Corporate actions planned: Changing our vehicle fleet and how it is used, changing how we heat our buildings and water inside them, and instituting an internal price on carbon for our corporate procurement. This last one is a wonky but very aggressive tool that I look forward to unpacking the details on, because it will show real leadership for a local government. Council voted to support these measures in concept, pending some implementation details.

228 Nelson Crescent: Housing Agreement Bylaw 8142 , 2019 for Three readings
One of the new buildings in the Brewery District is reserved for “secure market rental housing” by a Housing Agreement between the Developer and the City signed back in 2016. This Bylaw would amend that Housing Agreement to clarify some rules about who will pay property taxes (the owner of the building, not the tenants) and utilities (the tenants, not the owner), and secure access to the common amenity space for renters in the building. We approved the Bylaw for three readings.

Community Grant Policy
The City has been looking to update and streamline how it manages its various grant systems. Much like committees (above), New Westminster has one of the most generous community grant programs of all local governments in the Lower Mainland. We are not talking about reducing grant values, just doing the hard work of assuring that the process through which we award grants is fair, transparent, efficient and responsible.

The process proposed by the staff report has received very positive response from the grant-receiving community – more positive than expected, honestly, considering the potential political minefield that community grant processes can be. So kudos to the staff and volunteers in our community service groups who worked to bring this together.

Upper Twelfth Street: Processing of Development Applications
There has been some discussion about Upper Twelfth Street, and potential strategies to protect the unique retail area. There were also some mixed messages coming out of a recent workshop on the topic about what council wants to see happening here, and we have not really heard from the community about what the business goals are on upper 12th (this is one part of town where businesses are not particularly interested in supporting a business association or BIA, apparently).

Staffs was suggesting this uncertainty may require some policy work, and even suggested Council may want to freeze the intake of new rezoning of development applications in the area until we develop a stronger vision (or even update the relatively recent OCP at a neighbourhood level). I was not in favour of preventing or slowing changes for what could be a couple of years to this area while we figure out what we want to do with it. There is not a spate of applications, if Council does not want to approve an particular application, they can choose not to. In the end we agreed to maintain the status quo in a split vote, and deal with applications when they come.

Parking Utilization in Multi Unit Residential Projects
Parking is a discussion that takes a notably disproportionate amount of our time and energy in the City. We have a housing crisis, but by going to any Public Hearing you would assume we have a Parking crisis – that affordable, accessible, and convenient housing for cars is a bigger concern than the same goals for people.

On issue that came up recently is how allocate off-street parking is allocated in market and non-market rental housing. I question whether these practice we have (allowing owners to charge extra for off-street parking as part of our Housing Agreements) incentivized street parking, exacerbating the negative impacts of “free” street parking while underground garages that we require developers to build remain underutilized.

The primary tool to determine how much off street parking is built is the Zoning Bylaw, but until recently, we didn’t really have a performance measure to know if the Bylaw was causing us to build too much, too little, or just the right amount of parking. A March 2019 Regional Parking Study by Metro Vancouver showed parking is oversupplied in most multi-family housing region-wide, however, it is difficult to translate this directly to the local situation in New West at the neighbourhood level.

This answers my questions. We are probably building slightly too much off-street parking, and the incentive value of unbundling off-street parking is, on balance, higher than the cost of the increased load on street parking. A different management of on-street parking is a better way to address underutilized underground parking, and despite my reflex feelings about this, it makes sense to manage rental parking the way we do through Housing Agreements.

Cycling Connections to New Westminster Secondary School
The new High School is going to be receiving students next year, and (as raised by a HUB delegation back in July and my recent rant) this is an opportunity and an excuse for the City to review our active transportation connections to the school, because they are currently sub-optimal, and we don’t want them to get worse.

There are three essential issues here:
1:A safe cycling access to the Cross-town Greenway at 7th Ave will be built that goes via Moody Park. This is a great connection that the city needs and will serve long-term, though we may get more of a short-term solution as we still have some detail to work out about land between Massey Theatre and 8th Street that the City doesn’t own (see below).

2: As great as it would be to also have a safe separated cycling connection along 6th Street, It is clear that 6th is where we need to prioritize pedestrian space and supporting the frequent bus network. A lot of students access this school by transit. As the lanes work now, it is hard to design a separated bike rout that does not impinge on safe pedestrian space or significantly impact the bus lanes operation through there, so I am happy to support those priorities here. To improve the pedestrian experience, there will be a pedestrian-controlled mid-block crosswalk in 6th Street across from the School, and a new full signalized intersection mid-block on 8th Avenue.

3: The current school is going to be knocked down, so we cannot provide safe routing through that construction site until that is done, but we are working to assure than a paved connection onto the Dublin Greenway directly from the new school across the memorialization space is preserved and implemented as soon as the school demolition is complete.

I am satisfied that we will have safe connections, even if they will not be optimal at the time of opening.

Environment Advisory Committee: Single-use Item Reduction Recommendation
Our Environment Advisory committee is asking Council to look at banning some single-use plastic items, and even Styrofoam. Some cities are taking these action, with mixed success. The City of Victoria’s plastic bag ban ended up being struck down by the courts, and will have to go through approval from the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

Meanwhile, the Province is currently engaging the public on this, and honestly this is a topic that falls 100% under their jurisdiction. For this reason, several Cities are taking resolutions to UBCM to ask the Provincial government to exercise its authority here and implement a plastic control strategy that addresses single use plastics, plastic waste management, and still address the legitimate needs of the disabled community and other people for whom the use of some single-use plastic items may be an equity issue.

I think we are better served finding out where the province is going with this, actively advocating the province to better regulate plastics use and disposal, and am hoping that New West can support motions to this effect at UBCM. We moved to table any action until the Provincial report is released in the fall, and we will have a better idea of the legislative landscape we are entering, and to advocate the Province to listen to the disabled community and other marginalized groups in their single use plastics policy work.


Finally, we adopted the following Bylaws:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8136, 2018
The updates to the 5-year financial plan to account for revenue projections and other small changes that we reviewed last meeting were adopted by Council.

New Westminster Aquatics and Community Centre Temporary Borrowing Bylaw No. 8079, 2019
The Bylaw that allows us to borrow a LOT of money to build a new pool and community centre was adopted. This is going to be the #1 budget driver for the City for the next 5 years, so let’s hope we get some help from senior governments and don’t have to borrow as much money as we are authorized.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8113, 2019 (315 and 326 Mercer Street)
This Zoning Bylaw that was a couple of missing pieces in the Eastern Node development plan in Queensborough was adopted by Council.

Parks and Recreation Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 8137, 2019
This Bylaw that supports the annual adjustments in Parks and Recreation fees in the City (still the lowest in the Lower Mainland for most facilities – get out there an recreate!)was adopted by Council.

And that was enough business for a warm Summer night, see you after Labour Day! Grab a bit more summer before its gone!

Council – July 8, 2019

Our last Council meeting until the end of August happened on July 8. So let’s get through this report together, and we can all move on to enjoying our summers. We had lots of cool stuff on the agenda, starting with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Five Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8136, 2018
The City is required by law to have a 5-year financial plan that as closely as possible estimates our finances for the next 5 years. When reality varies from those estimates in a significant way, we need to update the 5-year plan.

The changes here are exactly what you might expect as our finance folks try to estimate future costs and revenues. For example, a few of the capital projects we were hoping to get done in fiscal 2018 were delayed, meaning the DCC accounts and other places from which we drew the money to pay for them need to be updated to reflect that we didn’t spend this money this year, and that we plan to spend that money next year instead. There are also things like estimating the value of tangible capital assets (things like pipes in the ground and sidewalks) that developers are supposed to deliver the City through development, as it is hard to put a cost to those until the development happen and the assets are actually in the ground and start depreciating. Municipal finance is exasperating and never ending in its reporting.

This is somewhat arcane stuff, but we are required to give the public an opportunity to comment on the changes, so did so, and not surprisingly we received no correspondence or public comment.


We then went into a couple of Staff Reports for action:

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre – Design Update
The project team continues to work on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre, now acronymically called the NWACC (“NEW-ak”) – but more on that in the next item in the Agenda. The conceptual design was passed through the New West Design Panel, generally to good reviews, with a few suggested improvements. We are starting to now have a clearer understanding of what the facility will look like, some of the shape driven by site constraints and the programming needs of the various elements, but also responding to energy efficiency, buildability, and the long public consultation around how the public wants this new Community Centre to work. We have our Budget Bylaw in place, the next task is to do some more accurate cost estimating now that major design components are agreed upon, and any time that Senior Governments want to announce infrastructure grants, that would be great!

New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre: Process to Develop Facility Name
The project team is also shifting some of the Public Consultation energy away from programming and design elements now and talking about branding. What are we going to call this place? Obviously, Canada Games Pool does not make sense, as the new project will not be a legacy of the Games like the old one was. And Centennial Community Centre was named to mark the Centennial of New Westminster or Canada or something.

There has already been some consultation on this, and to answer your first question, we will not be naming it Pooly McPoolface. There is a strong community interest in using this first major infrastructure project in the City after launching our reconciliation strategy to assure there be some components of the facility reflecting Indigenous cultures of the area, both as programming elements and in the design. I suspect that this will also be reflected in the naming. But I do not want to pre-judge the process too much, and we will strike a Facility Naming Advisory Panel to guide the community through this. We named Councillor Das to that Panel.

Riverfront Park (660 Quayside Drive) – Preferred Design Concept
The Bosa Development project on the waterfront includes the delivery of a 2-acre public park as an extension of the existing Pier Park, and a continuation of the waterfront esplanade between Pier Park and the River Market. There has been some public consultation on design concepts for this space, which is being reported out now.

This park is a few years out yet, but preliminary designs need to be considered as part of the engineering work for the underground parkade that will exist under the park. Things like structural loads, air vents, stairs and such need to integrate between the underground and the park. So the City led three Open Houses, had pop-up booths at a Fridays on Front and the Farmers Market, held a stakeholder workshop, and went through a few Council advisory committees. We do a lot of consultation.

The draft models show a combination of active and passive spaces, a mix of hardsurface and green space, and a lot of emphasis on flow through the space. Altogether it is a great compliment to the design principles of the existing Pier Park. There is a LOT in this report, almost overwhelming all of the detail here, but I really appreciate the consideration that went into this work, and the public who took time to help our staff come up with concepts.


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2019: Committee Rescindments
Ongoing committee shifts, as one community volunteer took a job in the City that prevented her from continuing to serve on a committee, another changed jobs, and a third moved out of town.

1209 – 1217 Eighth Avenue: Infill Townhouses – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This project would see 22 townhouses built where there are currently 5 single family detached homes. The project had a Public Open House (attended by 15 people) and went to the Residents’ Association (a meeting attended by 9 people), was supported (with some recommendations) by the Design Panel and APC, and had a Public Hearing on May 27, 2019. Council moved to approve the Development Permit.

I am whole-heartedly in support of this type of development in New West. This represents 22 new family-friendly homes that will be priced lower than the single detached houses they replace, but provide space and amenity appropriate for medium-sized families. This is the “missing middle” that is so lacking in New Westminster, while also bringing more people into the 12th Street business district to make that area more vibrant. The scale is sensitive to the houses already there, but also points us to a direction where more people can afford to live in size-appropriate housing in New West.

Pedestrian Clearance Interval Times – Best Practices and Implementation Plan
We had a presentation for the Walkers Caucus last year concerned that some of our pedestrian walking signals did not provide sufficient crossing time for some of our more vulnerable pedestrians, which seemed at odds with our Master Transportation Plan principles of placing pedestrians and vulnerable road users at the top of our transportation hierarchy. Staff (with the help of a co-op student project) determined that yep, we have historically used a crossing speed assumption based on older data, and that we could do better.

So staff is beginning a program of re-programming many of our pedestrian-activated crossings to assume pedestrian crossing speeds about 20% slower than we currently do, and that we should expect more pedestrians to clear the crossing before the “flashing hand” or yellow signal activates to improve pedestrian comfort and safety. This especially will reduce conflict between pedestrians and drivers turning through the intersection while only minimally increasing the stop timing for drivers.

Response to HUB New West Delegation to Council (June 10, 2019)
Staff are responding in this Report for Information to the HUB presentation to Council back on June 10th, where HUB listed what they see as the biggest priorities to improve cycling infrastructure in the City. Essentially, staff are thanking HUB for their input and aside from assuring that the concerns raised are entered into the record through this report, are also reiterating that HUB is an important partner in the design and implementation of cycling infrastructure on the City, and will continue to be consulted as they have been in the past as we set priorities.

I think I’ll say more about this in a follow-up blog post, now that it is summer and I have time.

Transportation Development Review – New Fee
When the City reviews proposed developments, one of the many tasks it undertakes is to evaluate the transportation impacts of the project. We do this because “traffic” and “parking” are the most common concerns raised by the public about every project or any shape of size everywhere (except new single family homes, which are actually the cause of more traffic and on-street parking problems, but I digress). So it is incumbent on us to be informed of those impacts before we approve or deny any project, and for staff to work with a developer to determine if impacts can be mitigated through a change in design or through engineering changes on the City side.

This work is getting more complex and time consuming, partially because of the number of developments staff are tasked with reviewing, and partly because our new Master Transportation Plan requires higher levels of pedestrian and other active transportation infrastructure. As with most review of private development, we expect the developer to pay for it on a cost-recovery basis, and this report is asking for a new fee to be attached to new development applications to cover this extra cost – essentially to pay for the staff we need to do this work so property tax doesn’t have to.

Proposed Speed Hump Policy
Our transportation department has brought back a proposed policy around where and how we will install speed humps in the event that a resident raises the request. In the past, this was an ad-hoc process based on volume of complaint, but this is not an equitable way to manage infrastructure and it isn’t the most efficient way to use our transportation funds. This came to Council in the spring, and we asked that it be reviewed based on two concerns: the sense that put the emphasis on “homeowner” consultation and the way that would emphasize improvements in single family neighbourhoods over that in areas with more rentals, and the sense that engineering evaluation of the need/benefit should not be subordinate to community demand, but should either support or not support it.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2019 – 2022 Strategic Plan – Vision, Core Values and Priority Areas and Key Directions
While the rest of City business has been banging along, Council has been working with staff on Strategic Planning since the election last fall. I am glad to be able to share the preliminary parts of this work, with more detail to come after the summer.

I think it is clear we are an activist Council, we are all here because we want to get things done, and want to continue to build on the leadership this City has shown in housing, in addressing inequality, in improving the livability of the community. I think the big push this coming term will be from the addition of Climate Action and Reconciliation to this workload.

Frankly, New Westminster is still a smallish city despite our very big-city dreams. We have 72,000 residents who want the services and amenities of a much larger City, which means that much of our work here is about setting priorities. My experience through our strategic planning was a struggle to reduce the number of priorities my Council colleagues will attest my common use of the phrase “if you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing”.

So with this preliminary report, I just want to emphasize the Vision and Value Statements, and the 7 Key Directions. These should guide how the Council approaches decisions over the term, and if you want to push Council on a topic, it might be worth your time to read this and determine how your specific interest keys into these key directions – it will make your delegation more compelling and will make it easier for the Council to say YES to your idea. There are the principles we are holding ourselves accountable for. Use that!

Front Street and Begbie Street Intersection (Pier West Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The portion of Front Street behind Hyack Square was ripped up during utility servicing works to support the Pier West project needs to be repaved. They want to do this work at night to reduce the impacts on traffic, and are asking for a construction Noise Bylaw Exemption.

Demonstrating how dangerous blanket statements by elected officials are, I stated last meeting that I would no longer vote for night time noise exemptions when their only interest is to reduce the impact on through-traffic, arguing that our residents’ ability to sleep is more important to livability than regional commuters’ ability to have a less-impeded drive through New West. And here I am in the very next meeting concerned about ongoing access impacts on the River Market from surrounding projects and realizing there may be exceptions to even this rule. The traffic situation around the River Market and Quayside drive has been challenged quite a bit over the last year, and will be for the next year or two with the new project to the east of the Market.

Governance is a funny thing.

616 – 640 Sixth Street (Market Rental): Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8131, 2019 – Consideration of Three Readings
This project recently given Third Reading by Council requires a Housing Agreement – that is an agreement with the City that the promised 95 secured market rental suites will be operated as rentals for 60 years or the “life of the building”, and will be owned by a single entity for that term, who will manage the rental operation. This agreement is secured with a legal covenant between the city and the Owner.

I opened up discussion on what is usually a simple process here because I want to talk about parking in secured market rental buildings. There has been increased demand for street parking around some of our recent market rental buildings, and we have had issues with parking allocation in some of the secured rental buildings in Victoria Hill, and I wanted to clarify what policy guidance we have around parking in secured rental, be it market or non-market.

If the owner of a secured market rental building charges for parking above what regular rent is, then that is an incentive for a renter to save that $100 or more a month and park on the street, impacting their neighbors and businesses, and creating the impression that we are not building enough underground parking. In neighbourhoods where we have permit parking, we charge much less than this for street parking permits for our residents ($15.year) than they would pay for a month underground. I think the thing none of us want to see is streets saturated with cars parking for free and underground garages sitting relatively empty – so I want to be sure we are not creating economic incentives towards this.

One of the principles in our housing agreements is that “off-street vehicle parking and storage be made available to tenants at a reasonable cost”. I am asking Staff to bring back a bit of a policy analysis about what that “reasonable” cost is, how we determine it, and whether there is a public policy reason why we don’t insist that parking be provided as part of rent. We tables the Housing Agreement until next meeting, hoping to get that feedback first.

268 Nelson’s Court (Brewery District Building 7): Development Permit Application for a Proposed High Rise Mixed Use Development – Consideration of Development Permit Issuance
This DP is for building 7 of the Brewery District project – a 32-story tower that has 257 strata units, 52,000 sqft of office, a 9,600 sqft daycare, and 4,600 sqft of retail, as per the existing zoning entitlements. That said, there is an active rezoning for this site that would not change the shape or form of this building, but could shift the condo portion to market rental in exchange for changes in shape and form of other buildings. This is a little strange, but at this point we are NOT evaluating that rezoning, only the form and character of this building, whether it becomes strata or rental is a conversation we will have later.

Participation in Regional Recycling Depot – Public Information Update
The City is committed to taking part in a regional recycling facility near the New West / Coquitlam border in partnership with the Tri-Cities when it opens some time in late 2020. Around that time (and subject to some construction timing) we are no longer going to operate the recycling centre next to the Canada Games pool, because that site is going to be part of the construction project of the NWAAC. Despite some of the hyperbole you may read online, this doesn’t mean the City is abandoning the idea of recycling glass, Styrofoam or soft plastics. Instead, we are going to look at more creative ways to make recycling these materials work for residents, especially those without access to cars, and the >90% of New West residents who don’t use the current recycling yard.

We have at least another year to work on any transition plans we may need to assure residents have access to the recycling they need. Part of this is obviously pointing out the recycling options people already have access to (there are several places in New West other than the current recycling centre that take glass, plastics and Styrofoam!) and part of it is identifying the gaps in the recycling system and ways the City can creatively address them. Some of the operational constraints we are dealing with (TIL: the corporate entities that take our recycling materials away will not accept materials from unstaffed recycling stations) are daunting, and the entire region’s recycling system is under strain right now because of global economic conditions and the collapsing market for recycled materials. I can almost guarantee you that the City’s costs (and therefore your cost) for recycling are going up significantly in the coming years, and we are looking for ways to address that.

I know change is hard for some people, but this system needs to change to be sustainable. We can look at this as an opportunity for the City to improve how it provides recycling, and for citizens to think about their own actions around consumption and taking responsibility for your waste stream.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw
Every year, Parks and Rec staff review the fees for their various programs, and make adjustments. The main drivers of cost for our programs are wages of the staff who provide those services (our collective agreement with union staff have a 2% CPI increase this year) and inflation (about 2% this year). We also adjust to assure our fees are representative of regional “market value’ for such services. No fees are going up more than 5% this year, and most are either staying the same or increasing much less an 5%.

As was promised during the last election, we are expanding our “low cost” programs, like $2 Public Skates and some $2 swims and fitness admissions for CGP, so in these senses, some fees are going down this year.

There are some facts buried in this report that are worth calling attention to, and as a City we don’t celebrate enough. New Westminster has the lowest ice use fees in the Lower Mainland – we charge Minor Hockey users 22% to 44% less than the average across the region. Our swim and skate fees are all below the regional average, and our playing field rentals are well below regional average. Use of our recreation services are a bargain in New West, so get out there and recreate!

Community Heritage Commission (CHC) Recommendations to Council
The Community Heritage Commission made a few recommendations to Council, and we moved to accept the Staff responses – mostly “we are already doing this”, but these will all be things brought back to Council as part of further work, so let’s see where it goes.


We bumped a few Bylaws along, including the following Adoptions:

Housing Agreement (228 Nelson’s Crescent) Amendment Bylaw No. 8135, 2019
This is the Housing Agreement that secures Market Rental use for the building at 288 Nelson Crescent that we needed to amend to make CMHC happy with the language, as discussed on June 24th. Council moved to adopt it.

Road Closure (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8093, 2019; and
Zoning Amendment (Queensborough Eastern Neighbourhood Node) Bylaw No. 8092, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the road closure in Queensborough that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1002 – 1004 and 1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8117, 2019;
Heritage Designation (1002 – 1004 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8118, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (1006 – 1008 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8119, 2019
This is the HRA and designation Bylaws for those two brick duplexes in the Brow of the Hill, addressed at Public Hearing last week, where no-one came to speak to the applications, and no-one on Council voted against the issuing of Third Reading. One Councilor voted against Adopting these Bylaws for no articulated reason after supporting the project every step until now, so read into that for what it is. The rest of Council voted to support the Adoption.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8120, 2019; and
Heritage Designation (632 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8121, 2019
These are the Bylaws that empower the HRA and heritage designation of a single family home in Glenbrook North that were subject to a June 24th Public Hearing. Now adopted and the Law of the Land.

Zoning Amendment (1209-1217 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8099, 2019
This Zoning Amendment Bylaw supports Rezoning a few single family lots just off 12th Street to build 22 Family-friendly Townhouses, and was Adopted by Council.

Subdivision and Development Control Amendment Bylaw No. 8128, 2019
This Bylaw updates the Bylaw that regulates how new developments hook up to some city Utilities to make sure they are meeting bigger City and Regional goals around sustainability of the utilities. It was adopted unanimously by Council.


Finally, we had two items of New Business:

Motion: Council Meetings – Efficiencies, Councillor Trentadue

Therefore be it resolved that,
Council asks staff to report back on efficiencies that Council can consider to make our meetings more efficient therefore ensuring that all members of the Community and members of Council have an opportunity to speak.

Efficiencies to be included but not limited are:
• consideration of time limits for Council members comments and questions
• limiting the number of times a Councillor might comment, unless with new Information

We have been having long meetings, with long agendas, and we don’t necessarily use our time all that efficiently. It isn’t just Council time, but it is staff time (which is expensive), and public time (which tries the patience of even the most diligent Council watcher). It also results in council making decision late in the evening when we may not be our sharpest, and it results in items further down the agenda not seeing the scrutiny or open discussion that items at the top of the agenda get. That’s not a model for good governance.

We have not had a serious look at our Council Procedures Bylaw since we moved away from Committee of the Whole early in my first term and put all of our regular business on the public meeting agenda, and it might be worth looking at what other Cities do to make sure the conversation and deliberation are fulsome, but that speaking space is equally distributed and provides for a more succinct and efficient meeting.

Council moved in a split vote to support this after a lengthy deliberation, natch.

Motion in response to Reclaiming Power and Place, Councillor Nakagawa and Councillor Johnstone

Therefore be it resolved that
A the City of New Westminster affirm the report’s findings that the actions of
governments have constituted genocide; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the New Westminster Police Board to respond to the Calls to Justice, specifically 9.1 through 9.11, and request that they champion and lead the establishment of a regional police task force to address the Calls to Justice; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon the Prime Minister and the Member of Parliament for New Westminster to respond to the Calls to Justice that require action on the part of the federal government of Canada; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon Premier of British Columbia and the New Westminster Members of the Legislative Assembly to respond to the Calls to justice that require action on the part of the provincial government; and

That the City of New Westminster formally call upon New Westminster School Board to respond to the Calls to Justice that refer to public education, specifically 11.1 through 11.2; and

That the New Westminster Restorative Justice Committee be called upon to provide recommendations to Council and/or the provincial court system to inform a local approach to the Calls to Justice that refer to the court system; and

That the Calls to Justice be incorporated into the City’s reconciliation work.

I will write more about this in a follow-up post, because it is a topic deserving of its own space, but short version is that having read the reports and recommendations that came out of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, there is clear direction that cities should take, and we want New Westminster to take those actions. We are relatively early adopters here (I think only Winnipeg and Saskatoon have taken similar actions), but I hope this is an area where we can show regional leadership. More to come here.

And that was a wrap for the spring session! Many Ask Pats in the queue, so I will be blogging in the break, between summer vacations, trips to the Kootenays or Saturna to visit mamily, Music by the River, Fridays on Front, Columbia StrEAT Foot Truck Fest, Uptown Live, Pride Street Fest, and whatever bike rides the Fraser River Fuggitivi have organized for me. Enjoy the season, folks.

JUNE 24 PUBLIC HEARING (PART 3)

The June 24th Public Hearing had a lot of items on a diverse set of topics. I covered most of them in this post and this post. The last item was a new development project in Uptown:

Zoning Amendment (616 and 640 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 7997, 2019
This proposal would see a 29-story mixed-use building built in Uptown. This is the first high rise development (indeed the first development of any scale), approved in the Uptown in a decade – since Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh were on the Council! The proposed building has 145 Market strata units and 95 secured market rental units. All would meet the City’s Family Friendly Housing requirements as far as 2- and 3-bedroom suites. There would also be more than 12,000 square feet of commercial space in the three-story podium.

The project has evolved quite a bit since it was first proposed a couple of years ago, including an increase in rental units, and a changed shape and form of the building to make the pedestal 3 stories instead of the originally-proposed 5 stories, which is a significant improvement to the street presence of the building and supports a more human-scaled street.

The Design Panel and Advisory Planning Commission reviewed and approved the project, and the two adjacent Residents Associations also expressed no opposition. The public open house had more mixed responses, with a significant number of direct neighbours opposed for the reasons you would expect: loss of views, adjacency to their building, construction impacts and traffic. Always traffic. We received 44 written submissions, the vast majority of them supporting the project.

Some were anticipating a large and fractious Public Hearing on this project due to a directed and active social media campaign against it. For the first time in my experience on Council, an anonymous person actually purchased Facebook ads (laden with dishonest and disingenuous rhetoric) in an attempt to rally people in opposition to the project. Surprisingly, the people leading that campaign decided not to show up at the Public Hearing. Instead, several neighbours did come to express concerns about the project while and a few people spoke in favour, so I want to go through a bit of what I took from their delegations.

The issue of pedestrian safety on Princess Street is an issue I take seriously. Although using the term “congestion” to describe Princess Street may be out of scale with other streets, I agree that there is a need to improve the pedestrian experience in this location, mostly because there are a lot more pedestrians using that space than was probably anticipated back when the Royal City Centre mall was designed. A strange design choice back then had the loading bay end of the mall across the street from the main entrance to several residential buildings, and the single mid-block pedestrian crossing is not well marked or located where many users would choose to cross. Making the Greenway on 7th Ave less safe (by creating another conflict-zone driveway crossing immediately adjacent to a significant intersection) is not the solution, improving to Princess is, and I look forward to seeing what those changes could look like.

There were some typically hyperbolic moments in the Public Hearing delegations. A person who is not a Professional Engineer represented himself as a Professional Engineer then raised frankly bizarre concerns about impacts on the Telus tower (200 feet away) and other fanciful geotechnical anxieties. A delegate suggested that 327 parking spaces are designed to accommodate 480 cars. We heard we live in the “the most congested City in Canada” and the suggestion that this one building will “destroy everything about the City”. I recently visited Hong Kong, and I can say with complete confidence that one residential tower at FSR under 7 approved per decade does not make New Westminster indistinguishable from Hong Kong. But the Public Hearing is ultimately about arguing rhetoric rather than about a solemn testing of evidence, which challenges the idea that this process is meant to be “semi-judicial”.  Some day I will rant at greater length about this.

The issue of separate entrances for the Market Rental and Strata components of the building did raise some concerns in the community and at Council. I challenge the contention that this represents “poor doors”, the pejorative applied to separate entrances when included in projects in New York or London where market units are combined with non-market (affordable or otherwise subsidized) units. This proposal does not even include subsidized or low-income housing, but is all market rate housing.

The City has some policy work to do here, as we are working on Inclusionary Zoning policy, and the subject of how to integrate market and non-market housing forms and address shared or separated amenities is an important one. Especially as BC Housing and other non-profit housing providers – organizations absolutely required to get on board if we hope to make non-market housing viable – have clearly stated that shared amenities and entrances with Stratas creates operational and management issues for the providers of affordable housing. These issues were, unfortunately, conflated by some delegates at this Public Hearing, resulting in some confusion in the public (and, indeed on Council) about the issue.

The issue of class segregation and fairness of zoning decisions was raised in a more compelling way by one delegate in opposition to this project because (and I am paraphrasing a 5-minute long delegation) he felt it didn’t do enough to address the housing crisis. Why not all rental? Why not affordable rental on this site? And why is this 240 units of housing OK if this council would not approve even the most modest infill density proposals one block to the east?

In the end, this is about building housing. Supply is (as we often hear) not the entire answer to the housing affordability crunch, but choking off supply will definitely not improve the situation. Still, no single project can be expected to provide every solution to housing;  much like the Ovation project downtown will provide one type of supportive housing, this will bring much-needed Purpose Built Rental to a part of town that has oodles of services, but has not seen any new housing in a decade. It is not lost on me that almost 100 market rental units are being committed to weeks after we had Landlord BC and UDI come to a New West Council meeting to tell us that our aggressive renoviction prevention measures were going to cause purpose built rental building to grind to a halt in the City. The housing crisis and recent market shift have caused hyperbole on all sides, but as a City Council we need to be driven not by reacting to hyperbole, but by solid, defensible housing policy. I am confident that this is an area where New Westminster is still leading the region.

The delegate who was an uptown business owner, and the Uptown BIA through their letter of support, showed that they feel more residential density in the neighbourhood is a good thing for the Uptown community. the developers of this property are long-time New Westminster property owners, locals interested in building housing for their community and for the long-term. More people living in places where they can support local businesses, more people within a walk of their daily needs and living on a Frequent Transit Network, these represent the goals of our Official Community Plan, and the vision for New Westminster in the decades ahead.

Council voted 6-1 in favour of supporting the project, and I was one of the 6.