The Booth

People who follow my exploits (Hi Mom!) know I have been running this webpage for several years, and not too long after I first got elected as a City Councillor, I added an “Ask Pat” button to it. Through this, people can send me questions about the City, and I try my best to answer them. Recognizing that not everyone reads my Blog, I decided to take Ask Pat analogue a little while ago; hence the Lucy Booth.

(Credit where credit is due: Hayley Sinclair is convinced this was her idea, but I am pretty sure the original inspiration was JJ Lee’s “Sartorial Advice” booth from a few years ago, it just took me a long time to put this into action).

Having set this up in various places around town over the last few months, the response is pretty fun. However, last weekend’s Pride Street Fest was the most active booth location yet, with more than 100 questions being asked, most of them answerable, some even by me. Examples? (shortened in both question and answer for the sake of brevity)

Q: What is the long-term plan for the QtoQ Ferry?
A: We will see how the ridership on this year’s Pilot goes, and will work with senior partners to help close a funding gap. I hope we can continue to run it, because it is an important transportation link!

Q: Is the rental building at *00 block of *th street turning into Condos?
A: No. We do not permit the conversion of residential rental to condo in the City, and we would hear about it if that was happening.

Q: What is the smallest thing?
A: The Planck Length (*turns out I was only kinda right here, as is to be expected whenever anyone involves quantum physics).

Q: Is the City developing Glenbrook Ravine?
A: No. The Ravine is one of the few natural areas left in the city, and is an important park and habitat asset. A large part of it was preserved permanently as part of the Victoria Hill agreement. No-one has proposed buildings in the ravine to Council, and I cannot imagine Council ever agreeing to do this.

Q: (from a ~9 year old girl) Why does my big brother always bug me?
A: Probably because he is jealous of you! That’s why I bugged my big sister! But don’t worry, I grew out of it.

Q: Do you agree with a 10-lane pool?
A: Yes, and we are working on a grants to help pay for it and the increased deck space and other additions to the base plan for the CGP replacement that Hyack Swim Club asked for – Contact your MLA and MP to put in a good word for the pool, and help us secure those grants!

Q: What is going to happen with Marijuana Dispensaries in October?
A: The City will permit cannabis retail in a limited way as soon as the federal laws are in place, I suspect it will be limited to a few locations in the short term, and probably won’t arrive until Christmas at the earliest, mostly because of the complicated process we need to go through with Zoning and Business License regulations. It’s coming, and we are going to be ready.

Etc., etc.

Both serious and funny questions aside, there was one theme I heard a few times that was, frankly, the hardest question to answer:

Q: What are you doing about housing?
It is hard because I know any truthful answer I provide is not going to help. I can talk about the City investing in several affordable housing projects (it isn’t enough), about us working to bring in more purpose built rental (it is increasingly unaffordable), about our protecting the affordable rental we have by preventing demovictions (but are hand-tied somewhat when it comes to renovictions). I can say, honestly, we are doing all we can, and are doing arguably more than any other municipality in BC; but it is still not enough to fix the problem. We are advocating to senior governments for help, and it is starting to trickle in, but after 15+ years of inaction, it isn’t fast enough. This answer is hard, because I know the people asking me are scared and feel helpless, and I know my answers will not help them feel more secure. Empathy feels hollow when people are suffering, because it isn’t enough.

I’m working on a blog post right now that digs a little deeper into this topic.

Have questions? You can send them to Ask Pat, but recognize I am really busy these days with Campaign stuff, and it may take a while before you get an answer. It will be more immediate if you see a little red booth set up, and come and talk. If you ask a question, you may also get a button:

ASK PAT: Small trees and Beg Buttons

neil21 asks—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Pat: Permit times

Someone asked—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Lanes

The Canada Games Pool replacement project is moving along. We have just completed a second round of public consultation, and one group have taken this opportunity to encourage the City to do more than the initial concept plan that resulted from the work to date. As they spent some time delegating to Council and have got quite a bit of messaging in the media (social and otherwise), I figured I would write a bit about how we got here, and my understanding of the request.

A couple of years ago, this Council made the decision to replace the Canada Games Pool (CGP) with a modern facility instead of investing tens of millions of dollars in replacing end-of-life components of the existing building and mechanicals. This has led to a lot of work on planning for a new facility, from figuring out what the “program” of the new facility needs to be, what it will cost, where it will fit on the site, and other technical and financial considerations. This has included two lengthy conversations with the public and stakeholders.

There are a few points that constrain our opportunities here. Council agreed with strong advocacy in the community that the existing pool cannot be torn down until the new one is built – we cannot afford to have a lengthy period without the swim programs and other amenities that the CGP provides. It was also determined that replacing the late-life Centennial Community Centre (CCC) at the same time would provide worthwhile synergies and assure continuity of programming. Finally, an extensive analysis of locations around the City brought the conclusion that the existing location had many advantages, and that the cost of moving the pool to a different neighbourhood just didn’t make sense, financially or for the disruption it would cause.

This is recognizing another limit on the current site, in that the front parking lot of the current pool was built on the upper reaches of the Glenbrook Ravine, which was filled in the 1960’s, burying a regionally-important sewer line under it. We cannot build above that sewer line (due to Metro Vancouver owning a right of way that excludes any construction), and moving it would cost a significant portion of what a new pool costs, so that further constrains the site. However, preliminary design and architectural work demonstrates that we can fit a decent-sized (~115,000 square foot) facility on the site immediately to the south and west of the existing pool.

Another thing Council did was tour new pool facilities across the Lower Mainland. We visited the Edmonds Community Centre, the Hillcrest Community Centre, the Poirier Complex, the West Vancouver Community Centre, and more. We also had an extensive tour of the current Canada Games Pool. On all of these visits, we are able to talk to the operators and project planners to talk about what works, and what doesn’t. Most interesting was to discuss what they would do differently if they were to start a pool replacement project from fresh. A few of us even scheduled a visit to a larger pool facility in Gatineau when in Ottawa last year, and have been tracking new pool facilities across the region to understand who is doing what.

Of course there have been a tonne of conversations here in New West with the pool user community, and people who don’t currently use the pool, but might like to except for its lack of serving their needs. There was both formal consultation and more informal meetings with stakeholder groups (such as the Hyack Swim Club). A few of us on Council also went out and did a few days of door knocking in the neighbourhoods around the pool to better understand what people think about the current pool, what they know about the replacement plans, and to hear if the budget freaks them out.

I have to say the most consistent feedback I received was that the current pool is not as inviting to families and community use as other more modern facilities. Part of this is the somewhat aged structure (described by some as dank and stuffy), but also the lack of play space and the colder water temperature (which makes it better for competitive swimming) that makes it harder for families to enjoy the space together. We also had feedback that the gym was too small and not comfortable because it shared humid and warm airspace with the pool. We also heard from a significant user group that they loved the humid, warm gym environment. A very small number of people valued the diving towers and the water slide, but most wanted more flexible spaces. The value of the pool as a community amenity and the programs run by our recreation staff were a consistent theme, but when it came to details, there was a wide diversity of opinions. I have no idea who you are reading this, but I bet at least one point I raised above is something you disagree with, as is the reality of public consultation.

The process to filter through this feedback included working with an architect experienced in building these types of facilities and measuring out what different program components would add as far as square footage and cost. The cost part, of course, includes the cost to build the facility, but also a business case based on the needs of a rapidly growing community. This means determining the capacity of pools, changerooms, gym facilities and such needed to accommodate (increasing) anticipated users. The operational costs are put into context of the potential for revenue generation and revenue growth. New Westminster is a relatively small city with challenging infrastructure needs, and it became clear that the budget was going to drive part of this conversation – we are going to build the best pool we can, but simply cannot afford to build everything that everyone wants. We knew hard decisions were going to have to be made.

Amalgamating the public feedback and other data, and coming up with a program to fit as many needs as possible, was a challenging process. The report on the first round of consultation and the reasoning that led to the proposed program, can be read here. It is this program that the City took out for a second round of consultation last month, and we have yet to receive a report back at Council about the results of the consultation; that is the next step here.

This is the background to the Hyack Swim Club’s appearance at Council to delegate on their needs and desires for the pool. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but the message was that the proposed program is inadequate for holding the scale of meets that they think we can attract. We could still hold regional meets up to the level that the current facility can host, but we could not host national-level meets that are currently only possible at Kamloops and Victoria. In the media (social and otherwise) this has been characterized as requiring the addition of two more lanes, which sounds pretty minor, but there are hints it is more than this. So I’ll take a bit of time to put some context around that specific issue, recognizing this is at topic I am still learning about, so I stand ready to be corrected.

One big decision in any new civic pool facility is – do you build a 25m or 50m pool? The emphasis on fitness and lap swimming, including the legacy of the Hyack Club, is the reason the City suggested a 50m pool instead of a 25m pool (or even two 25m pools, which would be similar in cost to the one large pool, but provide much more user flexibility, which is the decision Richmond made with the new Minoru complex project). The demand analysis described above suggested that New West could meet anticipated swim demand by building a 25m 10-lane pool and a secondary leisure pool. It is the legacy of competitive swimming at the pool that led to the alternative 50m pool plan being considered.

The current pool is 8 lanes, and the proposed program would also be 8 lanes, with 2.4m lanes. The proposal also includes a much larger leisure pool that can accommodate some lane swimming, but also have the amenities people come to expect from a community pool serving families and other leisure users. So, contrary to some social media reports, we are not proposing a smaller pool that we currently have, but one with a functionally-similar main tank, and a significant second tank. It is my understanding (and I stand to be corrected here, as I have some reading to do!) that the Hyack Swim Club’s request is not just for two more lanes, but a deeper main tank, a much larger secondary tank with potentially less family / leisure useability, a significant increase in deck space for stands, and perhaps some other functional changes. The full proposal needs to be evaluated for fit and cost (capital and operational).

If I was to express frustration about this process, it is that the competitive swimming community always advocates for 50m pools whenever a new pool is built, but there never seems to be a pool built that satisfies their needs. Hillcrest and Grandview are just two recent examples of 50m pools that were built to accommodate a vocal competitive swimming advocacy group, but are(according to the presentations we received at Council) inadequate for competitive swimmers. The proposals for the new Harry Jerome complex in North Vancouver is going through a very similar conversation today (note – that “editorial” in the newspaper is actually a paid-for sponsored ad, which is its own weirdness), and I hear from the recreation operators that there are simply too many 50m pools being built in the region.

In summary, the conversation is ongoing here in New Westminster, and it is great that the Hyack Swim Club has been working to inform Council about their needs. I have had some correspondence from them since the Council delegations, and they have provided me some reading material to review. I hope to gain some better understanding about the details and (importantly) the business case implications involved in meeting the Hyack Swim Club’s expectations while not compromising what the rest of the community wants from a recreation facility. This conversation is not at all a setback for the project, but a perfect example of why we do public consultation. Our goal is (as it always has been) to have a project definition ready for when the Federal and Provincial government open the application window for infrastructure grants, and though there has been no confirmation of that date, we are in a good place to work out these details in time to make the window.

More to come!

MC Podcast!

A couple of years ago, a few new City Councillors from “the suburbs” of Metro Vancouver were invited to take part in a City Conversation at SFU, a program that brings people together over a brown-bag lunch at SFU Downtown to talk Urbanism. It was fun, and got us all speculating over a beer about how we can find an excuse to do this again. Then someone (I think it was Mathew Bond) said “Podcast”.

Two years later, almost to the date, we have a Podcast! It’s called Metro Conversations, and you can listen to the first 6 episodes at iTunes and GooglePlay. But first a little context.

Our initial idea was to repeat the City Conversations model: 1-hour conversations with a small panel of subject matter experts with an intimate audience, facilitated by the Council of Four (myself, Mathew Bond, Kiersten Duncan, and Nathan Pachal). We record these conversations, and put them out as Podcasts.

We also thought we could fill the space by also sitting down occasionally for a “Metro Chat”, where just the four of us discuss an Urbanism topic. The idea here is that we are elected people who are not subject matter experts, but can provide a bit of a bridge between experts and people interested in what goes into making a more livable city. We also bring context from our local parts of the region, as Urbanism too often emphasizes the urban centre and that is where it is more easily embraced. As we will explore, it is around the edges that the benefits and impacts of modern city-making are really felt.

As will be readily apparent to listeners, we are not professional broadcasters, but we are passionate about our communities, and love to talk about Urbanist topics and how they impact our communities.

We have a half-dozen episodes up and running, and a couple in the can that we are working on as far as making them audible. This is our first try (we could even call it “Season 1”?) and are hoping to hear form people about what they like, what we need to do better, or what topics you want us to tackle if and when a Season 2 is organized. So please tune in, and let us know what you think by going to our Facebook Page and providing us feedback.

There are People to Thank:

SFU Public Square for the grant and their (paid!) interns for doing a bunch of the busy work and coordination that we simply would never have completed if you left it to four City Councilors who live all over the place and have full time jobs and long lists of commitments that make our working together on anything difficult. This was only possible through the Public Square.

Michael Alexander from the City Program at SFU for pulling us together and giving us the inspiration to try something different.

Random #NewWest peeps Wes Kinna (for masterfully helping with sound at live events), Stephen O’Shea (for creating a cool distinctive sound for intro/outro), and Christa MacArthur (for lending us her distinctively non-distinctive accent).

The Network Hub in New West, the District of North Vancouver, City of Langley, City of Port Coquitlam, and City of New Westminster for hosting spaces for us to hold conversations.

And all of our guests and audience members who made the live conversations work.

Compromise

The existing Skate Park at Mercer Stadium is now closed, as the school district is busy building a high school on that spot. Recognizing this was coming, the City put some money in to the capital budget to build a replacement. The replacement will be bigger and more modern than the old skool bowl at Mercer, and it took more than year to work with the skate community and other stakeholders to figure out the best compromise between various potential locations. The best solution found was the old Arenex location at Queens Park, in an area of the park designated for “active recreation” in the Queens Park Master Plan.

As there was some community concern related to this location during the community and stakeholder consultation, staff did extra outreach, design and engineering work to specifically address the concerns raised by some existing park users. With this work done, they came to Council in Monday last to ask for the go-ahead to procure the works, in the hopes we can get the new facility in the ground this summer.

I received a lot of correspondence on this proposal. At least 60 e-mails, some in favour; most opposed. An online petition was circulated and apparently collected hundreds of signatures in opposition to the proposal though I have to note that I haven’t seen or been provided any such list. Frankly, I was dismayed by much of what I read in that correspondence. I’m not going to call anyone out by name here, but the quotes speak for themselves:

I am concerned about cadet safety and potential conflict that could arise between the cadets and skateboard park users

It will just lead to conflict between young people and theatre goers.

The theatre building will be a prime target for graffiti.

With the legalization of marijuana, the theatre faces the possible smell of skunk to the west

I believe having a skate park within Queens Park anywhere would be a detriment to the Park. It is a beautiful quiet family park and not suited to a skate park at all.

There are many (most) residents in new Westminster who would have it (the skateboard park) done away with if they could, so please do not create more ill will between your mature, working, VOTING citizens and youth.

To quote the staff report on the last round of Public Consultation “In summary the stakeholder’s concerns include personal safety for other park users, risk of vandalism, potential for bullying of youth aged members of some organizations, perceptions of noise generated at the site, potential for vandalism/ graffiti

I’ll talk about the noise concern further down, but before I get there, I have to admit that just reading this correspondence completely took me aback, and made it hard for me to remain objective. The narrative presented offers an archaic and uninformed attitude about roller sports. Skating (along with bmx/trials, scooting, blading) is a healthy, creative athletic activity enjoyed by youth and adults. Characterizing an entire group of recreation users as troublemakers not deserving of sharing in our parks use because they are vaguely threatening is, in short, offensive to my definition of community. So, to be really honest here, I probably went into Monday’s meeting with a frame of mind shaped by this, and that no  doubt influenced my decision making. But let’s step back a bit.


When planning for a facility like this, or any facility in a City Park, there is a lot of work done before we get to a meeting like last Monday. Staff, user groups, stakeholders, consultants, and Council have been working on this for more than a year. I appreciate people wanting to get engaged in a decision like this, but people joining at the 11th hour need to recognize that your new idea has most likely already been evaluated. The City evaluated every piece of available City-owned land between Grimston and Hume Parks, between (to borrow a phrase) 10th and the Fraser, for this facility, and none were perfect. However, I can confidently say, having been involved in this discussion for more than year, that all other options had more net negatives than the final proposed location. The proposed place was not the perfect place, it was the least non-perfect place. That is the reality of how a consultative City works – every decision is a compromise of least-perfect solutions.

That said, the proposed location was a good one, worthy of support.

In speaking to the Skate community, it was clear that by putting a roller sport facility (like any other facility primarily directed at youth) at front and centre in a public place, you not only show you are inviting that activity into your community, but you generate interest, curiosity, and engagement, and build the sport. We hear too much these days that youth have limited opportunity or interest in unstructured outdoor activity (or “getting off their screens”, in the parlance of the day). Roller sport are exactly the kind of creative, athletic, unstructured, knee-scabbing and dexterity-building activity we lament youth not doing enough of, yet we have adults here trying to marginalize the activity by wanting it put “somewhere else” where they don’t have to see, walk or even park near it. Sorry, that argument doesn’t work for me.

Knowing this issue was emerging, I have spent some time in the last little while dropping by the old Mercer skate bowl and the All-Wheel Park at the Queensborough Community Centre. Every time I went by there, there were users of a variety of ages, from 4 year olds on scooters to adults teaching their kids how to board. There were parents watching their kids be active and creative in the outdoors. None of them felt this was an unsafe place. I think all of them would be offended to hear they (and their kids) were being dismissed as threatening to other parks users. The New West Police and the staff at the Queensborough Community Centre were both consulted on conflict issues that we may need to mitigate if we move the facility to Queens Park, and both said, plain and simple, there are none. The City’s skate parks are not havens of hooliganism and trouble.

There is a reason for that. Rolling sports are not a fringe activity like it may have been 25 years ago. This is a mainstream sport. Its culture has evolved to one of creativity, community support, and partnership. When I found out that roller sports are going to be in the Olympics in 2020, and tried to square this with the non-competitive/cooperative nature of the community, it reminded me of something I noticed at the Winter Olympics this year. In the new Snowboard/Slopestyle/Cross type sports, there was a noticeably strong comradery in these sports. The person finishing fourth in the Skicross ran up to hug the gold medalist from another country; every slick run was rewarded by high-fives from competitors, every sick crash with a pat on the back or a hug. The kids today are different than us; dare I say better.

This was manifest in the correspondence I received in favour of putting the park in Queens Park. Again, no names:

Placing the new skate park in the centre of Queens Park would profoundly and positively impact the New West community and increase acceptance and diversity for youth in New West. I believe it is the responsibility of our Mayor and Council to practice inclusivity towards more unique recreational activities that are popular among our youth.”

“I believe that placing the skate park in Queens Park would demonstrate the city’s celebration of diversity as well as honouring positive activities. It would set an example for all of our youth to see adults value the well-being, health, and enjoyment of young people. Skate Parks are a beautiful place that may invite people across many different socioeconomic backgrounds in New West to enjoy being outside, and foster belonging within our community

Given the wide range of existing facilities and user groups within Queens’ Park, our community has demonstrated it’s belief in the importance of public spaces being fully inclusive of different expressions of arts, culture, leisure and recreation. This is an opportunity to welcome a new user group and demographic to Queen’s Park and enrich its uniqueness, while contributing to its cultural legacy

Now that I have disclosed by biases (and how they were developed as we went through this process), we can talk about the decision made on Monday.


There were some legitimate concerns raised about this site: most notably the potential for noise impacts on the Bernie Legge Theatre. Recognizing these concerns when raised by stakeholders, the City paused the process and hired an acoustical engineer to evaluate the impacts. The report acknowledged that the skate park would create noise, measured it, and evaluated two ways to mitigate it. If the skate bowl was oriented towards the north, and a berm were built on the south side, the noise of the park (and other significant ambient sounds such as whistles on the soccer pitch and traffic on McBride) would be abated, making the theatre actually quieter than it is now. Alternately, the City could invest a little money in providing some improvements to the theatre including weather stripping and solid-core doors, which would effectively reduce ambient noises and the skate park form impacting theatre operations. The report from staff recommended the City do both of these, to double the sound baffling effect to give the theatre patrons an extra measure of confidence. This proposal would have resulted in a quieter Bernie Legge Theatre experience than there is now.

There were also some concerns about parking and pedestrian circulation around the Theatre. Again, the report proposed designating parking spots adjacent to the skate park, and improving pedestrian flow and surfaces between the parking lot, the theatre and the Cadets building. The proposal would have actually improved the very things the stakeholders were concerned about.

So the location was good for the user group, the legitimate concerns raised by the stakeholders could be and would be mitigated at the cost of the City, actually resulting in a quieter theatre with better parking access and pedestrian amenities. I don’t know why I would vote against this proposal.


After hearing a dozen delegations at Council, however, a “compromise” location was proposed. I could not support it. Here is why.

After more than a year of work, and a concerted effort to evaluate all positive and negative impacts of different locations, finding a design that fits the space and takes advantage of a current unused and unprogrammed part of the park, and after delaying to hire professional engineers to develop scientifically-defensible mitigation measures to address legitimate concerns, Council came up with a knee-jerk “compromise location” 30-40m to the west where there is a grove of trees and old tennis courts (the actual location is a little vague), which we have asked Staff to move ahead with “if technically feasible”. To be clear – no-one in that meeting knew exactly what footprint we are talking about, and no-one has any idea what “technically feasible” means, or what compromises will need to be made to accommodate this plan.

This “compromise location” is clearly an ill-informed compromise. It is not (as it was touted at the meeting) a “win-win”. It was, in my opinion, a result of treating the wants and needs of one user group with lesser regard than the wants and needs of another group, even after significant efforts to address the concerns of that second group resulted in a well-developed strategy to address their valid concerns and then some. Make no mistake, there is a lot potential loss in this “win-win”.

We don’t know what the skate community lost yet. Best case scenario, only a couple more months of being without a facility to practice their recreation. Potentially, this may be a much longer time if engineering or other concerns pop up. The “if technically feasible” caveat is a vague and compromising one in the world of engineering, and a terrible piece of guidance for professional staff (technically feasible at any cost? Regardless of other impacts?). After more than a year of work, the vision developed will be unnecessarily delayed and potentially compromised because of a last-minute knee jerk reaction that received far, far less technical scrutiny or input from stakeholders and user groups. That is a terrible way to make decisions.

Even worse: The potential impact on non-skaters has now not been fairly assessed. What of the users of the tennis courts and picnic area that will now be removed? Honestly, we don’t even know if moving the Skate Park to this “compromise location” will make the noise impacts on the theatre better or worse. It is entirely possible (and quite likely) that an earthen berm would have deadened sound much better than an extra 30m in distance. We do not have any evaluation of the opportunity cost of the “compromise location”. Basically, we cannot demonstrate any actual benefit of this location to anyone, other than salving a vague feeling that “they” need to be kept further away from “us”.

Best case scenario, staff will not run into any problems shoehorning a well-developed plan into a “compromise location”, and after only a couple of months delay, we will get a fully functional park up and running. Best case scenario, the new location will not create unanticipated impacts on other users of the park that require further mitigation. I am an optimist, and I sincerely hope this best case is realized. But in the decision we made on Monday, and the way we made it, Council did nothing to assure this happens.

Ask Pat: Housing crises

R57 asks:

I’m the one who suggested replacing the Bosa harbour front proposal with reproductions of the ‘Argonath’, and that not enough concern has been shown for the Temple of Doom half concealed in the plans for the 618 Carnarvon development. Over the past couple of years I have documented on Twitter the ongoing development of both condo and rental towers in my immediate neighbourhood: the noise, disruption, destruction of heritage or historic buildings, and so on. Ultimately, however, the greatest impact is on affordability and security for low income people in the downtown core.

I live [near] the development of the Novare tower and the site of the now demolished Masonic Hall. Our building has been sold twice in the past two years. We have now been informed that we are to be evicted for ‘renovations.’ This is from the same landlord who told us, on buying the building, that he planned not to spend a single cent on its upkeep. So, it is very fine to say that revenue from the development of a condo tower–whose ultimate purpose is to make mountains of money for developers and speculators–will partially go into an affordable housing strategy–but what have you actually done?

The last I looked, the city has approved a 42 unit affordable development to go ahead, but that was two years ago. What else? My rough tally, of just the 618 development, and the pointless, unnecessary exercise in megalomania called Bosa Pier West, amounts to about a thousand luxury units, and real, affordable housing available today–zero.

I note that the 618 developers will pay a million dollar penalty for bending the height or density bylaws, is that correct? If that is so, and that figure is still insufficient to build a few affordable units, may I suggest dividing that sum into a hundred individual grants of $10,000 each, which should be sufficient to help stressed citizens to relocate elsewhere here and abroad, and start over? I would prefer Tuscany myself, but Malaysia may be more affordable on my pension.

That’s a bit of a joke, but not much. So, we all have to go somewhere in two months. Any suggestions?

This was sent as a comment on one of my regular Council Report posts a month or so ago, but it raises enough issues (outside of architectural criticism) that I thought it deserved a fuller response, so I redacted a few personal-identification parts, and included it here. That said, I recognize I don’t really have an adequate response, but am thankful for the opportunity to go on a long rant here about the “Housing Crises”.

There is a lot going on in the housing market regionally, and the days have passed when New Westminster – a little tucked away, a little gritty, a little bypassed – could avoid the worst of the affordability crisis. We should have seen it coming. I think we did see it coming as we went through the Official Community Plan process, but while some made the case for urgency at that time, I think our reaction was (with benefit of hindsight) a tepid one.

One complexity of the problem is demonstrated in the inherent dichotomy in your comments: new building around your affordable apartment is seen as part of the problem, and not part of the solution to the regional housing squeeze. I hear a lot more concern from people (notably those who already have secure housing) that there is too much construction in the City. The reality is that growth of the City is tracking along with the Regional Growth Strategy expectations set out more than a decade ago. If there is a difference, it is in that we are building more high-density units and are not building into our single-family neighbourhoods. That is another entire blog rant I’ll have to save for later.

The newest of construction is rarely the most affordable housing, but if we bring in new supply while protecting older supply, market forces *should* result in that older stock remaining more affordable in the medium term. Even this approach creates a bunch of other problems – people buy up the less affordable stock with the expectation that they can knock it down and replace it with a tower and make more money. This is one area of speculation New West has (up to now) been pretty successful at avoiding, and we have not seen a large number of affordable housing units replaced with unaffordable condos. That is by New Westminster policy, not coincidence.

What we have seen is an increase in “reno-vicions” – tenants being displaced as an owner renovates a rental building only to raise rents substantially (doubled or more) once the renovation is done. As a City, we have no regulatory ability to prevent this, but we have been advocating at the provincial level for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act to prevent this. We have also been investing a bunch of resources and time into making sure tenants know their rights when landlords act unethically, and to provide as much support as we can to people when they are displaced. This is an ongoing effort at the City.

Building new homes is a business, and without a reasonable expectation of profit, no-one is going to do it. The construction market right now is crazy, and every construction project is burdened with a significant amount of financial risk. This risk is alleviated by building what they know, by pushing density limits, and by developing a pre-sale market that itself feeds speculation and inflated prices. It’s a vicious circle. It is clear we cannot trust “the market” to fix the affordability problem when the market is a large part of the problem. We need new construction, but we need much more than that.

We also need a supply of new homes not relying on the profit motive to get built. Few charities have the resources to do this work, so that leaves government. The federal government (with by far the deepest pockets) got out of the house-building business back in the 80s around the time we signed a new Constitution Act that put housing in the provincial realm. Since then, we have had a succession of provincial governments, each less interested in building public housing than the previous one. Local governments like New Westminster simply don’t have the resources to do this work when we have less than 8% of the tax revenue of the larger governments, and have our own increasing demands for expanded services and pressing infrastructure needs.

The upshot is that there was virtually no “non-market” housing built in the lower mainland for a good 30 years. At the same time, population has exploded and market housing has gotten completely detached from our stagnant wages (Why is no-one challenging the Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade about wages stagnation? ah…I digress). in 2018, it isn’t only the unemployed and the working poor who can’t find housing, it is the “middle class” struggling to find a place to raise a family. Rental vacancies have been stuck under 1% for a decade, and parochial concerns oppose any expansion of housing density into established single family neighbourhoods.

This is not a simple housing crisis, this is a bunch of different and overlapping housing crises coming together in a perfect storm. It was 20+ years in the making, predictable and avoidable, but here we are now. After 2 decades of bullshit neo-liberal responses (“we just need to Build the Economy, so everyone can afford a bigger house!”), the situation has only gotten worse.

So enough whining, what do we do now?

First off, anyone who tells you there is a simple or quick solution is lying or ignorant; probably both.

Clearly, we need to start investing again in non-market housing, like we did in the 50s and 60s when our country and economy were growing. We need to get back into building purpose-built rental buildings, so people who cannot or don’t want to own have a variety of housing available to them at various cost and scales. We need to incentivise the building of more “family friendly” middle-sized housing, and those have to extend into our once- (and sometimes still-) sacred single family neighbourhoods. And we need density around major transit hubs and commercial areas like downtown New Westminster to relieve market pressure. We need to shift our economic incentives (taxation regime, mortgage system, etc.) so that owning a home to live in is easier but buying investment property offers relatively less return. We need to do all of these things, and more. And we need to start doing it with the urgency usually afforded to something called a “crisis”.

I’m not going to shy away from saying that New Westminster, as a City, has been a regional leader in housing policy and investment, punching well above our weight. We have literally thousands of purpose-built rentals coming on line in the next year or two, because we have created an incentive package that makes them financially viable to build. We have managed to hold the line on demolition of older and more affordable rental stock. We have region-leading Family Friendly Housing policy, so there are more 2- and 3-bedroom suites being built. We have worked with service agencies to support affordable housing projects (two on the go, one more in the pipeline) being built on our very limited supply of City-owned properties. We have included an affordable housing component in our Master-Planned Community Developments such as Victoria Hill, and our OCP does open up more opportunities for infill density and flexible development forms. We direct amenity money from new developments into an Affordable Housing reserve fund to provide capital assistance to affordable housing agencies. We employ staff who do housing outreach and step in where (frankly) senior governments have failed, and try to connect residents with housing in any form they need. The brutal reality is that none of this is enough, and we are up against our limits as a local government, both in the resources and in legal authority. We need help. Back to the word “crisis” again.

You make reference (I think) to the bonus density charges made for the project at 618 Carnarvon. That money wouldn’t go to general revenue in the City, but is directed to specific capital funds – 30% of it directly to an Affordable Housing amenity fund, the rest to Childcare, Public Art, and General Amenity Funds to support capital projects like the Canada Games Pool replacement and the Library renovation. The City recently increased the value of these charges (reflecting recent increases in real estate prices), but have not reviewed how we apportion those funds in a few years. It might be time to do that. But even if we took $1,000,000 from that fund, it would only pay for building maybe a half dozen affordable units, if we had a place to build them, and an operator to manage them. As a local government, we simply cannot do this alone, and need to invest our capital in supporting the efforts of others to leverage our contributions into larger things we cannot do on our own.

I am encouraged by the work being done so far by the new provincial government, and hope we can see some serious investment here in New Westminster, and across the region. First in emergency housing to assist the homeless and those facing imminent homelessness, then supportive housing for those whose income doesn’t get them shelter in our market. We need to re-invest in the Co-op Housing model that worked so well 30 years ago, and we need to curtail the speculation market. We need to do all of these thing, and more. It is hard to be patient when so many people are so precariously housed, but this government is essentially starting from scratch, as a policy vacuum has existed in this province for 30 years. It is going to take some time to catch up.

All this is a long way of saying I have little advice for you. You can contact the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre (links/number for them and more contact info can be found here) and find out what your rights are, and what assistance my exist for you and your neighbours. I wish I had better answers. 

It is sad that the Lower Mainland is becoming so unaffordable that dreams of escape are only partially jokes. I have several friends who have left New West in the last couple of years, and housing affordability was a primary motivation for them. Some of them I would describe as pillars of the community. Volunteers, community builders, current and future leaders: the people who make a city into a community. Instead of here, they will now be building community in Winnipeg, in Saint-Lazare, in the Interior of BC. It saddens when people who want to call New West home cannot find a home they can afford here. It also angers me. We need more people to be angry about this to create the political will to make change, and willing to speak out for that change.

Trucks in the City

Douglas College has been running an interesting talk series this year under the banner of “Urban Challenges Forum”. The final episode of this semester occurred on Wednesday night, and deserved a better turnout than it received, considering the amount of social media bits and watercooler shatter we have in New Westminster around the topic: the livability impacts of truck routes and goods movement in our community.

Fortunately, they recorded video of the event, and will (hopefully?) be posting it on line. It is worth the time to see how the four panelists speak about trucks from different viewpoints: an urban systems geographer, a representative of the trucking industry, a representative of the Port Authority, and the CAO of New Westminster, a City that is (arguably) impacted most by the negative externalities of “goods movement” in the region.

I want to give a quick summary of my take-away points before raising the question I never got to raise at the event, partly because of the time constraints, partly because no-on needs to hear from a Politician when actual thinking people are speaking, and partially because I wasn’t sure how to phrase my question in the form of a question*.

Peter Hall (the geographer) reminded us that transportation, by its very nature, makes us selfish, and makes us act in shamefully selfish ways (speeding, tailgating, yelling at others). This is at least partly because it isn’t an ends, but a means, and its hassles are preventing us from meeting these ends. Add to this our general ignorance about freight, and we get a selfish ignorance about goods movement – we all want the benefits, none of us understand why we need to tolerate the costs. Trucking also has many benefits and externalities, and they are not evenly distributed. Altogether, this makes it a vicious political problem, not made easier by jurisdictional overlap.

Matthew May from BST Transport and Peter Xotta from the Port of Vancouver gave similar messages about their respective industries: they need to keep the goods moving in the National Interest. You ask for tomatoes in the store, you need to deal with trucks. You want a vibrant economy, you need trucks and ports. You live in a Gateway, and we will accommodate your community as best we can (even want to make you happy!), but the mandate is to drive the economy.

Lisa Spitale gave a concise summary of some of the interface issues New Westminster has dealt with over the last few decades. With rail and roads encircling the community and a Regional Growth Strategy mandate to be a dense Urban Centre supported by (and supporting) transit, we are a hot spot for the externalities of goods movement, by rail and truck.

If I had a point to make at this event (again, I could not put this in the form of a question), it is that we have *chosen* to accept the level of negative externalities that come with a large number of diesel trucks in our neighbourhoods.

To frame this point, we need to put aside the local-goods-delivery for a moment and talk about the larger getting-stuff-from-Port-to-hinterland-through-logistics-hubs part of this equation. This is what separates us as a “Gateway” city from most other regions, and is the foundation of both the Port’s arguments on this issue and the emphasis of the Gateway Council model that has commonly dominated our regional transportation conversation. But what kind of Gateway have we built?

Here in New Westminster, we host one end of a 114-year-old single-track swing bridge that is the only rail link crossing the Fraser River west of Mission. The City of New Westminster has something like 14km of river shoreline under Port of Vancouver jurisdiction, with about a third of that backed by industrial land, much of it under the Port’s direct control. Much of this land is used for logistics, cross-shipping, container storage, and other aspects of that all-important gateway-to-the-hinterland business. Yet over all of that space there are (2) conveyors moving aggregates and chips on/off barges, and one (1) pier occasionally used to move breakbulk lumber. These are the only location in New Westminster’s extensive port lands where anything is taken on or off of a boat.

The only contribution our Port lands make to the Gateway is providing space to move and store trucks, and facilitate the movement of goods in and out of trucks. Unfortunately, New Westminster is not alone in this.

How we move goods through the region is a choice we make, not a foregone conclusion. For these hinterland goods in containers, we have chosen to use trucks to move a large portion of them intra-regionally. A cynic would suggest that is because building waterfront infrastructure to make better use of short sea shipping and barges is expensive. Upgrading rail infrastructure so a single swing bridge isn’t the only vital link across a river that has seen 30 lanes of highway built across since that single track was installed, is expensive. Relying on roads and bridges is comparatively cheap from the view of the person who has to pay for the initial capital, because taxpayers will often pony up for “congestion reduction” investment, and the other costs (noise, pollution, public safety) are completely externalized, at least partially in the form of decreased livability of our communities.

I’ve made this rant before.

Since 1808 when Simon Fraser first tasted salt in the Sto:lo, there have been strains resulting from the needs of the Gateway to the Hinterland and the needs of the people living on the river’s shores. We can, however, find a better balance between these forces. It must include acknowledging that externalized costs of fueling the Gateway need to be accounted. Trucks are part of a functioning modern society, but their true role cannot be understood as long as we subsidize them over other options.

*I was once at a forum-type event where the request for “question from the floor” was prefaced by this proviso: Your first sentence must be in the form of a question; there should not be a second sentence. I thought that was brilliant.

ASK PAT: Road Closures.

JF asked—

Pat, what are the City of New Westminster’s policies regarding road closures that impact cycling routes? Is there a requirement for the company requesting the road closure to identify and provision safe detours for people walking and bicycling through construction zones.

This past fall and winter has seen a large number of road closures in the Sapperton area for combined sewer separation and RCH related projects, and another sewer separation project on 7th Avenue near Moody Park. The Crosstown Greenway passes through both of these areas.

Many, many times over the past few months I have encountered road closures on the Crosstown greenway or connecting streets that I utilize. Most of these closures have little in the way of advanced warning and any detours in place don’t have cycling or walking in mind – ie being detoured down an alley onto Braid Street – FUN!

I’m a daily bicycle commuter passing through New West to/from my place of work in Burnaby and easily fall into the capable/confident category of rider. I don’t have any problem being detoured onto Braid or 8th Avenue and cycling alongside traffic moving at 50+km/h, but for a new or less confident rider I could easily picture them saying “forget it. I’m taking the car.” Not exactly the goal for any Active Transportation minded community.

To answer your first question, the City’s policy is that road closures caused by road/utility works are required to be well signed, and that safe alternate routes for all users including cyclists and pedestrians are to be maintained at all times. What you have discovered is that the policy sometimes fall short in practice. This is something I have spent much time ranting about in the past. It is a perennial problem, one that is (hopefully) getting better, but is (admittedly) a work in progress.

There is a *lot* of roadwork going on right now in New West. As you surmised, much of it is related to a sewer separation program accelerated somewhat by winning a federal grant to help pay for some of it. The situation in lower Sapperton has been especially intrusive, as that is where the sewer separation work is most intense along with utility works related to the expansion of the Hospital.

Almost all of this work is done by contractors (a city the size of New West doesn’t really have staff to do works at this scale anymore), and requirements to maintain rights of way and accommodate all types of road users are written right into the tender documents. They hire road flagging crews, do traffic plans, our engineers sign off on those plans, and our engineers sometimes drop by the site to see how things are going. However, these jobs are complicated and worksites are dynamic, so maintaining 100% access is difficult, and traffic plans necessarily shift as the project requires. This is often when the best laid plans get set aside for a bit, and people are inconvenienced. Sometimes, of course, they simply don’t care. Either way, the City needs to be let know.

Often, it results in a call to the Engineering Department or a SeeClickFix entry, an e-mail to a Councillor, or my better half bending my ear over dinner (if it impacted her riding route to work, like it did on 13th Ave last month). This usually means one of our engineering staff goes out there, sees what the situation is, and the contractor (if they haven’t already) are told to make it right.

This is, unfortunately, the reality of this type of work. I simply don’t know how to make it better.

I say that as someone who rides bikes around this city all the time, but I also say it as someone who at one point in his life got paid to stand with a hardhat next to an excavator or drill rig with flagging crews protecting me from traffic and vice versa. Any time you are interacting with heavy equipment, public streets and underground utilities, there are unpredictable conditions you encounter, and you need to make adjustments to plans on the fly, and the impact on traffic is but one (important) aspect of your contingency plans.

I was actually compelled early in the year to drop by the upper Sapperton project when I received two separate compliments from cyclists I know about how well the flagging personnel managed two different conflict situations with a bike route. This seriously never happens – I never get people pointing out when something goes good – so I had to check it out and let the Director of Engineering know. That said, I have also gone through lower Sapperton in the last couple of weeks, and have found through-signage lacking at times.

This is all to say I think we are doing better that we used to on this, as we have updated our policies. Our Engineering Department requires that cycling access or alternate routes must be part of the traffic plan, and that safe pedestrian access routes must be considered prior to starting work. At the same time, it still happens that I run into road works with no warning, and little indication of how I am supposed to route around them.

My best advice, when this happens, is to contact our engineering operations desk (604-526-4691  or engops@newwestcity.ca) and tell them about your experiences. We don’t have engineers on site every moment of the project, and if they don’t know there is a problem, they cannot address it. You can contact me as well, but I’m just going to contact Engineering Operations anyway, so you can cut out the middle man.

If you are into filling out web forms (you got here, didn’t you?) you can also use the SeeClickFix App to report these issues, with the bonus of being able to track how staff respond to them.

Making a complaint to Engineering may help in the short term, but it also helps longer-term. There are a limited number of contractors who do this type of work in the region, and a contractor that receives complaints about their inability to manage our traffic and access requirements is one we are less likely to hire for future contracts. Their ability to address traffic access is part of the quality assessment staff need to do at the end of every contract. That is, ultimately, the only way we will get better compliance.

I just want to say one more thing. This situation is frustrating at the time, but please try to be kind to the persons holding the Stop/Slow paddles at the worksite. Their job is surprisingly difficult and stressful. They often work in terrible conditions (noise, dust, weather, silly hours), and have to deal with irate drivers, angry neighbours and demanding construction managers, while carrying the responsibility of keeping the public and the workers on the site safe – often by putting themselves in dangerous situations. They know you are frustrated, they have little control over the hazards they are protecting you from, they honestly want to get you on your way as quickly and safely as they can.

PAL by another name.

Monday’s Council meeting included a Public Hearing on a notable project on Carnarvon Street. Although it didn’t get much media (social or otherwise) before the Public Hearing, it seems to be getting some now, and there was enough going on at the Public Hearing that I think it is worth some discussion here.

The proposal will bring a new 32-story tower to the downtown tower district with 204 market strata units. The residential building meets the City’s Family Friendly Housing policy by exceeding the minimum number of 2- and 3-bedroom units. The tower will have a 3-story pedestal which will house commercial storefront space and some amenity space, and a little bit of above-ground parking around the back (more on that later). The tower will share the pedestal with a second 8-story tower that will have 66 non-market rental units run by the Performing Arts Lodges Society (“PALS”), a charity that helps provide affordable housing for veterans of the performing arts industries.

Council received two pieces of correspondence in regards to this project, both expressing support. We had 6 people present at the Public Hearing, one expressing concerns that the affordable housing component was not broad-reaching enough, and one local business concerned about the name of the development (see below), and the rest speaking in support (including the proponent, and the president of the New West Arts Council), mostly emphasizing support for the affordable housing component.

The project meets the goals of the Downtown Community Plan, was approved by the Advisory Planning Commission and Design Panel, and appears to be well supported by the community. The project puts density adjacent to frequent transit service and within walking distance of most services. The location also means we can bring new density and affordable housing on line without displacing other low-cost housing.

As one delegate at the Public Hearing mentioned, this is clearly not the entire answer for affordable housing. Far from it. Our regional housing affordability crisis exists at every level: professionals not able to afford family-sized homes; working poor facing demo-viction and rising rents; people with barriers to traditional housing lacking adequate supports, it’s a mess. No single project can fix all of these. What this project does, though, is address one identified gap, and engage a not-for-Profit in helping with that. This project is similar in that sense to the two small affordable housing projects the City is supporting on City lands, each identifying a specific group in need of housing and a service agency taking on the charge to help operate that housing.

The PALS project helps people who have worked on building the cultural quality of our community, and recognizes that people working in the performing arts rarely have pension plans or stable retirement income. By providing space in our community for dozens of experienced actors, writers, dancers, singers, production designers, directors, choreographers (etc., etc.), we promise to enrich our community’s culture. They will be the story tellers, the teachers, the artists that support a vibrant cultural future in New West. I don’t think we can measure the positive impact that could have in our community.

I have expressed concern in the past about Carnarvon Street and its urban expression. I think the Plaza88 development does not address the street well, and is out of scale with the pedestrian space we want to have downtown. I am more enthused by the urban design of this project, as it is well articulated, includes an open public plaza area, and appears to provide lots of eyes on the street, as opposed to a large wall of parked cars behind screens.

At initial readings and again at Third Reading, some concern was raised by some of Council about the parking situation. Between resident and visitors parking, this project will have 275 parking spaces, most of them underground. That is more than one parking spot per unit in a building that is across the street from a SkyTrain Station and walking distance to all amenities. The cost of building these parking spots (which could be more than $60,000 a spot!) must shift the cost of the units in the building – both affordable and not. We need to question why we are spending so much finding warm dry spots for cars when we are struggling to afford warm dry spots for people.

The project was designed to meet the City’s parking minimums, and shifting the goalposts for the developer at this stage in the process would be pretty onerous, and potentially threaten the project. However, this has raised the conversation at Council that our downtown parking standards need an update if we hope to make housing more affordable and meet the goals of our Master Transportation Plan. This conversation will be ongoing, and I’d love to bend your ears for a few hours about it.

Finally, the marketing department of the developer has some work to do, as they had found a great name for the development that was, unfortunately, almost indistinguishable from the name of a young but established business on the same side of the street about a block away. The business owner came to delegate to Council and expressed support for the project (the Arts community supports their own!) but was worried about potential impact on her business. The City has no regulatory role on the naming of developments, and having a legal fight over Trademarks and registered business names will only enrich lawyers and take time. Both parties have had an initial and positive conversation, and felt confident that a compromise could be found, so Council asked that they find a mutually acceptable solution prior to the project coming back to Council for Adoption.

Overall, this project is a net positive. In my opinion there are significant benefits to the community: affordable housing that adds to the City’s cultural diversity, improved public spaces, DCCs, density bonus and VAC money that contributes to community amenities, family-friendly housing diversity, density near SkyTrain, and a refreshed area of downtown bringing supporting customers to our business district.

I just hope those lens flares don’t keep the neighbours up at night.