Council Meeting – March 30, 2015

As with most end-of-the-month meetings, there was a Public Hearing as part of the March 30 Council Meeting. On these nights, we start a little early (well, we start at noon most days, but the evening portion starts early) to give people a change to provide input to items that are required to go to Public Hearing prior to Council decision. Tonight there were a few topics, one which attracted several speakers.

HRA Bylaw No. 7734, 2015 & HD Bylaw No. 7735, 2015

These two complimentary Bylaws allow the re-purposing of Dontenwill Hall at 336 Agnes Street, to convert its use from “Public Assembly” to “Church”, and to make some improvements to the historically important building. At Council, we were able to see reports by the City’s Heritage Commission (in support) and the Advisory Planning commission (in support, with some comments). We were also told that the non-compliance in regards to on-site parking were a concern to the City’s Engineering staff, regardless of the parking study provided on behalf of the Proponent. The Open House feedback was minor, but positive, and the single piece of correspondence we received was opposed.

We heard a delegation from the architect who did the heritage assessment, and from a leader at the church. We also heard several delegations from a couple of concerned neighbours and one adjacent church about the parking situation at the site. Frankly, parking around the property is the one issue that might have derailed this plan. However, there was simply no location on the property to accommodate parking – any future development of this site that provided the required parking would result in razing of the historic building, or no redevelopment would likely result in the loss of the building through neglect. Through the delegation process I heard that this was a small congregation, and there were no less than 5 other churches in the immediate area, most of which provided little or off-site parking (the Emmanuel Pentecostal being the exception – they built an underground parking lot in a residential development adjacent to their church to accommodate many of their parishioners). In our compact, transit-oriented downtown, if we want to save our heritage structures (most built without parking) we are going to have to allow these types of exceptions.

In the end, I supported this HRA and repurposing of the hall. I hope they can work with their neighboring churches to find creative solutions to Sunday Morning Parking Crunch.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7743, 2015

This Bylaw limits the number of plumbing fixtures in Accessory Buildings. The issue staff is trying to manage here is the illegal conversion of accessory buildings to living spaces. Our RS-1 zoning allows for a single accessory building, up to 10% of the lot coverage, which for many lots in the City means a 500+ square foot building. Meant to be a garage, storage shed or hobby shop, people are converting them into “mortgage helpers” and renting them out.

There are a few reasons we want to avoid this. It isn’t fair to people with legal secondary suites who pay for that privilege (through extra utility charges, mostly) or to people without secondary suites (who shouldn’t have to subsidize the extra suite of their neighbour) if people start renting out their garages. Accessory buildings also do not have many of the building code requirements for dwellings, meaning they can be firetraps, have mold problems, or otherwise be unsafe.

One way to prevent these conversions is to simply make them harder to do at the time the accessory building is built and the Building Inspector is signing off. Recently, the City has seen plans come in for “Accessory Buildings” with a hookup for a furnace, a laundry, and a full bathroom, all strategically placed so that setting up a full kitchen would be simple – the builders aren’t even being subtle about it. This Bylaw hopes to give staff the tools they need to say “um, no.” It will not make conversion to illegal suites impossible; it will make them more difficult.

The issue of secondary suites and laneway housing is an important one in the City right now, and has been prominent in the discussions around the new OCP. This Bylaw will not prevent future development of Laneway Housing, but it will slow the building of illegal ones until the OCP is updated, and we can get a handle on how nieghbourhoods want to accommodate (or not) laneway housing.

In the end, I supported this Bylaw, as I want to give staff the tools they need to do their jobs. Turning a blind eye to illegal conversions of accessory buildings is not a good idea.

After the Public Hearing, we launched into our Regular Council Meeting. As is typical on Public Hearing nights, there were no Public Delegations permitted this evening. What we did have instead was an Opportunity to be Heard on the City’s 5-year Financial Plan, right at the start of the meeting.

I am going to have to write in more detail about the Financial Plan for the City. If I start here, I am going to fill this entire blog post, so I will put it off for a later post except for a short summary.

Currently, we have a $111 Million budget, and have a proposed tax increase of 2.42%. For a typical single family home, that means you will pay $62 more in Property Taxes this year. And despite what some may tell you, that keeps us squarely in the middle regionally as far as property tax levels. As I once explained at length, Cities in the Lower Mainland to the north and west of us pay more taxes, Cities to the south and east generally pay less.

The bigger news, however, is that all of your utility rates are going up proportionally much more than that – Water by 6%, sewer by 7.5%, and solid waste by 8.5%. This reflects the reality that Metro Vancouver is charging us more per cubic metre of water, the sewage plants are charging us more for taking our waste, and tipping fees are going up at the solid waste facilities. For single-family detached homes, this means about $50 more in utilities next year.

If you missed the meeting or the Opportunity to be Heard, you can read the Plan here, and yes, you can still comment to Council about it by sending us a note through the contacts on this page.

Once we got through the Opportunity to be Heard, we addressed the Bylaws that were addressed in the earlier Public Hearing, then moved on to yet another Opportunity to be Heard:

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 7742, 2015

The two Taxi Operators licensed in New Westminster applied to the Province for additional licenses, and although they did not receive as many as they would have liked they each received two new licenses. The law says we need to approve this at Council, and our Bylaw requires that we bring this to the Public for comment. We received no comments, and I have no problem with there being more taxis in the City.

Don’t even get me started about Uber…

Following this, we next addressed Recommendations from the Committee of the Whole Meeting from earlier in the day:

Arts Commission appointment

The Arts Council of New Westminster has a representative seat on the Arts Commission. In case you haven’t heard, the Council has a new Executive Director, Stephen O’Shea, and he was nominated by the Commission to represent them.

Royal Lancers

I am sure we are going to be talking about this for a while, but City council, The School district, and the Royal Lancers exchanged some correspondence over the last two weeks. I am going to hold back at commenting about this issue until we have had a chance for some discussion between the multiple parties. I had a respectful conversation with one of the Lancers after the Council meeting, and another today (I am writing this on Friday, April 2), and can see that there is potential for agreement or respectful disagreement without calling each other stupid. More to come on this issue, obviously.

Steel and Oak Brewing Company

Two local Good News Beards opened a brewery in town, and I have to admit I have sampled a fair amount of their product. As I mentioned in a previous Ask Pat post, zoning around brew pubs is a bit challenging, as is navigating the various local, provincial, and federal government agencies that have to sign off when you open a new brewery. When setting up, the boys at S&O applied for and received the easiest type of permit for their operation: that of a limited tasting room. However, their success has made it apparent that they are ready to operate as a proper “Lounge”. This will remove some restrictions on how they serve, while putting other restrictions on how they operate.

Seeing as they are a real regional success story, they have no real competition in town, and they have not generated any complaints from neighbours, the Police, or the Liquor Inspector since opening, it is easy to support their license change and support their move to be more competitive.

223 Queen’s Ave Subdivision

The Heritage Home at 223 Queens Ave has an extra-long lot, and wants to subdivide it to build a new home facing the lane behind (which is effectively a road, as it is named Gifford Place). This is not a “Laneway Housing” application, as the proponent wants to subdivide into two separate lots, as opposed to just building a second residence on the same lot. This project will be going to Public Hearing on April 27, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Sign Bylaw 610 Sixth Street

The owners of Royal City Centre want to change the big signs on their property, by adding more signage to the existing structures. These are not new signs (as I realized after asking what, in hindsight, was a silly question in the Committee of the Whole – my first embarrassing moment of incomprehension on Council – likely not my last) but additions to the existing signs. The required Variance to the Sign Bylaw will be going to Public Hearing on April 27, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think.

Spring Freshet Report

As most skiers know, the snow levels in the interior and the south coast are well below average, so barring an incredibly anomalous melting season, we should not have any flooding risk during this year’s freshet on the Fraser River. Put away your sandbags, folks.

Encroachments, Covenants

Apparently the restored Trapp+Holbrook project (and, presumably, the previous Trapp Block) encroaches over City land. The building is on private land, but the cornices and some of the decorative rockwork actually projects over City land. A Section 219 Covenant assures the City will not be held liable for any damages done to anyone or any entity due to the existence of elevated rock in the City’s airspace. Ugh. Lawyers.

Guiding Principles for Canada Games Pool

The project planning for a Canada Games Pool refurbishment/ replacement is only just beginning. This is a big project, so it is wise if a set of project principles are developed prior to the start of public and stakeholder engagement. Reading through it, Many of the principles are very high-level, reflecting Council’s feeling that all options are on the table right now until a good reason arrives to take them off the table. One edit we made to the draft principles is the idea that the Pool be the centerpiece of a “precinct” of community uses. Some thought (and I agreed) this limited the consultation from considering other delivery options – two smaller pools at opposite ends of the City, for example.

Anyhow, not much to report here yet, except that public and stakeholder consultations about what you want in a Pool/Community Centre will be starting soon. This will be the biggest capital project in the City over the next decade, so you might want to pay attention!

RCFM Letter

The RCFM letter formally asks us to endorse their return to Tipperary Park for the 2015 summer season, which we have done. Talking to the Board and Manager of the RCFM over the last few weeks, they have some exciting ideas for the summer and for next winter. A real community-building organization in the City, powered mostly by volunteers, bringing food security, commerce, sustainability, and community service together with a smile! Last winter market is April 22, and first Summer Market is May 21. Support them!

In the final business part of the evening, we adopted the Bylaws formally from the earlier discussions:

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 7742, 2015 (the taxi one from above) was Adopted. It is now the Law of the Land

Sewerage and Drainage Regulation Bylaw No.7746, 2015 (which saw third reading last week) was Adopted. It is now the Law of the Land.

336 Agnes Street Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 7734, 2015 (the first Dontenwill Hall one) passed Third Reading.

336 Agnes Street Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7735, 2015 (the second Dontenwill Hall one) passed Third Reading.

Bylaw to Limit Plumbing Fixtures in Detached accessory Buildings No. 7743, 2015 passed Third Reading.

223 Queens Avenue Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 7710, 2015 passed First and Second readings, and is off to Public Hearing.

223 Queens Avenue Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7711, 2015 passed First and Second readings, and is off to Public Hearing.

…and that was a night’s work.

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