The council meeting of July 6 was held in the smoke-free air conditioned comfort of New Westminster’s Council Chambers! Next week, we have a Public Hearing, so I recommend those looking for a cool place to get a few hours of civic entertainment come and hang out a City Hall!
This week we started with cupcakes (not kidding, you will have to watch the video to see), then a special presentation from Ryan Perks, a young New Westminsterite who made a personal commitment to support Honour House, and has been challenging others to match him. You should head over to his Facebook Page and check him out. The kid is a star.
After a few presentations, (short version: The Port likes what the Port does for us, and the City is slowly but surely working on Train Whistle Cessation), we dropped immediately into Recommendations from the Committee of the Whole from earlier in the day:
2014 FOI Requests
The City commonly receives requests for information from the City through the formal process outlined in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. We received 78 requests in 2014, which is fewer than in previous years. Some are from citizens who want to know more about how the City makes decisions than is typically available through our website; some are from insurance companies or lawyers who are managing potential litigation issues; some are from businesses looking to find a competitive advantage. All are treated equally, and in accordance with the Act.
The result? In 2014, 5,000 pages of documents were released through FOI, and all were completed within 30 days, unless procedural issues prevented this. Of 78 requests, 6 had to be forwarded to the Provincial Commissioner for clarity or mediation. However, in most cases, the FOI request is actually something the City is routinely able to provide to anyone who asks, so the entire process is straight forward and is dealt with in a couple of hours.
The City is also developing an Open Data portal, which should make it easier for people to access this type of information, which will (hopefully) reduce the time and effort required for staff to manage the FOI process. .
Vote Yes Campaign report.
The City spent less than budgeted for the “Vote Yes” campaign in New Westminster. The $20,000 budgeted was to come out of our regular communications and advertising budget. We actually spent a little more than $14,000 of that.
Some question why the City would spend any tax money on this type of activity, and to me it was obvious.
The money was found in existing budgets that would normally be used to promote the City’s strategic initiatives or programs. In hindsight, it is easy to say it was wasted because the plebiscite was unsuccessful. However, if successful, the Mayor’s Plan would have provided a quick fill for the gap in funding for the Q2Q bridge, as would matching funds to make all of our bus stops accessible and to increase the bus shelter program across the City. An entire boatload of the City’s strategic transportation initiatives would have become much easier to complete with the Federal and Provincial Government funds that would have come with the plan. And our residents would have more frequent, more reliable transit service while the traffic load on our local roads would be reduced. The combination of benefits the City would have seen would have by orders of magnitude offset the one-time investment of 0.002% of our annual operating budget to help realize those funds.
The entire referendum was a dumb idea, but not fighting to secure those funds for the people of New Westminster, who use transit and suffer from traffic congestion more than any other community in the region, would have been idiotic. I wish we had fought harder.
I had a little more to say about the Referendum at the Meeting, I will probably write at least one more blog post on this topic, to develop those thoughts. For now, we need to move on.
900 Carnarvon rezoning
This project is taking another kick at rezoning. The fourth tower at Plaza 88 has a bunch of site constraints making development of it difficult. I am mostly concerned about the pedestrian and traffic realm on Carnarvon. You would not believe how many complaints we get about that 400m of road. It is unattractive, uncomfortable, and IMHO unsafe in the way it is currently operating. I don’t think the solution to Carnarvon will be found in this development, but I want to do everything I can to assure the situation does not get worse, and that we, as a City, find ways to make it better.
Council agreed to give this Development Plan First and Second readings next week, and it will be going to Public Hearing on September 28, 2015. C’mon out and tell us what you think.
Housing Agreement Bylaws for 318 and 328 Agnes Street
Wow, we have a lot of rental coming on line. There was a long period where there was no purpose-built rental being built, but even new market housing like Plaza 88 has (according to previous report) at least 278 rental suites.
These agreements codify the rental use of the new buildings that previously received three readings from Council for this site. They provide the legal framework for the market rental housing proposed, and provide the City security that the property will not be “stratified” after we gave the developer incentives for building rental stock. We agreed to give the Bylaws three readings, and to authorize the completion of agreements.
231 and 237 Philips St Subdivision
The proposal here is to subdivide two lots in Queensborough into 6 lots. One of the rules in subdivision is that the frontage width of a standard lot can’t be less than 10% of the total perimeter of the lot (hence, a 100’ long rectangular lot must be at least 25’ wide). In this case, the lots are exceptionally long (176’) meaning they would need to be 43’ wide, which is a relatively huge 7,600 sqft lot; Huge by the standards of the neighbourhood, anyway. The request here is to subdivide to 29.33’ lots, which are typical of the neighbourhood and appropriate for the type of development around the subject site, and that requires a variance on the proportional frontage.
Council resolved to permit this.
DCC Amendment Bylaw
This is a bylaw to update the Development Cost Charges Bylaw. DCCs probably deserve another blog post at some point, but the short version is these are the charges per lot or per built square foot that are charged the developer to pay for the increased infrastructure capacity required to support the growth that the development represents. More people (or employment) mean more roads, more sewers, more water, etc. and DCCs allow the City to finance that future need.
The formula for determining how much DCC a City can charge is rather restrictive under the Local Government Act, so we don’t have a lot of flexibility in adjusting the rates. We can, however identify how they are applied and what types of infrastructure the charges can be applied. We will be doing a larger, more comprehensive review of our DCC strategy as part of unrolling the new OCP next year.
We moved to give this Bylaw first and second readings, and to send it to stakeholder consultation.
Parkade Public Art Installation
The refurbished east half of the Parkade is going to have a new façade. The current repairs include upgrading the railings and installing a translucent screen to make the outward appearance more attractive from the Pier Park and the Sky Train bridge. The City’s Public Art Advisory Committee went through an exhaustive yet very fast-tracked process to select an artist and piece that will fit the themes preferred by our public outreach efforts.
In a split vote, Council voted to send this proposal back to staff for more information. Some concern about the design was raised by members of council about the look of the piece, and with a bit of a lack of knowledge about the process that staff and our Public Art Advisory Committee went through to get to this point, we asked that staff come back next week with more info.
We received three pieces of correspondence. The one that generated a bit of discussion was the update from the Metro Vancouver about our regional water restrictions.
The region’s reservoirs are at the lowest range of “normal” for this time of year, at a level that they are usually only seen in August (see graph at top of this page). The bigger concern this year is the one-two punch of our using water at a higher rate than in previous years (1.6 Billion litres per day!), and with no remaining snowpack and no appreciable rain for more than a month, the streams that normally feed the reservoirs are currently running dry. See the red line on the graph above.
Stage 2 Water restrictions mean you can only water your lawn one day a week, and that only early in the morning. There are a series of other restrictions you can see here. I also asked the question about whether the City should have a green front lawn at a time like this, or whether we should allow it to go dormant (“go for the gold”) as a symbolic gesture during this time. We will talk more about this next week, as a recommendation was sent to staff.
We had the following Bylaws for Adoption, all discussed I earlier meetings when we gave them their third reading:
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 7768, 2015
Five-Year Financial Plan (2014-2018) Amendment Bylaw No. 7757, 2015
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7765, 2015 (Commercial Use above Grade in the Brewery District)
Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 7736, 2015 (420 St. George Street)
Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 7737, 2015 (420 St. George Street)
All were adopted and are now the Law of the Land.
And these Bylaws, which are discussed above, saw readings:
Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 7762, 2015 (318 Agnes Street) received three readings.
Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 7763, 2015 (328 Agnes Street) received three readings.
DCC Amendment Bylaw No 7770, 2015 received two readings.
Finally, we addressed the Notice of Motion that Councillor Trentadue raised two meetings ago. The Councillor wants to know why we don’t have more Community Gardens in New Westminster, and whether there is anything the City can do to help facilitate more. This led to a bit of discussion, including the idea of turning an area at the far eastern end of the front lawn at City Hall into community garden space, and a few of the synergies that may come with that location.
Anyway, Staff is going to report back on this, and it sounds to me like the members of Council are pretty positive on the idea of more Community Gardens in the City, so hopefully we will make some progress here.
And that was the business of the week.