This meeting was unique in a few ways. First, Council On Tour continued with a trip to the Queensborough Community Centre. Second, this was the first time we have rolled out the new Council format, where we have done away with the Committee of the Whole, and instead do all of the day’s open business in one evening meeting. It is hoped (and we are working out the bugs) that this will make Council more accessible, and more of the conversation around out decision making will take place in the evening meeting, when most people are paying attention.
That said, we had a fairly light agenda to deal with, and many issues were addressed in the Consent Agenda (as they typically are in Committee of the Whole), so it wasn’t a long Council Meeting.
Items passed in Consent Agenda:
404 Ash Street (3 Reports):
This is the replacement rental building on Ash and 4th Ave for the one that burned down in 2014. This came to us last meeting, and I asked Staff to explore whether the mature trees that line the north side of the property could in any way be saved during development. They survived the fire, they survived the windstorm, and they provide true ecosystem services to the properties around them, but unfortunately, I was probably too late in the process to make this difference. You can read the staff report, but the long and short is that the excavations, setbacks, and parking needs for the building make it pretty much impossible to save the trees without a significant redesign and a whole raft of variances. On the good side, more trees were added to the landscape plan.
I was recently asked by a Downtown resident about the trees that were lost on Agnes Street as part of the landscaping for the new rental development at Merrivale. This speaks to our City’s need to get moving on the Urban Forest Strategy.
Overall, this project has a lot of positives for the neighbourhood, and I think on balance it would not be fair at this late stage to hold up the official process. Council voted unanimously to approve the Housing Agreement that will protect this as a rental building, and to issue the development Permit.
1308 Fifth Avenue:
These are minor changes to an already-approved development in the West End. Council approved unanimously.
Development Cost Charges Update:
Development Cost Charges are the fees that the City collects from developers when they add density to a neighbourhood. The idea (and I am simplifying this, so give me some slack) is that it costs money to build (for example) sewers, and if we add population, we need to build bigger sewers, which costs more money. So when a developer says they want to put 100 houses where there used to be 10, the City calculates how much it is going to cost us to provide that 10x larger infrastructure, and we charge a fee to the developer for that cost. That way, the new people moving into the new development (through the purchase price, passed on by the developer) pay for the new sewer capacity, instead of the people who were there before the density increase paying for it.
The Provincial Government allows local governments to collect these fees, but it isn’t a free-for all. Cities need to identify the projects for which DCCs will be applied (e.g. water service, sewers, roads), needs to put a cost to the projects, and needs to spend the money on those projects. This is why DCCs for drainage are higher in Queensborough than for the rest of New Westminster – it is more expensive to build drainage infrastructure in Queensborough (see below).
This update is a result of a review of the City’s growth plans, the projects required to accommodate that growth, and the cost for those projects. Council has very little regulatory ability to adjust these numbers (they are reviewed and approved by the Province), but need to officially pass a Bylaw to make them effective.
Victoria Hill Parking:
There have been concerns expressed about the availability of Parking in Victoria Hill. By looking at these reports, you can see the concerns go back to 2011, and there have been significant changes in Victoria Hill since then – more developments, more underground parking, and more road and street parking. Staff has provided this update, which suggests things are getting better.
Museum and Archives Deaccession Report:
I learned a new word today! This is just a heads-up report for Council approval on the process that Museum and Archives go through when they dispose of items in their collection that have no value to their collection. It is an interesting report, and I note that items can be traded with other institutions, sold, or given away, and even destroyed if none of the above are found to be possible. The only thing they can’t do is give stuff to people who work or volunteer for the City. I totally understand the conflict issues inherent here, but find it funny that destruction is preferred to giving unwanted materials to City Councillors.
Items removed from consent Agenda
Queensborough Ditch infill:
In Queensborough, we have “ditches”. In places where there are no in-ground storm sewers, we have open watercourses to direct storm water away from roads and houses.
There are certain advantages to having open watercourses – they are inexpensive to build and maintain (especially in a place like Queensborough where there is no natural gradient to force drainage), they have higher capacity than a closed pipe, and they provide a bunch of “ecosystem services” – habitat for plants, invertebrates, frogs, and even some hardy fish like sticklebacks, which in turn attract heron and ducks and provide food chain links to species we value, like salmonids.
There are also issues with open watercourses – they take up space that would otherwise be lawn or sidewalks, they can accumulate weeds (including invasive species) and trash if not maintained, and they require residents have culvert crossings to access their property.
These issues are often balanced off by the fact that some people “like” the ditches, and some people don’t. So, politics. Regardless, the general practice of the City is to move towards removal of any ditch that is “ephemeral”, which means it is not wetted all year, and therefore is not deemed to have enough ecological value to be protected by the Provincial Riparian Areas Regulation.
Although this report was more about the process that the City goes through to approve and finance the in-fills (which all seems to make sense to me), but had a few questions about the eventual outcomes of our drive towards infills, and the communities we are building while doing infills.
Asphalt to Curb & gutter to sidewalk treatments of neighbourhood roads are no longer always viewed as the optimal solution to moving rain water through our cities. Rain gardens, swales, permeable pavement treatments, soil cells and the such are more commonly applied because the reduce the “peak flow” of water during storm events (reducing the cost for downstream infrastructure), improve the quality of the water run-off by naturally filtering out hydrocarbons and other pollutants that accumulate on our streets, and by providing other ecosystem services. The profiles provided in the report appeared to emphasize “hard solutions” of curb & gutter over these softer approaches (although there was still the use of some swale structures), and I wanted to clarify the process that got there.
I was also concerned that street side parking was emphasised over the providing of sidewalks in residential areas. This might be me reading too much into the language of the report, but when I read “all road widths should accommodate an area for parking” and. “sidewalks will be added where cross section width permits”, it seems the priority is contrary to the City’s Pedestrian Charter and new Master Transportation Plan.
The condition of the unregulated crossings in the report are something I think the City has a duty to address immediately, both to responsibly manage our drainage infrastructure, and for the safety of the public, and I expect a report back form engineering on that ASAP.
Ewen Street Update:
This is just an update on the progress to making Ewen Street a proper urban street – or a “High Street”. With concurrent sewer line replacements and the significant scale of the project, it is a multi-year plan, but we can see the completion on the horizon, and the central part of Queensborough will be addressed within the next year.
Electrical Utility Bylaw:
These are housekeeping changes to the Utility Bylaw, required to make the desired changes to the Electrical Utility Commission – the governance body that provides oversight to the operation of the Utility. Council agreed to send the changes forward to three readings.
Refugee Crisis Response:
I added this item to the Agenda in response to several pieces of correspondence council received from residents, and related social media discussion from residents and businesses in New Westminster wondering what they can do – and what the City can do – to help alleviate the refugee situation, remove barriers for people who have been displaced by war and oppression in the Middle East, and make our community more welcoming to refugees seeking to build a new life here for themselves and their family
Problem is, I have no idea how to respond. This is an international situation that requires specific response by the federal government, and arranging for sponsorship or specific outreach to refugees is simply not the core competency of local government. However, our City does have staff who are regionally renowned for their ability to manage otherwise difficult social situations and find resources to help people in need.
I suspect that providing a communication portal through which people in the city can work together and pool their abilities to support a program or two that are already in place is the right approach, but I want to hear from our Staff and the subject experts.
In the meantime, people who just can’t wait should check out this excellent short piece by Burnaby reporter Jennifer Moreau with a list of 5 ways you can help right now.
As a final step in the completion of the Wait for Me Daddy memorial, the City is selling memorial bricks into which you can have a memorial (or any other kind of) message engraved for posterity. You can go to this link on the City webpage here it get more info about how you can make your permanent mark on Hyack Square.
Bylaw 7770 2015: Council gave the DCC Bylaw Amendment three readings, it will now go to the Province for approval before it can be adopted.
Bylaw 7775 2015: Council adopted this Housing Agreement Bylaw to formalize the rental nature of the development at 404 Ash Street.
And with that, we were done the business of the day.