This week was our annual City Council on the Road trip to Queensborough. This is just like a regular Council Meeting, except we hold it at the Queensborough Community Centre, and more people show up!
Our agenda was not too long this week, so we started with a couple of announcements regarding the LEED Gold certification of the Queensborough Community Centre, and a progress report on the Ewen Street upgrading project (two years down, one to go!) and a few smaller pedestrian safety projects we are fast-tracking in Queensborough.
We passed the following items on Consent
2017 Development Services, Planning Division User Fees and Rates Review
One of the Principles of local government in BC is that some things are paid out of taxes, and some things are paid on a cost-recovery basis (this is a “principle” that is often hard to be too strict about, because of the hugely complicated overlap between the two groups, and the cost and hassle of keeping the division strict would overwhelm the cost recovery, but we try the best we can). Fees for things like processing development permits are intended to put the City’s costs for working a development through the review and consultation process as much as possible on the developer, not on the taxpayer.
Another principle is that we do not want to have our permits completely out of line with other Cities in the region, but because we “compete” with other cities for business, commercial, and residential taxpayers, and because being anomalously high or low relative to other Cities is a sign we are probably doing something wrong.
The changes proposed will bring us back in line with the median across the region. I am happy to support this change, as it assures we are regionally in the right ballpark on our fees, but that doesn’t mean the entire region isn’t over or undercharging, or that being in the middle of the pack removes our responsibility to find efficiencies in our operations. And we want to be regional leaders, don’t we?
So to support these principles, it would be great if staff did a bit of a desktop exercise to estimate the actual cost to the City for processing these applications – how much time does it take staff to review the average application, how many staff are required, and what are the costs – are we recovering half the cost? 90%? Or are we making money? I suspect there is a huge range, as applications vary in their complication and in the sophistication of the applicant, but estimating a range would be a useful exercise for council, especially as we are re-evaluating where we fit in the regional context.
1016 – 1022 Fourth Avenue: Development Variance Permit for Five Lot Subdivision with Duplexes on Each Lot – Consideration of Issuance
This Permit is essentially a housekeeping exercise on some of the language of the existing development permit, previously passed by Council. A few issues were discovered during further planning by the site developer that required clarification of language, and a relatively small adjustment of setbacks was made to accommodate the mature tree that is extant on the property, in concordance with our new Tree Protection Bylaw.
1209 – 1211 Fourth Avenue: Development Permit for Eight Unit Townhouse Development – Consideration of Issuance
This application has been winding its way through the process. The owner does not appear to be in much of a rush as the Public Engagement and Panel Review work was completed back in 2012. It is an interesting site on a pretty steep hill, but a good example of “missing middle” townhouse development we need so much on the mainland of New West.
Sewer Pump Station Rehabilitation – 2016 – Budget Re-Allocation
One of the fun parts about developing on flat land like in Queensborough is that you need to lift your sewage. You install your pipes with a bit of a slope to keep ‘em flowing, but eventually you get too deep and need a pump station to lift the sewage to a new, higher pipe to get more slope. Sewage lift stations are expensive, and need quite a bit of maintenance to keep your pipes clean because you wouldn’t believe what people flush. A couple of the lift stations in Queensborough apparently need major servicing sooner, rather than later, so we are moving some budget money forward.
This is a re-allocation of budget not an increase, as we would have spent this in 2017 or 2018 anyway as part of the regular maintenance schedule, we are just expediting the process a bit due to need, and to get some economies of scale, we are doing 5 stations as part of a single tender.
100 Braid Street (Urban Academy School): DP – Preliminary Report
Up to now, we have seen the site re-zoned. At this step, we are seeing detailed design of the school building, which is the first phase of development for the site.
This project will go to Design Panel, Sapperton RA and to a public open house, so please show up and tell us what you think.
Intelligent City Advisory Committee Amended Terms of Reference
The next phase of the ICI is starting to unfold, now that fibre and BridgeNet are approved, and installations are occurring. It is time to talk about the other interesting possibilities related to becoming an “Intelligent City”. We have had some interesting discussions recently about using more intelligent traffic control technologies… but we’ll save that for future discussions…
The following items were removed form consent
Sign Bylaw Update: Consideration of Public Consultation
The City is looking at its existing Sign Bylaw, and a few updates are intended to make the process easier and more consistent for businesses (we want to rely less on variances to the Bylaw). This is a pretty full re-write, but relies on the existing bylaw and its various edits and revisions to set the framework.
There are some mundane requirements, like having an engineer certify that the sign won’t fall and hurt somebody with the first puff of wind, or making sure lights meet electrical code. However, there is also the more complicated desire to assure businesses can install appropriate or needed signage, while limiting the visual intrusion of signage and maintaining an attractive streetscape for users.
This latter requirement is, of course, a challenging goal, and will rely on a lot of input from the business community, the Design Panel, and everyone else who lives, works, and shops in New Westminster. So we are sending this draft Bylaw out for some public and business input.
I asked that we also consult with the Access Ability Advisory Committee. I think they would want to provide comment on the types of signs that impair mobility on our streets and sidewalks, but also on making signs more effective for the visually impaired, and how signage impacts navigability for people suffering with dementia, as per our Dementia-Friendly community action plan, which may also include input form the City’s Senior Social Planner.
I have a few more comments in regards to some of the new restrictions, but I am happy to have this go to consultation as is, and hear what the business community and other stakeholders have to say, and reserve my right to comment when it comes back to Council!
701 Sixth Street: Glenbrooke Daycare Society Request for Financial Support
This Daycare is looking to expand, and the spaces are woefully needed in New Westminster. They are asking the City for some financial help as they have significant start-up costs if they wish to expand.. We have a Reserve Fund for these types of requests. However, our current reserve fund is mostly earmarked for addressing the situation in Queensborough, where daycare and pre-school needs are beyond crisis levels.
In the end, we need a little more info from this applicant before we can decide if it is the best use of some of our reserve fund, or if there is another source the City can dip into to support these very-much-needed spaces.
Metro Vancouver Regional Affordable Housing Strategy
I attended forum at Douglas College last Thursday hosted by Judy Darcy, our MLA, where representatives from the DSU and from Senior Services Society spoke about the challenges of our current housing crisis, and David Eby (the Opposition Critic on housing) and our own Mayor spoke of strategies to address it.
I think there were two messages I took away from that forum. First, as emphasized by Mayor Cote, is that the current housing crisis in BC is occurring at every level of the socioeconomic spectrum. There are tent cities popping up not just in Vancouver and Victoria, but in Abbotsford, in Prince George, in Maple Ridge. We have shelters filling up with the working poor – people with full time jobs who just can’t find a place they can afford. Waitlists for supportive housing through Housing BC are years long, and one of the cornerstones of affordable family living – the Co-Op housing system – is falling apart as their capital grants are stripped by senior governments. Rental rates are shooting up as the vacancy rates are below 1%, and even those fortunate enough to afford downpayments and mortgages in this overheated market are finding they cannot afford places large enough to accommodate families, as the $1Million line sweeps eastward across the region towards the most distant suburbs.
The second message was form David Eby, who emphasized that although the problem is multi-faceted and complex, the solution is really simple: we need a provincial government who believes housing is part of their mandate.
The regional government has a role in developing affordable housing strategies, and this document outlines a strategic plan for what Metro and the member Municipalities can do to alleviate the problem. I look at the 24 goals in this strategy, and more than half of them would be more achievable with the Provincial Government working with the cities of the region to make them more livable It’s an election year, maybe something good will happen.
Meantime, I am proud of the work New Westminster has done already. Again, much of this was brought in before my time on Council, but we are seeing the positive results now. When you look at this strategy and see that New West is already working on 23 of the 24 recommendations, there is no doubt we are a regional leader in almost every aspect of housing, punching well above our weight as the 10th largest Municipality in the region. But our powers are limited, as is our budget. Working with our regional partners on a regional affordable housing strategy is important to the current residents of New West, and to the future residents of New West, and I am happy to endorse this strategy.
We then adopted the following Bylaws
Sewerage and Drainage Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 7863, 2016
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 7860, 2016
As discussed on August 29, these bylaws better regulating discharges to our storm drainage system for construction sites was adopted. It’s now the law of the land, and I would appreciate it if you adjusted your behavior accordingly.
HRA (508 Agnes Street) Amendment Bylaw No. 7866, 2016
As also discussed on August 29, this HRA extension was granted through adoption of this bylaw.
And then I rode my bike home across the Queensborough Bridge, as the last rays of the sunset tinged the horizon orange (see banner photo above)… feeling like not just the end of a long day, but that the summer is ending soon. Grab a little more of September before it is gone, folks!