Ask Pat: short questions

Sleepless asks—

A few short questions :

1. The trains are still whistling downtown as of the end of September. Any update on the progress w.r.t. whistle cessation?

Answered, for the most part.

2. Will New Westminster be following in the footsteps of Vancouver to require business licenses for Airbnb rentals?

I don’t know, but I suspect so.

I have done a lot of research and had a lot of discussions around Short Term Rentals. It was a big topic at the UBCM conference this year, I have brought the discussion to Council, and even organized a community conversation on the topic. It is an interesting topic from a Local Government perspective, and something I think we need to act on.

From what I have learned (and I reserve my right to change my opinion here if presented with better reasoning of evidence), I think Cities should regulate the practice of renting out residential properties to short term users (i.e. any rental situation not already regulated by the Residential Tenancy Act or the Hotel Keepers Act). I think a business licence should be required, and the City should be performing inspections to assure that rental suites meet building code and fire safety requirements. We also need a regulatory structure to manage the inevitable neighbourhood concerns and conflicts.

That said, I don’t think Vancouver’s regulatory approach is the most effective, and may be more punitive that necessary. I look instead at the approaches of Tofino and Nelson. New Westminster is unique city in that we are a small city in the middle of the metropolis. We also have a high rental population, and through progressive policies are seeing much more rental coming on line over the next few years, so although our rental vacancy is still low enough that it is a serious housing affordability issue, I think we are on the right track towards addressing that. We also, as City, have very few hotel rooms, and no serious intent (that I know of) for anyone to build more. With our walkable neighbourhoods and high transit connectivity, our well connected small business community and burgeoning “cool” factor, Short Term Rentals can be a positive economic driver for the City. We can make this a good news story – if we do it right.

3. Has the city considered moving the library downtown into the Anvil building? I grew up in a town where the city council built a white-elephant ‘civic center’, much like the Anvil building, but after seeing it going mostly unused for a couple of years, they converted one floor into a large and modern public library, and the resulting increase in traffic resulted in revitalization of the center and eventually the surrounding downtown area as well.

No. There is no room in the Anvil for a Library. And in that sense, I take exception to the idea at the Anvil Centre is a “White Elephant”. For the most part, the Anvil Centre is fulfilling expectations for the uses it was intended. The Museum and Archives are settled in their new home, the New Media Gallery is regionally lauded. The convention and rentals side of the business is doing great, and the theatre program is finally starting to come together. The community arts spaces are programming up, and although there is still more work to do on this aspect of the centre, it is already serving its intended role providing opportunities for residents to practice arts, with more positive development to come.

Yeah, the restaurant space is still empty, but we now have a solid tenant with a great vision. I remain a little disappointed about the street expression of the space – I think we need to find more effective ways to open up the ground floor to the street and vice versa to make that space more lively. Hopefully the restaurant will start that process, but I don’t think that the complete solution. I have a few ideas here, but will hold them close to my chest until we have a better opportunity to work with the Anvil staff and develop some of these ideas. However, the main point is that there simply isn’t any “unused” space in the building to allow for something like a remote library.

Conversely, we are investing quite a bit of money in the existing Uptown main branch of the library to fix some building issues and fit customer needs better. The Library is the City’s most used public facility, and it is suffering a bit from age and traffic, necessitating the investment of a few million dollars in repairs and refit. The second “satellite” library in Queensborough is by any measure a success serving a community separated by a bridge and a little too much distance from Uptown.

I would suggest, if we were looking at more of these satellite library locations, that Sapperton has a more compelling case for need than the Downtown. However, We also need to put that idea into the perspective that we are a small City: 70,000 people within 15 square kilometres. There is a serious question whether satellite campuses for the Library make sense across that space, or whether the significant investment should be better spent in making our single branch work more effectively. However, that bigger idea may be a question for the Library Board, of which I am not a member.

One comment on “Ask Pat: short questions

Leave a Reply