Back at Council after our UBCM break. I have some writing to do about that whole thing, but need to get through this business first. Out meeting agenda was not too crazy long, but we got into some pretty meaty discussions on some policy issues that brought us to some split votes. We started with Public Hearings on three projects:
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (34 South Dyke Road) No. 8087, 2019 and Development Variance Permit DVP00635 for 34 South Dyke Road
This project would see 16 townhouses built on a vacant lot on South Dike Road, including a swap of some lands to make the lot work better while providing the waterfront land for the City to enhance the dike, and continue the waterfront parks sue that is the big vision for that part of Queensborough.
There are a few variances needed here. The setback to the north is reduced 3 feet and the west side by a foot and a half. The Advisory Planning Commission, Design Panel and Residents’ Association all expressed support for the proposal. We received no written correspondence, and no-one came to speak to the Public Hearing.
Council moved to support the DVP and gave the Bylaw third reading.
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (1935 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7846, 2019 and Heritage Designation (1935 Eighth Avenue) Bylaw No. 7847, 2019
This application is to subdivide a largish lot on the corner of 20th Street and 8th Ave in the West End in exchange for giving permanent protection to the 1928 single family house on the corner. There would be some variances required: the resultant lots would be 66% and 50% of minimum size, with Floor Space Ratios 18% and 6% above the maximum. allowed. The Community Heritage Commission and Advisory Planning Commission reviewed and approved of the project.
I actually voted against this proposal. The idea that we are permanently preserving single family homes on the intersection of two arterial roads less than 5 minutes walking from a SkyTrain station in 2019 rubs me the wrong way. This is not the vision of sustainable, transit oriented development that I think of in the City. Unfortunately, our OCP leads applicants down this path – in that this type of preservation is exactly what our existing policy framework is encouraging, and the landowner here is perhaps being treated unfairly when I speak against the proposal at this late stage, but I could not support it.
We received no written submissions and no-one came to speak to the application at Public Hearing. Council voted to support the the project, and gave the Bylaws Third Reading.
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 805 Boyd Street) No. 8140, 2019
The Government of BC wants to open a government cannabis store in Queensborough Landing. We have now approved 3 private cannabis store applications, have two more wading through the provincial security check process, and this would be the first government store approved.
This process has taken longer than most would like, including the City and the Province. At the UBCM meeting last week Premier Horgan admitted frustration that BC was not able to get their various regulatory changes and approvals done faster, but such is the nature of bringing in comprehensive changes. We received a single written submission in support, and two people came to speak in favour of the application. Council moved to support the Zoning Amendment, and gave it Third Reading and Adoption with only a single “high” joke. I’m proud of us for that.
We then had a single Opportunity to be Heard:
Development Variance Permit DVP00663 for 65 East Sixth Avenue (New
Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre)
The City itself has to go through formalizing the variances for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre replacement project, now that we have some certainty about the design. Though we are still not sure we will have the financial capacity to build the much larger facility that the competitive swimming community asked for, we are using that as the basis for our variances at this time.
The list of variances is not that long considering the uniqueness of the building. It includes building height (54 feet where only 30 feet is permitted), parking (We only have space for 422 cars, the zoning bylaw recommends 526), and the design of bicycle parking (we are building almost twice the requirement, but varying the design requirements to make it more appropriate for the building design). We had one letter of support and one member of the public came to express support for the reduced car parking and ample cycling space. Council moved to give ourselves these variances.
The following item was Moved on Consent:
Split Assessment through New Commercial Assessment Class
The way property taxes are calculated in BC is based on the assessed value of the property. The value of a property is based on “highest and best use”, not necessarily the current use, so in growing commercial areas the assessed value of even low-cost commercial lease property can be really high, with consequent impact on property taxes. New Westminster, like every other City in the lower mainland charges a much higher rate in commercial property taxes than we do on residential taxes. Businesses pay 3.5x as much property tax per $1,000 than residents do. And it is almost always the lease of the building – the small business in the building – that pays these property taxes, not the owner of the building. So small, independent business commonly cannot afford these triple-net leases, which is part of the reason you see more chain stores and national brands in new lease spaces. This is complicated by modern mixed-use zoning practices where it can be hard to separate residential value from commercial value in the same developable lot.
This is not a New West only problem, and the Province has been looking at creative ways to shift our property tax regulations to allow Cities to better support small independent businesses, and have received recommendations from an Intergovernmental Working Group on this. New Westminster’s BIAs have sent us a letter suggesting their support for these recommendations.
One of them is to separate the current use and “developable value” parts of the assessment, and charge a different tax on the latter which the city could set at anything from zero to a percentage under the full tax rate.
This is interesting, but I need to emphasize that any reduction in taxes to one property type will result in an increase in taxes to other property types. We can’t give businesses a property tax break without raising residential property taxes (except, of course by doing city-wide service reductions). The business community asking for tax reductions must be put into this context. The province has not made the regulatory changes yet, and this idea will have to get bounced off of the public a bit, and will need some financial analysis. Interesting, but not a slam dunk.
The rest of the items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre – Sustainability
Implementation and Certification Progress
A significant part in our City’s commitment to the Climate Emergency declaration is assuring the replacement of our largest corporate GHG point source is with as low-carbon a building as possible. We are pushing the envelope a bit here, and after some significant design and energy modelling work, it looks like we can do what no-one has yet done – build a 100,000+ square foot aquatic centre that meets the Canada Green Building Council “Zero Carbon Building” standard. That is pretty exciting.
The building will use carbon-free energy for all heating and cooling, for water treatment, air management and auxiliary energy needs. We are also hoping to add photovoltaics to the roof to produce 358kW of electricity – effectively tripling the City’s current Solar Garden photovoltaic capacity. This marks a major shift in how we build buildings, and will be a model for recreation centres in Canada.
Brewery District (Wesgroup Project): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
This is another application to do utility works at night, as has been a typical practice if daytime work would be expected to add too much road disruption or traffic chaos. Council actually had a long discussion about this, following some recent projects where we heard from residents not happy to be kept up at night by construction. I have started re-thinking these in my own voting, and am going to prioritize the peaceful sleep and livability of residents over the need for drivers to not be delayed while driving through New West. I suspect we will get grief for this, but Council in a split vote denied the application, meaning the applicant will need to adjust their works to change the night use schedule, or will need to do the work during the day.
Pop-Up Recycling Events
This is a report that updates on changes in our recycling systems in the City. As previously reported, the current recycling centre near Canada Games Pool will be inaccessible due to construction staging once the pool replacement project starts, so staff is looking at different ideas in how to use this as an opportunity to shift how we collect some of the harder-to-recycle materials that can’t go in our curbside collection system, like soft plastic and Styrofoam. At the same time, we can educate the community on the myriad of recycling options that already exist in New Westminster . Part of this strategy will be “pop up” recycling events on City lands in 2020 – where we can also have reuse and repair opportunities, with an emphasis on education of options, and to see what works. Far from “abandoning recycling”, the City is putting a bigger emphasis on the first two Rs (reduce and reuse) and will adapt our recycling options to fit the realities of the shifting recycling materials markets.
Permissive Property Tax Exempt Properties – Review of Application Results
We give permissive property tax exemptions to some charitable organizations and community service agencies. These are “permissive”, because they are not required by provincial law like the regulatory exemptions given to Churches, but are up to Council to approve or not. Although there are a number of long-established recipients of permissive exemptions, the City has long had a practice of not awarding new ones. This is our annual report on the Bylaw we need to update every year listing the permissive exemptions.
Recently, however, there have been two significant expansions of Private Schools in the City, and we are still managing them as “permissive” exemptions. I have asked Council to have a review of policy around permissive exemptions for tuition-collecting private schools in the City.
Investment Report to August 31, 2019
We have about $191 Million in the bank in various reserve funds. Most is not cash we can spend, and it is not (as some may allege) in a vault at City Hall for us to roll around in. It is mostly in reserve funds that are earmarked for specific projects, like the Canada Games Pool replacement, or DCC funds set aside from development charges to pay for things like sewer and water and road upgrades those developments will cause us to build. Before we get all excited about that big number, a huge chunk of this is going to get spent over the next three years as we realize our aggressive capital program. Nonetheless, so far in this fiscal year we have made about $2.8Million on these investments.
We talked a few years ago about divesting our funds from fossil fuel industries, and took a resolution to UBCM a few years ago. The Municipal Finance Authority has net been excited about a fossil fuel divestment fund, though they have been tossing around an “ethical” fund, which is not really the same thing. That said, we have declared a climate emergency, and this is a new Council since the last time I kicked at this can, so I moved the following:
That staff report back to Council before the start of next financial year to determine what options for fossil fuel divestment are available to us, and outlining the process and implications of we moved our funds away from the MFA in the event they cannot provide a fossil-fuel free investment product to the City. This was supported by Council.
We then adopted the following Bylaws</b:
Five-Year Financial Plan (2019-2023) Amendment Bylaw No. 8141,
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that updates our Financial Plan to reflect recent changes in revenue projections and capital spending was adopted by Council.
Housing Agreement Bylaw (616-640 Sixth Street) No. 8131, 2019
This Bylaw that secures market-rental tenure for a new development in the Uptown that was approved back in the summer was Adopted by Council. Despite the gloom and doom predicted by the development community when the City took stronger measures to prevent renovictions, investors are still building new and much-needed rental stock in New Westminster.
And that was the work of the day