Zoning Amendment Bylaw (837-841 Twelfth Street) No. 8139, 2019
This project would see a 5-storey residential building built where there is currently an empty lot on 12th Street at Dublin Street. This is a project that has shifted a lot over the time it has been through public and committee review, including reducing from 6 stories and a shift in unit mix. It landed at Public Hearing with 29 residential units, 8 of them being three-bedroom and 21 being two-bedroom, with 4 units ground-level townhouse style units facing 12th Street. It would also meet “Step 4” of the BC Step code making it the most energy efficient multi-family building in New West.
We had no written submissions, but two neighbours came to speak with concerns about the massing, and about the impact of pile driving during construction (this issue was raised during public consultation, and the builder provided a geotechnical report indicating there would not be pile driving required during the construction).
Council moved unanimously to approve giving this project three readings.
Zoning Bylaw Amendment (540 Ewen Avenue – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8108, 2019
This was the application that had the most delegations for the evening. The application is to permit the sale of cannabis in an empty retail storefront in Queensborough. This was the first of two cannabis retail applications for review this evening (with three other locations – Uptown, 12th Ave and Queensborough Landing already approved), but it certainly was the most contentious application we reviewed. We received something like 600 pieces of correspondence on this application, with more than 500 of those individually signed copies of a form letter in opposition. Of the other correspondence, it was evenly mixed between people in favour and those opposed. We had about two dozen people delegate to Council, with a few more in favour than opposed.
Much of the discussion both for and against seemed to be re-litigating the case for cannabis legalization. One of my council colleagues wisely pointed out that the fears people have about cannabis legalization are based not on ignorance or prudishness, but on the legacy of a century of Canadian government, schools, police, and other “authorities” telling people that cannabis was evil and one of the most dangerous things their kids could ever be exposed to. People are afraid of cannabis because they have been relentlessly told to fear it their entire lives. That the federal government has now made it legal, and is not investing any time or energy undoing those narratives has essentially set people up, and communities up, for these conflicts of conscience.
Even in much of the discussion of this specific location, much of the concern was related to fears of the product. It shouldn’t be near a toddler daycare, 150m is not far enough from a playground, and a general idea that people will feel “unsafe” near the store. I did have more time for people concerned about noise and nuisance in a location that is near several residential properties, but the application is being made by a local business owner with deep roots in the community and experience running a nearby neighbourhood pub and is experienced at managing these type of issues, helped assuage some of these concerns for me.
On the bigger issue of cannabis retailing, I do hear people’s fears and concerns. It has been decades since I was a cannabis user (hey, I grew up in the Kootenays!) but I am aware how ubiquitous it is in British Columbia. I don’t believe it is a harmless product, but I think the potential for harm is much lower than alcohol or tobacco, and those harms are best managed through a legalized and regulated industry, not through prohibition. Pot exists, and is not going away, lets allow a regulatory regime suck all of the cool out of it and saturate the black market out of it, and it will be easier to address the externalities.
So I voted to support this location, and in a split decision, Council voted to approve the location.
Zoning Bylaw Amendment (71 Sixth Street – Cannabis Retail Location) No. 8107, 2019
This second Cannabis Retail application of the night did not draw quite as much response as the first. The location is in a corner store location on Sixth Street and Agnes in the Downtown. We had 5 written submissions, and about a dozen people came to speak to the Public Hearing, about evenly mixed between those in favour and those opposed. There were some difficult delegations, as the conversation moved to a bigger discussion of the current addiction and fentanyl crises, though the understanding of what the role of Cannabis regulation (and other aspects of “safe supply”) was not really explored at length.
In the end Council voted unanimously to support this application.
Official Community Plan Amendment (318 Fourth Street) Bylaw No. 8147, 2019
This application was to remove a house from protection under the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. The house is old enough (1908) to merit protection, but there is a process through which people can apply to have the protection removed through a combination of limited heritage merit, low potential for restoration, or unreasonable impairment of zoning entitlement. There is a scoring system developed to guide evaluation of the merit of these applications, and houses that score 61% or higher are not recommended for removal. This house scored 60%, which means it is recommended for removal by staff, but is obviously right on the edge, and ultimately, this decision is up to Council. Because removing protection requires an amendment of the Official Community Plan, they must go to Public Hearing.
We had 14 written submissions on this application, almost all opposed to removal of protection. We also had 11 people come and delegate to Council, all excepting the applicant opposed to removal.
The argument for removal was that the homeowner wanted to build a different style of house, and did not feel that the exiting house could be renovated in an affordable way to meet his family’s needs. This 0.47 FSR house on a 7000 SqFt lot could be replaced with a slightly larger (up to 0.50 FSR) house. With the incentives available through the HCA program, an extension or carriage house totaling more than 0.70FSR could be built with preservation of the house. I would argue that his zoning entitlements are much better (by 1,600+ Square Feet) with preservation.
In the end, the house is intact, and there was no compelling evidence provided that preservation was particularly onerous. Arguably, this is the type of house that the incentive programs were developed to encourage the preservation of, and I believe the spirit of the HRA was reflected in its protection. Council moved unanimously to not permit removal.