UA Public Hearing

We had another public hearing last week, this one on a Wednesday. As we were still getting our remote public hearing process smoothed out, and we were not sure how many people were going to show up for a few of these items, staff decided the prudent more wat to split the hearing into two nights to assure more people had the opportunity to take part.

In the end, it went really smoothly, and both people “Zooming” in and those phoning in seemed to navigate the process well, so that’s a positive. Now for the ranty part:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8211, 2020 re 466 Rousseau Street: Urban Academy
The application was to change the language of the zoning bylaw specific to this site to allow an increase in student space for the relatively new Urban Academy private school from 450 students to 550 students. This would include a small addition to the top floors of the building which are consistent with the existing zoning, and the use is already consistent with the OCP – so the application was really about student numbers, not building shape or use.

We received about 50 pieces of correspondence, and had about two dozen people speak to the Public Hearing. The overwhelming majority of both were parents of students at Urban Academy who supported the increase. The smaller number of people who opposed the project were Lower Sapperton residents who universally spoke about traffic issues related to the existing school.

I am not worried about the changes in the building, as they are consistent with the Official Community Plan land use designation for the site and density permitted under the existing Comprehensive Development District.

My read of the traffic study is that UA is mostly compliant with the conditions set out in the previous rezoning, though a small number of non-complaint members of the community are creating some issues on Rousseau Street. I cannot help but point out that this is the issue in every school in New Westminster, be it public or private. Like most residents, I see it every day in school zones, and we hear constant complaints from neighbors and concerned parents that *other parents* cannot be trusted to follow rules or respect public safety when dropping off or picking up their kids at schools. In my (bike) commute, the most dangerous place is always the school zone I have to pass through. That is clearly not unique to this school, or the New West. What is unique is that UA is committing to more action to address it than any other school in our community. I have no confidence it can be fixed in any school in our community until people in cars stop driving dangerously, but the trend is moving the other direction on that front, so what can we do?

What we cannot do is stop providing schools because drivers cannot be mindful of the vulnerable road users around them. I think this school (along with all the others) have work to do to improve compliance. I think that we need stronger enforcement of driving laws by the police and greater penalties for these seemingly harmless “little” violations of traffic laws that accumulate into a dangerous situation as part of a larger effort to shift driving the culture back to one of responsibility instead of privilege. I would 100% support making all street parking (including pickup and drop off) illegal on any street abutting a school property and the School district funding the kind of Transportation Demand Management for their staff that we are asking of Urban Academy and Fraser Health. But if people get angry about school drop off safety, wait till you see how they react if we take away an iota of free car storage.

Other people’s cars suck. That is the one constant in local government. Everyone wants traffic “fixed”, but very few are willing to accept the solutions. or to even accept that they are the traffic they want fixed. Based on the outrage many comfortably car-reliant UA neighbours expressed when the City dared to even slightly reduce the incentive to drive on a single block of an adjacent street, the bigger solutions seem very far out of reach for us. All that to say, we are not going to fix traffic by preventing this school from having more students, and 100 more students is not going to make the traffic any more dangerous.

Now, onto the slightly more veiled comments made during the public hearing about private schools. I don’t like them. I am irritated that public funds support them, and infuriated that Christy Clark changed the rules so we cannot collect property taxes from them. But there is clearly no provincial party brave enough to do anything about that, so they are here to stay. What I will not accept is people asking a local city council to put impediments into their path as some sort of valid way to address this issue.

I think it is inappropriate to use zoning as a way to block a perfectly legitimate business from operating because we don’t like the brand of cars the customers drive. My role as a City Councilor in reviewing a zoning application is to manage land use. We have already agreed that “school” is an appropriate land use for this site, and if we agree that 550 students is an appropriate size of school for the site, then raising concerns about the erosion of public education is a policy download to a city council that already has enough to do, and is something you should instead be demanding from your provincial government. There’s an election on, this is a great time to make that case. If you start a petition, let me know where to sign.

Ultimately, this is a zoning and land use question. We have already agreed it is appropriate for a school, I feel that an urban campus 400m from a SkyTrain and major transportation hub is the right place for a school this size, and so I supported the bylaw. Council voted in a split vote to support the application.

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