Council – Dec 14, 2020

We had our last Council Meeting of 2020 on Monday, with an agenda full of pre-Christmas fun:

We started with an item Removed from Closed:

Library Board addition
Council gets to appoint people to the Library Board, one seat became available and we had many great applicants from which we chose one!

We then had a Special Hearing

Council Reconsideration of Tree Removal Permit Issuance for 309 Louellen Street
The City has a Tree Protection Bylaw we approved a few years ago after much public discussion. Recognizing that a healthy tree canopy makes a healthier community, the City put restrictions on the removal of healthy trees even from private property. Not a complete ban, but limitations. The owners of a house in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood want to remove a group of mature Douglas fir trees from their back yard. Following the permitting rules, they hired an Arbourist who determined they could be removed for safety reasons, and they pose “moderate risk”.

The City’s Arbourist and an independent third party Arbourist were of the opinion that two of the trees were indeed in need of removal, but the other 5 are healthy and just need a bit of pruning care, so the request for removal of these 5 was denied. As is their right, the homeowner is appealing this decision to Council.

There is abundant technical information in the reports, including a robust discussion between arborist regarding the typical behaviours of these trees and resultant risks. I am not an Arbourist, and cannot assess on that data, I need to rely on the professional competence of people who are professionals. The consensus here is that there is insufficient evidence that the trees are unhealthy or constitute a significant risk to persons or property. The homeowner still has an option to do a higher-level assessment to demonstrate that a higher-level risk exists, but until that case is made to staff, they cannot recommend removal.

I voted along with Council to not overturn the recommendation of staff and to continue to protect the trees.

We then had a review of a Development Variance Permit:

Development Variance Permit DVP00685 for 616 and 640 Sixth Street
A couple of years ago, Council approved a mixed-use building in Uptown. This was the first significant new residential development in the Uptown core in more than a decade, the first high rise approved north of Sixth Ave since Casey Cook and Jerry Dobrovolny were on Council. It was a mix of commercial at grade, and a 29 storey tower with a mix of market rental and market condominium ownership. At the time, it was in the news because a dishonest local businessperson tried to leverage it into a Facebook campaign against new residents moving to New Westminster (now in the “where are they now?” file) and because the mix of market rental and strata was structured as two buildings in a single envelope which raised the spectre of “poor doors”, though there was no affordable or subsidized housing component in the development.

Anyway, after some detailed design and number crunching, the owner would now like to make some changes to the proposal. There is no change in density here (same FSR and unit count), but they are proposing making the building slightly shorter (27 stories instead of 29) and slightly wider (a 6% increase in tower floorplate) and convert the entire residential component to market rental. They would apply for CMHC support to make some portion of the rental meet the CMHC standard for below-market (but not the City’s standard for “affordable”).

This requires that both the housing agreement that secures rental tenure for 60 years and the development permit be revised, which is where we are here. We received about 14 pieces of correspondence, almost all opposed to the original development, not the question before us now about condo vs. purpose built rental. One was from a resident of the neighboring tower who suggests shifting from condo to all rental is somehow a “tax grab” that will turn the area in to a circus, a few who have less that charitable things to say about renters as a class of people, and most of them concerned about the traffic impacts on Princess Street.

I think the shift to Purpose Built Rental is a good one, and hope that CMHC funding (always competitive) can lead to some subsidized rents here. I voted to support the change.

Then we had a Presentation from Metro Vancouver:

Metro Vancouver New Westminster Sewer Interceptor Columbia Section Rehabilitation
Under Columbia Street is a great big concrete pipe that used to move a lot of TriCities sewage down to Annacis Island. With the new Pump Station at Sapperton Landing and that big underground chamber by the old Train Station that was built in the last couple of years that had Front Street closed by Hyack Square for a while, most of that regional sewage is now redirected through a new pipe under Front Street. However, the line under Columbia still moves a bunch of sewage from the Glenbrook North and Sapperton areas, and ties into lines across downtown, and though it moves less sewage now, it is still vital, and reaching the end of its service life.

Instead of replacing, the plan is to “slip line” it – essentially slipping a slightly smaller pipe into the existing pipe to reinforce and reline it. As non-obtrusive as that sounds, it actually involves digging up a bunch of Columbia Street, and Metro Vancouver wants to do this in the summer of 2021.

There is a lot to be concerned about here. Downtown is not going great right now, businesses are suffering and residents of downtown are feeling the brunt of COVID burnout. Assuming we are re-opening society next summer, the role Columbia Street plays in the events that bring community cohesion cannot be underemphasized: Will we have a Grand Prix nest July? Will there be a Pride Festival, a Foot Truck Fest, or other events that build our community. As we look forward to a return to being a City where people meet in public spaces, we cannot forget Columbia Street is one of our most important public spaces, not just for the businesses, but for the large population of people who live in smaller homes in that neighbourhood compared to their uphill neighbours.

Council pushed back a bit, asking Metro Vancouver to look at measures to either accelerate or push back this work to reduce the disruption during the emerging-from-COVID period that is to come, and to look at other ways to address the various impacts it will have on Columbia Street as a public space.

The following items are ones me Moved on Consent

Recommended Actions in Response to Public Engagement Results on COVID-19 Recovery
We did a public engagement exercise to assess public feelings about the City’s COVID response and suggestions for what we need to do better. It was reported out to us on November 9th, and this report talks about next steps, and how we are going to act on those recommendations. We are keeping the Task Forces running and maintaining emphases on vulnerable populations, business continuity support, education and service delivery. We are going to renew our emphasis on moving things outdoors as much as possible, and finding creative ways to program outdoors in our famously damp winter and spring. We are also continuing to emphasize affordable housing projects and assuring Active Transportation in all its forms are supported with barriers removed.

I like this report because it I an important part of “closing the loop” on Public Engagement. We asked the public for input, more than 1,000 people took part and provided that input, now we are clearly saying “we heard you, and this is what we are doing to address your input”.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces.
This is our regular catch-up on the work of the City Task Forces on COVID response.

404 Salter Street (Summit Earthworks): Proposed Soil Transfer Facility and Gravel Storage Facility – Update
There is an industrial property next to the Derwent Street Bridge that is under Port of Vancouver jurisdiction. A business wants to use the site for two purposes: gravel storage on one part (404a Salter) and a soil transfer facility where waste soils from development around Vancouver would arrive, be stockpiled, and loaded by conveyers onto barges (404 Salter).

The City and neighbours have been informed of this and there has been some consultation, but the permitting is out of the City’s hands, and in the hands of the Port. As a City, we expressed some concerns about the buffer to adjacent residential neighbourhoods and impact of heavy truck traffic on Derwent Way. Apparently, the Port has already issued a permit for the gravel operation, with some conditions to manage dust impacts and reduced operational hours. The soil part is still being reviewed, has been slightly modified to reduce footprint and dike impacts, and the City will send some correspondence to the Port regarding some outstanding traffic management concerns.

Streets for People in 2020 – Final Report
This is a follow-up report on the work Staff did this summer to re-imagine some streetscapes in the City, and lead a conversation in the community about street spaces, active transportation, and improving the public realm. When we started installing temporary measures across the City, there was a lot of feedback. Some positive, some negative. The Facebook comments section perhaps the perfect distillation of the latter.

When you start to push spaces away from “cars only” to other types of use, the status quo pushes back hard. It was relieving that some of the more direct feedback, including at pop-up events throughout the City, was actually much more positive than Facebook would have you believe. There were many suggestions of how to make it work better, but overall people appreciated the work the City was doing to make the streets where they live and move around more comfortable for people who chose not to bring the comfort of a personal car along on their trip. This was encouraging, and reflected the experience of other jurisdictions across North America that have taken this approach of using the light intervention as a consultation tool.

There was also actual data collected to determine if the spaces were being used the way it was intended, and how the patterns of travel differed between streets that had an intervention and similar ones nearby that did not. This was a combination of surveys and noncontact observations of the patterns of users. So much of transportation feedback is based on anecdotes, it is great to collect more robust data like this. The report is a good read.

There are recommendations here on how we can do this better next time, on the types of interventions that people would like to see made permanent, and those they want to see go away. All fair comment. Remember we have set a goal for 10% of road space reallocation by 2030, so this important first step will help us on that path.

Update on Litter Receptacles Within Public Streetscapes, Parks and Open Spaces
This is the update requested on how the City’s street waste receptacle program is progressing since staff made some changes last year. Staff have removed some public waste bins and placed more in other areas and have been tracking impacts on the amount of waste generated and surrounding litter. Of course, people changed their regular patterns this summer because of COVID, including more parks and public space use and much more take-out food and resultant trash. Some extra waste receptacles were installed in some problem areas to address this. Alas, with the extra strain on some of our businesses, the outreach around this program came at a bad time.

The experience this summer was a slight increase in littering related to a few COVID-related shifts, and installation of a few more receptacles in strategic locations. We also had staff resources strained in mounting our own COVID response, so keeping ahead of litter and receptacle collection sometimes lagged a bit behind. Staff will continue to monitor and optimize the program, and look forward like the rest of us to a post-COVID world.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

823 – 841 Sixth Street: Proposed Affordable Housing Project – preliminary Report
This is a preliminary report on a proposed multi-family affordable housing project across the street from the new High School. This would provide a significant number of truly affordable housing units for in Uptown where there are currently 6 single family houses. There is a lot of good potential here to fill a vital housing need in our community, though we are already hearing some push back from the community.

This is a very preliminary report, and more work needs to be done. Importantly, it would require an investment from the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund of up to $2.4 Million, and we simply don’t have that much money in the reserve fund, so we would need to have a conversation about where that money comes from. Yes, this is downloading of some housing costs to local government from the provincial government so the province can bravely “hold the line” on taxes while putting the burden on less sustainable Property Taxes so your neighbours can have rooves over their head, but it is work someone has to do.

The timelines here are based on BC Housing timelines, and are aggressive, every change we propose along the way makes the project less viable, but we will see where it goes. On the project itself, this is a Preliminary report that will likely go to Public Hearing, so I won’t talk too much about it in this preliminary form, but we moved to let it advance to next steps, and to have staff report back to us on the implications for the Housing Reserve Fund if we agree to contribute.

Petition regarding Zoning Changes to Glenbrooke North
I took a bit of an unusual stand here and voted against even receiving this piece of correspondence. Simply put, it is full of misinforming and misinformed statements and makes baseless accusations about the motives of staff and Council when reviewing an affordable housing project in the City, and is below the standard of what should be considered useful input to the municipal governance process.

It also framed a petition that was circulated in a neighbourhood where almost 40% of households are renters (according to the 2016 census), and is on the topic of a rental development project, yet it is clearly stated that only the opinions of land owners are valid to represent the concerns of the residents of a neighbourhood. I cannot allow that to go unnoted. Considering the baseless accusations and outright falsehoods in the letter attached, I have very little faith that the petition itself was offered to the residents – oh, sorry, landowners – in a truthful and genuine way.

I want to encourage people to correspond with Council, and I appreciate grassroots activism – I did quite a bit of it myself before being elected. I have no problem receiving correspondence with political rhetoric or policy positions I don’t support for political or other reasons. Bu when a document fails to meet a basic standard of honesty and respect for your neighbours, I cannot receive in good faith.

New Westminster Police Department letter dated November 26, 2020 and report regarding Response to the Calls for Justice – Listening and Learning through Respect and Understanding
This report from the NWPD was a response to the motion put forward by Councillor Nakagawa and myself last year asking the NWPD to respond to the Calls for Action arising from the MMIWG Report that were relevant to policing. We referred this correspondence to a future Council meeting as it needs a more thorough review than we were able to provide this meeting. We have work to do as a City, and as a Police Board.

We adopted the following Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (34 South Dyke Road) No. 8087, 2019
This zoning amendment that you may not remember because no-one even showed up when it came to Public Hearing almost 16 months ago, but will nonetheless see 16 townhouses built on a vacant lot on South Dike Road, including a swap of some lands to make a better dike and waterfront park in that area, was finally adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (709 Cumberland Street) Bylaw No. 8233, 2020
This HRA that will see a replica heritage house to replace one lost, and another heritage house moved to a subdivided lot by the Canada Games Pool was adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No.8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
This HRA that will see a “character house” in Glenbrook North permanently preserved and a second infill house build on the lot was adopted by Council.

Sign Amendment Bylaw 8182, 2020
This Bylaw that puts some further restrictions on Election signs in the City was adopted by Council.

DCC Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8244, 2020
This Bylaw that allows us to take the money we collected from developers and spend it on utility upgrades as per the DCC Bylaw was adopted by council.

Finally, we had one piece of New Business

Increases to Disability Assistance and Income Assistance
Councillor Nakagawa brought the following motion:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT The City of New Westminster write to the Provincial Minister of Finance, the Premier, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the MLA for New Westminster, and the MLA for Richmond-Queensborough advocating that the government reinstate the $300 monthly top-up for people receiving disability assistance and permanently raise the rates of income assistance and disability assistance to a livable rate that is above the market basket measure.

Council was unanimous in calling for this measure. It don’t understand why this area was chosen for government penny-pinching at this time, but the recent loss of the $300 top-up really hurts people living in our community at a time they can least adapt. It’s never a good time to cut support to the lowest income people in our society, this is the worst time.

And with that, we broke for the holidays. Have a safe Holiday, help somebody in need, and think of the positive recovery ahead. Peace.

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