Council – Dec 7, 2020

Monday’s Council meeting was limited to three Public Hearing topics. We also had a workshop during the day where we made some decisions about the 2021 budget that threaten to overshadow the Public Hearing in their newsworthiness, but I’m going to stick to the Public Hearings in this report, and follow up on the budget later (as the it was a workshop, the “real” decisions will be made next Council meeting). We had three development projects up for Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8237, 2020 and Heritage Designation (835 Royal Avenue) Bylaw No. 8238, 2020
The owner of a very old house on a fairly large lot on the hill on Royal Avenue wants to preserve said house with an addition and build three townhouses on the back of the lot. Before the hearing, LUPC approved on consent, the Community Heritage Commission would prefer both houses on the site preserved but approved the plan, and a few neighbours had familiar traffic-related complaints in the limited public consultation. We had a single piece of correspondence from the neighbourhood (in support) and only the proponent came to speak to the Public Hearing.

I reluctantly supported this HRA. At the current time, the density we see here (6 residential units, 5 strata ownership and one rental) is probably appropriate, so I do not want to vote against adding this kind of housing choice right now. But I also note that this location is 5 minutes’ walk from the centre of a Regional City Centre highlighted in the Regional Growth Strategy – this is a place where the regional plan tells us in the decades ahead we will need to bring more density if we are going to achieve our regional sustainability and transit-oriented-development goals.

When people complain about towers right next to single family homes, they are usually complaining about the tower, but I think it requires us to be equally skeptical if  the market calls for a tower and we have single family houses. On a site like this, 400m from a SkyTrain station and the centre of a bustling commercial area, across the street from a school, I would rather see more moderate density. If the apocryphal four-floors-and-the-corner-store had come to me as an application for this site, I likely would have voted to approve it.

Instead, we were asked to protect *forever* a single family home build form a 5 minute walk from our busiest commercial centre, because the house met some narrow sense of aesthetic good – it is a preserved example of somebody’s tastes 100 years ago. Single Family homes are going to exist in our city for a very very long time, nothing wrong with that (I live in a single family home myself), but to permanently preserve one this close to a regional centre rubs me the wrong way in 2020.

The problem I’m going on about here is not caused by the proponent, it is the City’s HRA and development policies that push owners down this path. If I were to vote against this HRA and convince Council to support me, it would likely mean this addition of housing flexibility would go away, and there is no guarantee anyone would come with a plan that fits my notions of where we should be going here any time soon. At this point, the greater good to me is the housing choice this development provides, so I talked myself out of voting against it. Maybe I overthink things.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this plan and give these Bylaws Third reading.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8239, 2020 and Heritage Designation (631 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8240, 2020
The owner of a modest house in the Glenbrook North neighbourhood wants to preserve the house permanently through an HRA and build a second house on the subdivided side yard. As this is a corner lot, this will make for two compact lots with frontages that are pretty much consistent with the existing block, though both buildings exceed the allowable FSR.

We had several written submissions on this site, mostly neighbours in favour of the housing diversity, a few opposed for mostly over-densification arguments. We had the Proponent speak in favour and three neighbours speak in opposition.

Again, the HRA process is a bit funny here, as the original house has limited heritage value, even as admitted by the Community Heritage Commission, but is identified as a “character house”, which sounds like some pretty special pleading towards status quo to me. This process has exposed to me again that “heritage” is still sometimes used as a hammer to preserve some very personalized ideals of status quo as opposed to protecting limited and valuable assets. We really need a refreshed conversation about our goals around HRAs, but like the previous application, this is not the place to make that stand.

So the HRA part of this is neither here nor there for me. Compact lots that fit into the neighbourhood, located on a greenway, less than 5 minutes’ walk to a non-transit-oriented commercial area and a short walk to two schools, that provide some housing diversity in our established SFD neighbourhoods, should be encouraged, not discouraged by requiring special pleading about Heritage to get to Council. The current zoning entitlement for the land is for three residential units (A house, a secondary suite and a carriage house). This expands that to four (two houses with secondary suites). Any way you cut it, +1 is about a gentle a density increase as possible.

Council voted unanimously in the follow-up meeting to support this application and give these Bylaws third reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street Text Amendment) No. 8245, 2020
The owners of 100 Braid Street have an approved development plan for 233-odd market condos in a 21 storey building at 100 Braid Street. They are requesting to change that to 423 units of rental housing, including sufficient 2- and 3-bedroom units to meet the City’s Family Friendly housing policy. This would require about a 50% increase in density (measured by FSR) and make the building about 390 feet tall. They would also apply to CMHC for partial funding to support 96 less-than-market units, which would be secured at less than market rates (though not far enough to meet the City’s definition of “affordable housing”) for 16 years. If the CMHC funding is not granted, Wesgroup will revert to the 21-storey 233-unit condo plan. Or, in theory, they could come back to Council with another plan to be assessed at that time. The proposal meets the City’s OCP land use designation, but requires a change in the zoning through this text amendment. It would require a slight relaxation from parking minimums, but one consistent with the parking need demonstrated by other rental buildings adjacent to transit centers. The inclusion of a community art space of just over 4,000 square feet is included in the application, and has not changed.

To be clear, the building is already approved, the question before us now is the existing 233 market condo plan or a bigger building with 423 secured market rentals (secured for 60 years), 96 of which would be CMHC below-market rates (secured for 16 years).

We received 22 written submissions on this application: some in favour, but mostly opposed. We also had about a dozen people connect into the Public Hearing and provide us comments, mostly in favour. If I can summarize, some in the neighbourhood felt the building was too large, and had concerns about traffic impacts. Supporters generally spoke to the need for rental in the neighbourhood and the proximity to Braid Skytrain station as being the right place for purpose built rental in our community. I note that one of the delegates at the Publci Hearing was speaking on behalf of LandlordBC. Notable, because the last time I remember that organization sending a representative to New West Council was two years ago when they argued that  if the City went through with its region-leading renter-protection bylaws (which we did go through with), then no-one would propose building Purpose Built Rental in New Westminster again. So, there’s that.

I voted in support of this change. I think discussion of “neighborhood character” here needs to be put in context of the Skytrain station 200 metres away – a station that has been there for almost 20 years now, with growth being essentially frozen around the station for those 20 years. This is going to change with the master-planned neighbourhood in development across the street, which will likely see a dozen towers and more than 4 Million square feet of residential and commercial space. 423 secured market rental suites across the street from a SkyTrain Station is completely consistent with our community plan, with the Regional Growth Strategy, and with the needs of not just renters and potential renters in our community, but the needs of employers and businesses in our community.

Council voted unanimously to support the zoning amendments.

Leave a Reply