Council – Feb 22, 2021

We had a bit of a lengthy Council Meeting on Monday; an Agenda heavy with Public Hearing and Opportunities to be Heard. It is telling about the unpredictability of City Council that we had two really big topics – the annual budget and a change to the Secondary Suites program that effectively impacts every single family detached home in the City – and no-one came to speak to those, but we had three hours of delegations on the renovation of a butcher shop. This job is strange.

Financial Plan, 2021 – 2025
The 5 year financial plan bylaws have been sketched up, and we had an Opportunity to be Heard on the Bylaws. We received two pieces of correspondence asking questions, but nobody came to delegate or clarify on points in the plan. I have a follow up blog to go into a bit more detail about the feedback we received in the last month or so as the annual budget was finalized, but for now I just want to note it was a challenging year to do this work, and I have to send kudos to our staff for getting this work done swiftly, fur the extraordinary efforts they took to engage the public in the budget process, and the quality of the presentations that Council has received that allow us to understand the finances well enough to not just vote on it, but to explain to our constituents about how and why we made the decisions we did.

Council gave the Bylaw three readings and adopted it. On to 2021!

We then had three Public Hearings:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Secondary Suite Requirements) No. 8154, 2021
We are updating and streamlining our Secondary Suite program. There are currently more than 800 authorized secondary suites in ostensibly “single family homes” in the City (likely more, as there are undoubtedly many unauthorized units in the City). Most new houses are built with a secondary suite, or to accommodate a secondary suite if the owner so decides. With changes in the BC building Code on 2019, staff saw a need to revise our Zoning Bylaw to make it easier for compliance and approval. In short, these changes streamline and simplify approvals of secondary suites.

There are slightly different standards for secondary suites in buildings that already exist and for new secondary suites to be built after September, 2021. Base-line life safety standards exist for both, but as we can be more prescriptive on new builds we are adding further livability requirements, such as limiting ventilation between the main and secondary living units, assuring tenants have control of their own utilities and heating.
In the end, this a Zoning Bylaw amendment will replace more complicated documents and processes while assuring life safety and livability standards are met and avoid some redundancy with the BC Building Code. This also requires amendments to our enforcement bylaws.

We received a couple of pieces of correspondence about this, more inquiries about details than opposition or support, and no-one came to speak to the issue. Council voted to support the changes.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1135 Tanaka Court) No. 8250, 2021
There is a business that would like to start manufacturing food products that include cannabis ingredients in a Light Industrial property in Queensborough. If there wasn’t cannabis involved, this kind of use would be within zoning and no public hearing would occur, but Provincial Regulations and our own Bylaws around the devil’s cabbage are still peri-prohibitionist. So a zoning language amendment is required to permit this use.

There is no growing of cannabis, or retail sales of the product anticipated at the site. There shouldn’t be any specific odour or security concerns apart from any other light industrial manufacturing site, and their operations will be licensed by Health Canada.

We received one piece correspondence (the applicant, in favour), and we had no-one come to speak to us on this application. Council voted to support it.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8235, 2020 and
Heritage Designation Bylaw (404 Second Street) No. 8236, 2020
The owner of the little butcher shop that has been (in various forms) on the corner of Second Street and Fourth Ave in the middle of Queens Park for more than 100 years is looking to do some building improvements and expansion to make her business operate better. This includes a small expansion on the Fourth Ave side, the completion of a full basement, and some building restoration and rejuvenation to bring it back to its Mid-Century glory (but not its original 1920’s form). As the current use is non-conforming with the zoning bylaw (because the current use is decades older than the zoning bylaw itself), this expansion either required rezoning for formalize that use, or a Heritage Restoration Agreement which provides essentially the same function as a rezoning, but adds permanent protection of the historic building. The application was for the latter.

We received 79 pieces of correspondence on this (about 55% in favour and 45% against) and had 24 speakers (about evenly split between for and against), with significant overlap between the two. I cannot go through all of the comments (you can watch the hearing if you really want to dig in), but do want to paraphrase some of the major concern I heard, with my own (editorializing?) responses.

This is a violation of the rules (OCP, zoning, HRA), or of the spirit of the rules: This application complies with the language and spirit of the Official Community Plan. It is indeed non-conforming with the Zoning Bylaw, but the Heritage Restoration Agreement is a tool to bring this into compliance. This is the exact purpose of HRAs, and it is being used appropriate, both within the Local government Act and out local Bylaws.

Tripling the FSR is too much: The current FSR is 35%, and with the expansion planned the FSR above grade will be 50%. This is in line with form common in the neighbourhood. The full FSR will be 100% only when a full basement is added, and the FSR below grade will have no impact on the street expression or massing of the building. Allowing a full basement for storage and preparation is a reasonable request to me considering it has no impact whatsoever on the neighbourhood or form of the building.

Parking is insufficient: Yep, we are giving a parking relaxation, recognizing this business has operated at this site for almost 100 years, and in its current setting for about 70 years, and is not noted for creating parking chaos. Second Street is a quiet street with curbside parking almost always available, and this is a local small business that mostly serves local customers in a cycling- and walking-friendly neighbourhood. Parking can’t stop us having good things, or all we will ever have is parking.

Too many alternate uses possible: The current non-conforming retail use of the site is being formalized through the HRA, but the HRA does not fundamentally change the possible uses. As the current non-conforming use predates the zoning bylaw, another form of retail/commercial would be able to operate in the site (pending compliance with business bylaws, health code, etc.) if the butcher shut down even before the HRA. Notably, many people from the neighbourhood suggested a café or expanded retail might not be a bad thing for the community, but a welcome addition. That said, the owner has indicated they plan to operate a butcher and deli similar to the current operation for the foreseeable future.

Why 1950s and not 1920s: Many Heritage advocates would prefer if this building was re-shaped to better reflect the pre-1940 fashion of the bulk of the preserved residential houses in the neighbourhood. The problem with this is that most of the building is not from the original 1920s structure, but was added in the extensive 1951 renovation, that is the form that exists to be preserved. I was also compelled by some correspondence and the heritage statement that talks about architectural diversity, 1950s examples being an important compliment to the pre-war heritage of the neighbourhood, and speaking to the importance of the retail strip that used to exist along this block of Second Street before the others were torn down to build modern residential houses. There is a mid-century story being told by this building that is as important from a heritage point of view as the aesthetics of the pre-war period.

What is heritage win?: Some neighbours feel there was a lot given the landowner here (essentially FSR and reduced setbacks on two sides) for little community benefit. Aside from the community benefit of having this business operating in the community (the value of which many neighbours came to speak to), the HRA will assure permanent preservation of a mid-century small retail space, the last of its type after similar businesses were demolished along this block. Fundamentally, preservation of a building of demonstrated heritage value is the “heritage win” of any HRA.

There were other concerns raised, and indeed many came to speak in support of the project. The discussion even got a little philosophical at times as we delved into the balance between heritage as physical objects and heritage and intangibles (it is, most would agree, both). This was put into context by the final delegate whose father used to operate the butcher in question, and who actually grew up in the attached residential unit.

In the end, I supported the land use question put before us. And was comfortable that the HRA was an appropriate tool appropriately applied in this case. I hope the butcher can continue to provide a valued local service in Queens Park. Council voted unanimously to support the application and gave Third Reading to the Bylaws.

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