Council – Feb 8, 2021

It seems we are meeting a lot these days, but we also have relatively short open agendas, amazing how that works out. This week’s meeting started out with a great staff presentation on the draft budget:

Draft 2021 – 2025 Financial Plan
There is a report here, and a power point presentation with some great diagrams about the 5-year financial plan. Staff will now put this plan together into the appropriate empowering bylaws.

We have been through several workshops, and have done the most comprehensive consultation with the community of any budget process I have been through in 6 years on Council. We have spent a lot of time working on the Capital Plan especially, as it is especially significant this year. All of this discussion and compromise and debate is going to, inevitably, to be distilled down to one number. And this year that number looks to be 4.9%.

The proposed property tax increase is made up of a 2.3% increase that is a result of inflationary pressure on the existing program (both inflation for fixed costs and bargained wage increases), 2.0% to go directly to financing the debt on the NWACC project, which we are going to have to start paying for in 2021, and another 0.6% increase that represents new services. Utility rates are also going up, mostly due to increased fees being charged by the regional suppliers, though we are also continuing to invest locally to assure our long-term reserves are healthy.

We will read and potentially adopt the Bylaw on February 22nd, so if you have opinions, please let us know here! But please at least read the report first or watch the Power Point in the Video to get a sense of where this is coming from.

We then had a DVP for Approval:

Development Variance Permit DVP00686 for 632 Carnarvon Street
An operator wants to open a much-needed-in-downtown childcare space in the old Fisheries Building downtown, but needs to repurpose some outdoor space to play space to meet Fraser Health requirements, which will erode their ability to provide off-street parking for their staff to meet our zoning minimums for the use. This requires a DVP, which we put notice out about last month. We received a single piece of correspondence concerned about traffic impacts on the Court building. Council moved to approve the DVP, and I can’t speak for everyone, but my only thinking was that childcare space is in much greater need in downtown than parking space.

We had three items on the Consent Agenda, two of which we removed from consent to talk about, but you’ll have to watch the video to see which ones! Ha!

Recruitment 2021: Appointments to Board of Variance (BOV)
The Board of Variance is a provincially-mandated committee the City has to review variances if the person who is requesting the variance would rather appeal to someone other than Council. Ours does not meet very often, but we assign people to it, because that’s the law!

Landscaping Guidelines for Laneway Houses in Queen’s Park
We had a delegation a few weeks ago concerned about a chain link fence in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Seriously.

Indeed, chain link is not a preferred material in the design guidelines (which are guidelines, not laws), and as fences are typically not subject to permits or inspections (aside from having limited heights), fencing materials may be included in guidelines applied for new construction in the HCA… I honestly cannot believe we spent staff and Council time digging into this when there are an almost infinite number of more important things going on but…

Turns out we got an e-mail from a neighbour, and there are some weird details here around how the existing fence was removed that fall under that nebulous world of Fence Law which is actually a fascinating body of jurisprudence that doesn’t really involve the City directly unless there are building permits. Anyway, we are going to ask staff to go back and help the neighbours work this thing out if they can.

Westminster Pier Park Management Oversight Committee: Westminster Pier Park – Fire Recovery Update
The good news: the playground inside the loop of the new ramp entrance is being built as we speak, and will be ready this spring. The bad news: the entire damn park is still closed, and it may take until April to get it opened again. The reasoning here is a need for a level crossing access for vehicles for public safety reasons.

We had a bit of discussion here, and I am frankly disappointed where we are. The Fire department feels we need to be able to drive a vehicle into the Park for emergency response before we open it. This seemed strange to me, as there are two foot accesses to the park, one at each end, and there are many places in the City where you cannot drive a vehicle that are nonetheless accessible for park use. The middle of Hume Park, the “beach” in Queensborough, areas of Glenbrook Ravine. I am not a first responder, but it was not really made clear to me what the operational restrictions are, or if efforts were found to address those restrictions that didn’t involve months of negotiation with the railways, procuring road building, etc.

My point for pushing here is that I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency, or an understanding of how important this par space is for the many people who live in Downtown New West. This is an area of the community where density is, where many residents are renters, and many don’t have access to outdoor private space. The Pier Park is literally their back yard, and vital to the livability of the community for them. During COVID we have lost so much of our social and collective space – people are feeling trapped in their homes – they need this space, and it has been closed for almost 5 months now, with another couple of months of closure on the horizon.

It is a diminished space, and yes I know it is winter, but to have a sunny day like last Saturday and for the thousands of people downtown to have no access to their premier park space – that is not the level of service our residents should expect. We need to do better, find a creative solution, and get this park space back into the hands and under the butts of our residents.

Finally, we had a Bylaw and related Motion:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (457 East Columbia Street) No. 8227, 2020
The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw that made that happen, and moved the resolution the province needs from us to get the Liquor Primary licence approved.

The operator of the Arcade in Sapperton wants a liquor primary license. We adopted the Rezoning Bylaw, and moved the resolution the Province needs from us to get the licence approved.

And look at me getting my Council Report out the morning after the meeting!

One comment on “Council – Feb 8, 2021

  1. Thank you for your emphasis on the value of Pier Park to downtown residents and how essential it is to the livability of this large population. It’s a really hard situation but it helps a bit to know that someone understands.

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