Building on a trend of more, shorter meetings, we had a Public Hearing on Monday and not much else. Well, one more item, so let’s cover that before we get into the fun part of the meeting:
Funding Submissions to the Provincial Community Emergency Preparedness Fund for Evacuation Route Planning and Update the New Westminster Emergency Evacuation Plan
We are applying for a grant from the Provincial Government to help pay for some updated emergency planning work. Staff in Fire & Rescue have identified Queensborough and Quayside are areas where we need to put a little more emphasis on updating evacuation plans in the event we have a serious incident, thinking about flooding, a hazardous materials incident, or in the event of a major regional event that impacts critical transportation links like the Queensborough Bridge or one of the rail overpasses.
Council moved to support the application!
We then had a Public Hearing on two relatively small applications:
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (759 Carnarvon Street) No. 8255, 2021
The Metro banquet/event hall on Carnarvon in Downtown has operated for more than a decade on special event licenses when an event requires alcohol licensing. They want to get a Liquor Primary license to remove that specific hassle that they deal with 100+ times a year. They are not planning to change their business model or operations as part of this, and their operation has not caused hassles for staff or police in the past, so there is no reason to assume that it will now.
We received no correspondence on this, and no-one came to speak to Council on the application. Council moved to support the application, and in the subsequent meeting gave the Bylaw change Third Reading and Adoption.
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8253 and 2021 and Heritage Designation (221 Townsend Place) Bylaw No. 8254, 2021
The owner of this house on a small side-street in Queens Park wants to subdivide the property and build a second house on what is currently their side-yard. As the existing house has heritage significance, a Heritage Revitalization Agreement was the chosen pathway to this, and the approach was endorsed by the Community Heritage Commission. In exchange for designation, some restoration, and permanent protection of the heritage house, a subdivision would be granted and a similar-sized house built.
There are some details in here. The subdivided lots would be 2,380 sqft., which is quite a bit smaller than the minimum for the designated zoning (6,000 sqft), which is the major relaxation being requested here. There are a few other relaxations, such as decreased set-backs for the existing house (it is not moving, the house is currently non-complaint, and permanent protection would mean it would be non-compliant forever), as minor set-back relaxation for the parking pad (though the project meets standards for off-street parking), and a very slight increase in lot coverage (35.7% instead of the 35% allowed). The “density” if measured by FSR is 0.71, compared to 0.70 that would be the max permitted on site, the “density” if measured by living units will go from 1 to 2 (neither house is being designed to have a secondary suite) where the zoning entitlement would be up to three (a house with secondary suite plus a carriage house).
We had quite a bit of correspondence on this application (around 50 pieces total, mostly opposed), and had about a dozen people come to speak to Council on the application, again the majority opposed. It is always dangerous to try to paraphrase and condense the many thoughts offered by the community, but I will try to address the most commonly heard concerns (speaking for myself, as always, and not all of Council).
Street parking is oversubscribed, traffic congestion, safety of children. The application meets the requirements for off-street parking, one per residence, and presumably the permitted three residences would produce more traffic than the two we are permitting. Competition for unassigned common space to store automobiles is never a compelling argument to stop new housing being built in my mind.
The density is not consistent with the neighbourhood. The increases over permitted density are minuscule. These small lots may not be common in Queens Park, but they are not unique. There are many ~2,000spft lots in the community dating back to the late 19th Century, with similarly small homes, and they are every bit as important to the heritage of Queens Park and the grand Victorian on the 8,000 square foot garden lot. Indeed both of these lots will be larger than the immediately neighbouring lot (at 1,800sqft). Housing variety like this is not an anomaly, but is part of the character of Queens Park.
A loss of green space. This is, of course not public green space, but a private lawn with a garage on it in a neighbourhood with ample green space, both public and private, compared to any other neighbourhood in the City. Again, the primary measure of private green space is the 35% maximum permissible lot coverage under the zoning, and the two lots will have 35% and 35.6% lot coverage.
No heritage win, or a violation of the spirit of the Bylaws. This may be a bit more subjective than the others, but it is a theme heard for every HRA application in Queens Park. So it is worth talking about again. The Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area does not permanently protect homes, it instead gives Council a set of tools to protect homes that have significant heritage value. It is still at the whim of Council (this, or the next, or the one after that) if and how to apply those tools. Before the HCA, there was nothing Council could do to prevent a heritage home from being demolished if the owner wanted to do that. With the HCA, Council can prevent some demolitions, and it also has enforcement powers to prevent “demolition by neglect”.
A Heritage Designation provides a higher level of protection. With a Designation on title, the owner cannot demolish a house, and has an obligation to replace it if it destroyed by, say, a fire or flood. It is a legal agreement that binds the owner (and future owners) and Council (and future Councils). When an HRA is completed, the house is designated, and is protected at a much higher level than being an identified heritage asset within an HCA.
Typically, and HRA comes with the owner of the building seeking a relaxation from a zoning bylaw limitation on the use of their property in exchange for that designation. So saying “HRAs are being used to violate zoning laws!” is to actually say the HRA is being applied exactly as they are intended. If there are no zoning relaxations, there is not HRA. In this case, the heritage “win” is relatively minor – a house of heritage merit is permanently protected and the owner is bound by a legal agreement to protect it which passes on to all future owners – in exchange for what are relatively minor relaxations of the zoning law that are otherwise reasonable and not onerous on the community. That’s the deal.
Overall, I am comfortable with this application, especially when shown the other options for the site that the owner chose not to follow (such as expansion of the house and the building of a lane way house). I have always expressed my feeling that the HCA should not “freeze” Queens Park in place, but that we should still explore opportunities to expand the variety of housing in the neighbourhood, including small lot infill like this, laneway/carriage houses, and (yes) even stratification of some of the larger houses that have been divided into multiple units for years, if possible with our stringent building codes.
In the end, Council voted 5-2 to support this application and the heritage designation, and gave both Bylaws Third Reading in the subsequent Council meeting.