Council – June 7, 2021

Another Monday, another Council meeting. Topics went from heavy to whimsical with a lot on the Agenda. We started with a Development Variance Permit:

Housing Agreement Bylaw (322 Seventh Street) No. 8258, 2021: Bylaw for Three Readings and
Development Variance Permit DVP00688 to Vary Off-Street Parking at 322 Seventh Street
These two go together, because the first gives something to the City, the second is something the City gives.

This older apartment building in the Brow of the hill wants to build some new ground-level studio-style suites where there is currently covered parking. This requires that we vary the required off-street parking in the zoning. In exchange, we are getting a Housing Agreement that guarantees purpose-built rental for the life of the building or 60 years (i.e. that the property will not be converted to strata ownership). This assures they will fall under our Business Licensing provisions that further increase tenant protections.

After sending out notice to the neighbourhood, we got a few responses, mostly concerned that there is inadequate parking in the area. However, both informal and formal surveys of the area of the Brow show that off-street parking is underutilized, including in this building. Just as our parking minimums for new development are seemingly arbitrary and increase the cost of new housing, I think the balance between places-for-people and places-for-cars during our ongoing housing affordability and vacancy crises can afford to be adjusted a bit.

Council voted to grant the Variance and give the Housing Agreement Bylaw three readings.


The Following items were Moved on Consent:

Appointment – Poet Laureate 2021-2024
We have a new Poet Laureate! Alan Hill has done a great job telling the stories of our City for the last couple of years, but his term is up. The City had selection committee made up of members of the Arts Commission and subject matter experts, and they have made a recommendation to Council. Elliot Slinn is a poet, a musician, a philosopher, a Douglas College alumnus, and our new Poet Laureate. Welcome!

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces
Our regular update on COVID task forces. We are reaching the closing stages here, folks, get your vaccine, stay vigilant!

22nd Street SkyTrain Station: Escalators Replacement Project – request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
The escalators in the 22nd Street Station need to be replaced, and some of this work needs to happen when the station is not operational, which means at night, which means the contractor needs Construction Noise Bylaw exemption to do construction work at night. They will notify the neighbours.

Action Planning the Implementation of the Green Fleet Roadmap
The City’s fleet (engineering and parks trucks, police cars, fire trucks, etc.) make up about 40% of the city’s greenhouse Gas emissions. If we are going to meet out Climate Action goals, we have ~10 years to make a fundamental shift on how that fleet works. We have made some progress on this over the last few years, but have a big jump to make.

This will involve three actions. The most obvious is phasing out hydrocarbon-powered vehicles as they age out with EVs or other zero-emission vehicles (or low-emission ones where that is the best available tech). The second is making sure we have the infrastructure to support this shift – it’s not useful shifting to electric vehicles (or hydrogen, or whatever tech) if we don’t have somewhere to power/fuel them and the mechanical expertise to maintain and operate them. Finally, we can make some significant reduction by changing how we use fleet vehicles, such as reducing reliance on them or increasing the efficiency of their use.

This report mostly deals with the middle approach – the infrastructure investment we need to make right now to assure we are ready to switch to EVs as our gas fleet ages and new electric medium-duty vehicles enter the market. There is lots of detail in here (this is a great report for geeks like me!), but in short: we are on it!

416 Tenth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Side Yard Projection
This house in the Brow neighbourhood has a covered deck that extends a few feet into the neighbouring property, and apparently everyone agreed to this encroachment a few decades ago. Now the deck needs to be repaired/replaced, which will slightly decrease the encroachment, but we still need to permit the variance for the new construction occurring in the encroachment space.

We will consider a DVP in a future meeting. If you have opinions, let us know!

230 Princess Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Driveway Width
The owner of this house in Glenbrook North wants to build a Carriage House, but the access room they have for a driveway is 8” narrower than required by the zoning Bylaw, so they are asking for a variance.

We will consider this DVP in a future meeting, if you have opinion, let us know!

618 Carnarvon Street: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw exemption
There is a complicated concrete pour happening near the Skytrain tracks in this project in a couple of weeks, and the proponent is being proactive in asking for a construction noise exemption to go a little past the permitted 7:00pm finish in case it is needed (they hope it won’t). They will let the neighbours know.

2020 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report
The City samples our water system every week at a variety of locations to make sure it is safe and potable. We sample for signs of bacteria, for chlorine lever (which you don’t want to be too low or too high) and for turbidity, and collect about 1,000 samples a year. This is the report. Tl;dnr: the water is good.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Engagement for the 2022 Budget Process
Last year was the most intense Budget engagement the City has ever done, and we are going to keep that momentum going in 2022. It will start in June and July with workshopping members of the City’s Advisory committees and Task Forces. Then as staff spend the summer putting their 2022 plans together based on that workshop info, we will re-launch BeHeardNewWest platform surveys in September, and another Budget 1010 Webinar with Q&A to help people understand the complexity of municipal finance.

This report also reports out on the 2021 engagement process, and what we heard from the public during that work – including the result of the survey that had more than 1,000 responses. Again, lots of good data in there if you are into that kind of thing.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements
The owner of this 4-storey office building in Uptown wants to do some internal and external renovations that increase its floorspace and make the commercial space more viable. This will result in an effective increase in FSR, but not the size or shape of the outside of the building. Though they currently meet the minimum parking space requirements, they will not meet that with the higher FSR and with the way our Parking Minimums have changed since the building was built, so they are asking for a variance to allow an FSR increase without an increase in parking spaces. Council had a bit of feedback, mostly concerns about not meeting the (updated) minimums for accessible parking, and asked staff to go back and have another look at the options.

We will consider this DVP in a future meeting, if you have opinion, let us know!

Cancellation of the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program
This is perhaps too “inside baseball”, but the Province surprised municipal governments by mentioning in passing that they were ending a funding program through which local governments get their Carbon Tax refunded to them if they demonstrate commitment and tracking of their GHG emissions. This was disappointing for a variety of reasons. The CARIP funding is not a lot of money (New West received about $115,000 per year in recent years of the program), but it was predictable base-line funding that local governments could use to leverage other funding sources for climate actions. It also created both an incentive for climate action for local governments (187 of 190 local governments have signed up) and a requirement for local government reporting of corporate GHG emissions, allowing us to track how we are doing as a province at addressing our goals.

The program is not perfect, and indeed as we work to reduce our emissions, it will become a less effective funding source (because our Carbon Taxes will go down), but unilaterally ending such a collaborative program without consulting local governments was not a great move – especially as we signed a Charter agreement to facilitate the program. But besides the bad form, we need to know if and how this program will be replaced. We are told it will be, but we need to know how and by what as we are busy doing the work of climate action, and were counting on this program to be there. So we are writing a letter to the relevant Ministers.

New Normal Staff Committee: COVID-19 Update: BC’s Restart Plan and New Westminster’s Restart Planning Matrix
The Province’s Restart Plan (v.2) is out, and that means new marching orders for everyone at the City. A slightly complex set of marching orders, though, as staff have to compare the stages of the restart plan to their operational areas and figure out how to maintain compliance, where our regulatory role is, and how to pay for any restarted programs in light of our budget and the anticipated restart schedule baked in to that budget. We also have to anticipate when the various steps will be met, and be prepared for a step backward in case. It’s a complicated piece of work. We can’t just flip a switch and start (for example) swim lessons again, we need to position staff, make sure facilities are ready, get the word out to residents, and pay for it all. This is probably no surprise to the many small businesses that have had to make similar adjustments, except that the scale of the City staff and breadth of programs is much more than any small business.

This report outlines timelines and plans for the various City departments. Some big-picture aspects: Expect more than 50% of staff back in offices (that is, still 50% remote working) by July when we hit step 3, and pretty much 100% back to traditional City Hall function by September (Step 4). Similarly, gradual increases in swim capacity and sport programming with pretty much back to normal in September, though there will be increased safety protocols for quite a while.

As this report is very in-ward-looking at City operations, we had a bit of a discussion after among Council about looking out at the community, and what we think the community is going to need to transition to a post-Pandemic world. We talked about how we can make that transition easier, what we can do (with our community partners) to bring some joy back to public spaces and create opportunities for us to get together and say hello to each other again. There will be more to come here, but if you have ideas, reach out to us and let us know!

In the meantime, let’s get our vaccines, folks, and be measured in keeping your vigilance up. Let’s work our way gradually into the return to normal human interaction, but know the worst is behind us.


Finally, we adopted these two Bylaws:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Retail Location – 416 East Columbia Street) No. 8256, 2021
As discussed in a Public Hearing back in April, This Bylaw permits the fourth Cannabis Retail operation in the City, this one in the Sapperton neighbourhood.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (100 Braid Street) No. 8245, 2020
A discussed in Public Hearing back in December, this Zoning Bylaw that permits a Purpose Built Rental building at the foot of Braid was Adopted by Council.

Council – May 31, 2021

Our Council Meeting on Monday was limited to two Public Hearings, one relatively uncontroversial, one with a somewhat higher profile. The Agendas for both are long, but I’ll try to keep this short.

Zoning Amendment (1319 Third Avenue) Bylaw No. 8257, 2021
The owners of Steel & Oak have requested that their lounge endorsement be expanded from 50 patrons to 100. They are doing some internal renovation to expand to up to 89 seats indoors, and are including 11 outdoor seats in their slim patio area for a total of 100.

We have received a few pieces of correspondence on this, all in support, and had one person speak to the Public Hearing, also in support. Council voted unanimously to support giving the rezoning Bylaw Third Reading and Adoption.

Official Community Plan Amendment (823 – 841 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 8261, 2021 and
Zoning Amendment (823 – 841 Sixth Street) Bylaw No. 8260, 2021
The longer discussion of the night was on an application from the Aboriginal Land Trust, Lu’ma Native Housing Society and the Swahili Vision International Association to build a 6-storey 96-unit residential building on Sixth Street directly across from the new high school.

The project would have 96 units, with a combination of one- two- and three-bedroom units that exceed the City’s Family Friendly Housing minimums. All of the units would be accessible or adaptable, and the building would be highly energy efficient by meeting or exceeding Step 4 in the BC Step Code. The building would be Purpose Built Rental for the design life of the building (60 years). The building would be truly affordable housing, with 20% of the units having a “deep subsidy”, meaning they would be within reach of people living on government shelter rates, 50% of the units would be “rent geared to income”, and 30% with moderate income affordable rates. That means rents for a one-bedroom unit would range from $375 to $1,195, depending on the residents ability to pay.

The Public Hearing is being held because we need an amendment to the Land Use Designation map in the OCP, and a rezoning to create a specific zone for this site (which allows us to specify things like unit mix, parking relaxation, and such to make the project work).

There was a lot of discussion in the community about the project, both in support and in opposition. We received something north of 350 pieces of correspondence from the public (by my rough count, about 75% in support), and both a petition and two organized letter writing campaigns were started. There were opinion pieces in the Record, lawn signs, small grassroots “rallies” on both sides of the issue, and a lot of social media chatter, not all of it friendly or community oriented. By my count (and my notes are messy) we had 74 people address Council with about 2/3 of those in support. In the end, Council voted to support the project.

The application before Council was for an OCP amendment and rezoning, and it is worth while talking about what an OCP Amendment is, as that seemed to be the focus of much of the discussion. Indeed, the density and building type does not fit the land use plan in the OCP, but as was covered in some detail in the Public Hearing, the application met a number of goals set out in the OCP around affordable housing, partnerships with not-for-profits & senior governments, and inclusionary housing.

This is not the first OCP amendment sought since the OCP was adopted in 2017. The Queens Park Heritage conservation Area, the preservation of the Slovak Hall, the addition of Childcare spaces to buildings in Moody park and Queensborough, the implementation of EV charging readiness for new multi-family housing, these all required OCP amendments in the last couple of years, and were approved because they met the larger goals of the OCP while not being complaint with specific land use plans or other portions of the OCP.

Respecting the OCP means understanding that it is a living document, and that some goals within can only be achieved by amendment. It means understanding that amending the OCP is an open, transparent, and public process, one where the Pros and Cons of amendment are discussed in the public record, and with public input. Ultimately, the job of Council is to weigh that input, the goals of the project, and the priorities of the City to determine if an amendment is appropriate.

There are always a few moments in a long public hearing like this that stand out to me. This meeting it was someone (sorry, I am paraphrasing and should give credit, but have I mentioned my messy notes?) asked to consider what an amendment of the OCP would say about our vision for the City. This led me to look up the vision statement in our OCP, which is long:

New Westminster is a healthy, inclusive and thriving community where people feel connected with each other. This sustainable city showcases a spectacular natural environment, public spaces and unique neighbourhoods that are well-integrated and accessible. Superior urban design integrates its distinctive character, heritage assets and cultural identity. Growth and development provide a variety of services and employment opportunities that contribute to a high quality of life for all.

I then looked up the Vision Statement that the current Council agreed to shortly after the last election, as we were preparing the Strategic Plan for the council term, which is shorter:

A vibrant, compassionate, sustainable city that includes everyone.

We also placed Affordable Housing at the top of our strategic goals. I look at those vision statements, and see this project as fitting well within them. Especially as we recognize the City has changed even since the development and adoption of the OCP. Affordable housing was certainly among the concerns in 2017, but it is now clearly the top local and regional concern for local governments. The $1M detached house price swept across new West in 2017, and the $500K apartment was soon to follow, and it wasn’t only New West. As prices continued to stretch out of reach, this term of Council (even before COVID) was being defined by actions to defend renters, a significant shift from condo development to purpose built rental, and now taking opportunities to leverage senior government funding to get non-market housing built.

But ultimately, this was a Land Use question, and I agreed that this was an appropriate land use for the site. The location near services, schools, and transit made sense. The building is situated on the available lots in a way that shifted the bulk of it away from back-alley neighbours. The low parking count is appropriate for the needs of the projected residents, and though the alley is limited, there is not anticipated to be a significant traffic impact (10 cars an hour for peak traffic addition will not meaningfully change how the laneway works). With the planned off-site and site works, this should be an attractive addition to the streetscape, both on the Sixth Street and laneway sides.

This was the right project at the right time. Council is committing to supporting some offsite-works as a financial contribution to the project, and we are hopeful that senior government funding will come through to get it built.