We had a Council meeting on Monday, and I am a little later than I like reporting this for a bunch of reasons, not the least because I have been at UBCM meetings all week, and have been doing a bit of volunteering work for the Election. Oh, and I took a bit of a vacation/staycation to recharge the batteries before the UBCM Conference, so I am really slow on updates here. Sorry, more frequent posts to come! In the meantime there was a lot of exciting stuff on our Agenda Monday, starting with no less than three (3!) presentations:
Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project Heritage Alteration Permit Application and Project Update
The concrete and wrought-iron Wall that faces Columbia Street in front of Victoria Hill is the old perimeter wall of the old Woodlands site, and is a designated Heritage Asset. It also creates a visual barrier to drivers and makes the intersection of McBride and Columbia less safe for vulnerable road users making use of the Central Valley Greenway. There is a long history of Active Transportation advocates (figuratively) banging their head against this wall. The plan now is to address this as part of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. No two ways around this, if we want safe pedestrian space here, either the cars or the wall has to go.
To relocate the wall and expand the plaza at the entrance requires a Heritage Alteration Permit. The City has worked with the Pattullo project team, and a design that improves sight lines, assures accessibility of the crosswalk, moves the wall while preserving its historic value, and expands the public plaza space while preserving the historic trees has been developed. Council agreed to this plan.
I’m still not happy about some of the impacts on the Central Valley Greenway resulting from the design choices at this project that prioritize speedy movements of cars over the needs of Active Transportation users and vulnerable road users, but that is something I’ll have to whine about in a follow-up. The treatment at this specific intersection looks like a really good approach to a challenging piece of geometry and geography.
Homelessness Action Strategy – Proposed Plan
The City’s existing homelessness strategy is a bit dated. Naturally, the 2006 plan has been updated and adapted to new realities since its initial adoptions, and has brought some real measurable successes. However, there has been significant change in the last year and a half, both in the form of homelessness and in the ability for response. There is also more senior government support now than there has been in decades, and we need to assure we are making the best use of those supports. So it is time for a renewal. Fortunately, the foundations set by our existing strategy means we have dedicated partners in the community to help us with this work, including the Homelessness Coalition and Community Action Network to provide the wisdom from real one-the-ground experience, and Planning and Policy support from engaged Academic partners. We have also hired up in our Social Planning staff to assure we can coordinate this work in-house, saving on consulting cost, and allowing us to instead direct that money towards including people with personal lived experience in homelessness as subject matter experts to guide our approach.
Crisis Response Bylaw Amendments
More on the topic of affordable housing, there are currently Federal and Provincial funds available to fast-track the building of affordable housing units, and there are City- and Provincially-owned properties in the City which may be appropriate for this housing. The steps between the idea being funded and having something built and operating are, perhaps infamously, challenging, and the timeliness of overcoming those challenges sometimes limits the ability to take advantage of those funds.
In light of the ongoing homelessness crisis, Cities need to find ways past these logjams. We are looking to amend some bylaws to allow us to be more nimble in response to these opportunities in light of the declared crises, and have identified two projects (one in Downtown with 52 units of modular housing, one in Queensborough with a similar number of more townhouse-style family housing) where this fast-tracked process can be tried out to address the homelessness crisis. This is going to make some people in the community uncomfortable, as some review steps for projects (or “Red Tape”, depending on your viewpoint) are going to be either bypassed or greatly accelerated in light of the clearly acknowledged social and public benefit of addressing the ongoing crisis – in this case more than 100 units of truly affordable supportive housing on our community.
We are also looking further afield with a special land use type: “Social Benefit Land Use”, where we can fast-track projects with measureable community good. This process will take a bit of time and consultation with the community (what type of use does the community consider a “social benefit”? What limits on what kind of land tenure would apply?) but this may be a really transformational how we address social support spaces in our community. More to come here.
We than moved the following items On Consent:
Broken Drug Policies: Inter-Municipal Strategic Action Committee
Speaking of crises, it has been 5 years since the poisoned drug supply situation was declared a state of emergency, and in 2021 alone more than two dozen New Westminster residents have died of overdose. We have an interdepartmental working group in the City to coordinate the City’s actions and to work with Fraser Health and outside agencies, but we need to do more. Previous success in addressing the problem in New West (like the rest of the region) has been set back by the Pandemic, which hampered support programming and disrupted established illegal drug supply chains, making the supply more risky, and more deadly.
Though the social and financial impacts of the opioid crisis are felt at the local government level, including its impact on first responders and social services in the community. But the policy decisions that will perpetuate or address this crisis are almost all provincial (health interventions, law enforcement choices) and Federal (legalizing and regulating the supply). Staff have recommended that we participate in a new inter-municipal Strategic Action Committee addressing the broken policy problem.
Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 680 Clarkson Street Roofing Project
This residential building in Downtown needs to fix its roof, and that means lifting heavy stuff up onto the roof, which requires a big crane, which disrupts traffic, making weekends better, but also means noise that means they need a construction noise bylaw exemption. Staff are recommending we approve this for the same time as the noise exemption for the Columbia Street sewer works, so the impact is less on the community.
Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Sewer Inspections
Metro Vancouver need to do sewer inspection work along 8th Ave by Justice Institute, and this kind of work has to happen at night when there is less…uh… stuff in the sewer, which requires a construction noise Bylaw exemption. This work is not as noisy as jackhammers and pile drivers and drills, but does involve traffic disruption and running vehicles and generators, and they try to buffer as much has possible. All in the cost of keeping the poo flowing, folks.
Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Sewer Upgrades
And, there will also be some sewer hatch maintenance work that requires noise bylaw exemptions. Looks like we are spending a lot of money on infrastructure these days, but at least this is along Front Street below the cliffs, so I suspect more people in Surrey will be disturbed than those in New West. Still, it’s our Bylaw that needs addressing….
Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 102 Seventh Avenue – Preliminary Report to Council
The owner of this house in Glenbrook north wants to build an infill house on the lot, and preserve the existing Heritage House. The wrinkle here is that the infill house will be a duplex, two-bedroom units of about 1,025sqft each (compared to the 2,500 sqft preserved house), which makes them similar to a townhouse in size and shape. There are some significant relaxations here to make it work, and this is a preliminary application, so I’ll hold my comments for after the Public consultations.
Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) – COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream (CVRIS) Grant Funding: Urban Reforestation and Biodiversity Enhancement Initiative
You might have noticed a bunch of new trees being planted around the City. As I remarked to a friend the other day – more this year than in the last 20 years combined. As part of our Urban Forest Management Plan, we are seeking to get to 27% canopy cover across the City by 2030 – that means all residential neighbourhoods having the same tree density as Queens Park. We applied for and was awarded a grant from the combined Federal/Provincial CVRIS program which will pay for the installation of 2,200 larger trees – moving us a big step towards that goal.
This is going to be a very different city in 20 years because of this goal – cooler, quieter, with fresher air, because of what we are doing today. I’m really proud of this work and thankful that senior governments are helping us do this.
The following item was Removed from Consent:
COVID-19 At-Risk and Vulnerable Populations Task Force Update and Next Steps
Since the Pandemic started, The City has a task force dedicated to addressing the impacts on At-risk and vulnerable residents of the City – the food-insecure, the unhoused, those living with addiction or mental health challenges. And though we would have hoped the Pandemic would be over by now, this is a reporting out on recent and ongoing work, and a reporting on two recent successful grant applications to outreach & referral services, and for food security coordination.
There is much too much here for me to summarize here, but the work of staff, the partnerships with senior government and with the many non-government service organizations, faith-based organizations and he wider non-profit sector in New Westminster, all adds up to an amazing body of work that has kept people supported and alive through this crisis. The City has an important role, but this is a community-wide effort that demonstrates New Westminster is a compassionate community like few others, and every citizen should have pride in that. The work isn’t over, but the result is a better community for all.
We then adopted the following Bylaws
Street and Traffic Amendment Bylaw No. 8275, 2021
Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8277, 2021 and
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8278, 2021
These Bylaws that support changes to the Street and Traffic Bylaw, as discussed last meeting, were adopted by Council.
Finally, we had a Motion for Council
Downtown Recovery Strategy, Councillors Johnstone and Trentadue
Whereas Downtown is the densest and most rapidly-growing residential neighbourhood of New Westminster, representing a commitment to regional Transit-Oriented Mixed-Use development goals concentrated in identified Regional City Centres; and
Whereas the initial revitalization since the 2010 Downtown Community Plan was developed has suffered a series of more recent setbacks, including the loss of several historic buildings to fires and the loss of a major anchor retailer, while a recent loss of park space and ongoing construction serve to challenge livability goals for the downtown community; and
Whereas despite robust growth, several properties in the key blocks of Columbia Street have been derelict or vacant for many years, impairing neighborhood revitalization efforts and challenging the impression of Columbia Street as a vibrant commercial district for both residents and existing businesses;
Therefore be it resolved:
That staff review strategies and regulatory tools available to Council to support the rapid revitalization of underperforming, derelict, and vacant properties on Columbia Street in the historic Downtown, including but not limited to powers under the New Westminster Redevelopment Act (1989), and
That Staff provide recommendations for rapid and medium-term actions to support the vibrancy of business, the activation of the streets, and improving the amenity value of the historic Downtown for all residents of New Westminster.
I think I need to write a separate blog post outlining my thinking here when I have a little more time, in case it’s not clear in the motion. I’ll just say for now that Downtown is on our radar, we recognize some of the unique challenges there, and are asking Staff to help guide us through some creative approaches to those challenges.
And that was it for the meeting. See you in the Fall!