CGP Meeting

We had an extraordinary Council meeting on Wednesday, because we had some tough decisions to make. Well, really one big decision, and some accessory decisions will fall out of that.

The headline is that we have decided to not pursue emergency repairs on the existing Canada Games Pool, and will instead begin work towards its demolition. This was not a decision made lightly, as it has significant impacts on residents, staff, and budgets. It also breaking a commitment we made to the community about maintaining continuity of programming between the CGP and the TACC (təməsew̓ txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre), and we need to see accountability for not being able to follow through.

There are reports provided as part of the Council meeting that you can read here. If you want the details to address some of the speculation in the community, the facts are in there. I will try to summarize here, and let you know where my head is in making this decision – reminding you as always that I only speak for myself and not for all of Council or for the City.

The problem began a few weeks ago when we had torrential rains that overwhelmed the drainage system bypass designed to take all of the storm and sewer flow from the existing pool. The water back-up flooded a mechanical vault and messed up the mechanical and electrical systems that heat, filter, and circulate water to the pool. It also made it impossible to heat water for showers or run sewage, meaning the gym and fitness areas needed closing as well. While repairs were being undertaken, it became apparent that the pool was leaking. This is a bigger problem.

To find the source of the leak was a bit of a complicated process. It’s not just the concrete tank, it is the fittings for the drains and water supply system, and the 50-year-old pipe network that is underneath a big concrete water filled tank, so not really available for visual inspection. It involved pressure tests, scuba divers in the tank, isolating different circulation systems, dye tests, and systemically eliminating potential causes. There turns out to be more than one cause, but the biggest issue is a crack along the width of the tank where it goes from the shallow end to the deep one.

Once it was conformed the crack was actually losing water, there was a rapid but extensive evaluation of repair options, including bringing in outside experts for second opinions. Everything from epoxy in the cracks to re-lining the pool was evaluated, but the work required means draining the pool, which for complicated hydrostatic pressure reasons, can’t be done without groundwater management, which means drilling wells, then excavating the pool floor. A similar exercise was undertaken about 30 years ago, and it was not quick or inexpensive, as you can tell from the photos appended to the report:

So the decision staff and Council had to make was whether to go down this road. To make that decision we need to know the cost, the timing, and the risk. It is a bit complicated (its set out pretty well in the report, if you want to read it) but based on initial estimates of repair cost, and assuming that the repair could be affected in 6-8 months, the difference to taxpayers of us doing or not doing the repair is about $3 Million. The 8 month timeline is also based on some assumptions that may prove incorrect once we start the work. There was also a risk not just that the timeline would be extended, but that structural damage was such that the repair strategy simply didn’t work.

I appreciate that staff and our consultants were straight-up about this. Everyone want the pool up and running – the staff who work there, Council, the community. So there is a temptation to be engineering-optimistic to the point of Pollyanna about the proposed repair. But the reality is that any repair approach was going to be expensive, and uncertain. I think if we had a $100K repair bill and could guarantee it would be done by March, we would have pulled the trigger and gone that path, but that’s not the reality.

With the TACC scheduled to open in later 2023, and a potential for extensive repair to take 8 months, it came down to justifying the significant cost for what looked to be a decreasing number of months of service. It’s disappointing, but it was increasingly looking like we were throwing good money after bad, and the sunk cost fallacy, as tempting as it is, is bad governance.

So with CGP out of commission, we are looking at ways to provide alternative services, from re-arranging some gym equipment space and programming in to other spaces in the City to expanding the season and hours of both Hume and Moody outdoor pools. We are also looking to re-scheduling demolition work at the CGP to coordinate better with TACC construction. No doubt, this increases the urgency and importance of getting the TACC completed on time.

It is natural for the community to want to know why this happened, and even to speculate on some causes. Up to this point, the priority of City staff and contractors has been to investigate what was happening and gathering information about potential repair strategies so Council could make an informed decision as soon as possible. Determining the cause is part of that work, but not the focus. Now that the decision has been made, we can turn more focus to cause and accountability.

This is something that is sometimes hard to talk about in local government. We have contract relationships with consultants that spell out who is responsible for what; we have legitimate insurance and liability concerns that have an effect on the business of the City. Some of this info is protected by Section 90 of the Community Charter. However, in my comments in Council, I tried to make clear that the public needs accountability here. Fiscal impacts aside, the community has lost something – access to an important amenity, as end-of-life as it may have been. And the community deserves to know why. If this was a predictable and avoidable, I think we need to be transparent about why it was not predicted or avoided. If it was a fluke of geotechnical bad luck, I’d like to know what measures were taken to anticipate and avoid this turn. The community is going to speculate (New West is pretty good at that – we are an engaged and chatty community!), but the only response to that speculation is to get the right information out there, The City has an FAQ up here, and we will update info when we have info to update.

So in summary, this sucks. We really hoped that there would be continuity between CGP closing and TACC opening, but I think Council made the prudent fiscal and responsible decision. Following up on that, we have more decisions about alternate programming and staffing that will unfold in the next little while.

Council – Nov 22, 2021

Our meeting this week included two relatively high-profile Public Hearings. Not because the change to the land use was large, but because the word Heritage was involved, and the properties were in Queens Park. Add those two together, and you get passionate community input. So we had four hours of discussion with the community about two projects:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (Bylaw No. 8262, 2021)
Heritage Designation (Bylaw No. 8263, 2021) for 515 St. George Street
This homeowner on the western edge of Queens Park wants to build a laneway house on the back of their property, which is one of the “lanes” that is actually a named street with other properties facing it. The laneway house would be a single-storey fully accessible 830 square foot home and meet the design guidelines for new construction in the Queens Park Heritage Conservation area.

The Community Heritage Commission supports the HRA, and the project meets the OCP. It is actually within the laneway house accommodation that would be permitted by right in Queens Park, except for the zoning designation of this lot. The total density proposed (FSR 0.515 for the existing house and 0.185 for the LWH) is the same as any heritage house in Queens Park is entitled to (0.7), so instead of building an addition to the house and a accessory/garage, they are taking this path to build a LWH.

We had 5 written submission and about a dozen people come to Council to speak to this project, the majority opposed. Opposition included that this was not a “real” HRA (yes it is, this is exactly what the HRA program is designed for), and that here is no “heritage win” (like every HRA in Queens Park, we need to remind folks that designation through HRA is a much higher level of protection than the HCA provides).

Council voted to give the HRA and Designation Bylaws Third Reading.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8271, 2021
Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8272, 2021 for 208 Fifth Avenue
This homeowner wants to subdivide their property into two lots (4,000 and 4,710 sqft), move the existing 1910 house forward on the northerly lot, and build a new house on the larger southerly lot facing Elgin Street. This project has been back and forth a few times, and the owner has made some pretty significant changes to the project over the last year. This project aligns with OCP goals and was approved by the Community Heritage Commission.

The resultant lots will be smaller than the zoning requires, but not out of scale with the 8 lots around them (two 4,356 sqft lots to the east, a 3,300 sqft lot to the south, several 4,356 sqft lots to the north). There was a lot of concern expressed about this being “extreme density”, but the two lots would have FSRs (0.7 and 0.64) within what is currently allowable for heritage properties, and lot coverages (31% and 29%) lower than what is allowed (35%). To put that in perspective the land owner is currently entitled to build 1,154 sqft more on the existing lot than the total that is proposed for the two lots. This is not only not “extreme density”, it isn’t even building to already approved density. If that isn’t gentle, I don’t know what would be.

We received 14 pieces of correspondence on this project, and had about 20 people come to speak to us about it; again more against than for. Opposition included that this was not a “real” HRA (yes it is, this is exactly what the HRA program is designed for), and that here is no “heritage win” (like every HRA in Queens Park, we need to remind folks that designation through HRA is a much higher level of protection than the HCA provides). There was also concern that this was “over density”, when by any measure it is under density already permitted for the site.

Council voted to give the HRA and Designation Bylaws Third Reading.


I never remember feeling like this before. The bad stuff is piling up. People and governments are being tested in ways I don’t think anyone anticipated, though it was easily predicted. What’s on my mind is not the bad news happening (there has always been bad news), but in the shift in mindset about the bad news. Maybe it was Trump, maybe it was COVID, maybe it is the algorithms in our news feed or there was truth to the theory that David Bowie was holding the good in the Universe together. I don’t know the cause, but I have been thinking about how a shift in language I noticed might give insight into a change in out collective mindset, and what it means to be in a leadership role at this time.

I am involved in a few organizations that bring Local Governments together. I’m on the Executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. We bring local government leaders together to network, share resources and knowledge, and advocate for the things we need (money and/or regulatory change) to make our communities work better. I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Energy Association. We are a not-for profit with a growing professional staff that empower local and regional governments to achieve energy and emissions reductions targets, through planning support, coaching, and actual implementation of programs that move the dial on Climate Action.

In both of those organizations, we spend a lot of time strategizing the best way to serve our communities. We are both receivers and dealers in Buzz Words. In that part of the work, there has been a shift that was so subtle, I didn’t even notice at the time, and was swept up in the change such that I even changed my own language and thinking without noticing. Only with hindsight, and only recently, have I started to think about what we may have lost.

The shift is how we stopped talking about (and building towards) sustainable communities, and are now talking about (and hoping for) resilient communities. Perhaps this is not a revelation. Google “resilience is the new sustainability” and you get an awful lot of hits, most of them of the eco-marketing genre. Resilience is the new buzz, sustainability is passé.

This has been in my mind of late because [gestures to everything happening around us] and how wordshift / mindshift is not limited to those organizations above, but in communications being used by the government in face of overlapping catastrophe. The increased reliance on “resilience” as a planning idea, a community goal, a vision, means something different when you recognize just don’t talk about sustainability any more, it turns to dark thoughts.

Sustainability, use as a buzzword aside, has a clear definition that can be traced back to the Brundtland Report and can be simplified to “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. There is a hope in sustainability. A vision that we can do better right now in ways that will make things better in the future. It’s planning for a prosperous future, like planting a tree under whose shade you may never personally sit. It tells the next generation that we care, that we are cognizant we are passing to them a legacy of our decisions, and we are taking responsibility for that legacy.

Resilience is something different. So shockingly different that it is amazing we have so easily slotted it in to replace sustainability. Though definitions may vary based on context, the one we are talking about in community planning and governance is something akin to “an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or disruption”. This is a different vision, one that sees a lot of bad shit coming down the pike, and we can do nothing to stop it, so hold on tight, and we’ll try to get you some pillows to soften the blow. It is different than hope, and if it isn’t exactly despair, it is at least stripped of optimism.

These days, our emergencies feel like Matryoshka dolls. Last week’s emergencies are sitting within last month’s emergencies, sitting within the emergency that has been going on for two years, surrounded by a decades-long building emergency that is, ultimately, the cause of last week’s emergency. And will be the cause of next week’s.

How did we get here? After decades of talking about, instead of applying, a sustainability lens to addressing that big emergency, we are left with trying to build resiliency to the inevitable emergencies that we know are coming. It is an admission of failure at providing the basic stability of yesterday to those living tomorrow.  If we weren’t successful at the sustainability, why would we believe we are going to be successful at resilience? How did we let this shift happen without us noticing it? Without even comment?

These questions are rhetorical, but the answers are there for us. There is the generational failure where hoarding was seen as the best path to assuring the next generation’s prosperity. There is the neo-liberal outsourcing of solutions for pressing problems to a market that was wholly unequipped to think long-term because we had to be creating something to hoard. There is an intentional erosion of trust in institutions from science to education to governance to journalism that has disarmed the warning systems that should have shown us this future. There is a paucity of leadership, replaced with caffeine hits of populism.

Worse than a lack of vision, there is a fear of vision. A suspicion of vision. We are at the same time clamoring for change and terrified of change. Ideas like “maybe we can fix homelessness by building homes” are seen as radical, fanciful, and ultimately unaffordable. So the change we are getting is the one we could not avoid. At the heart of it all is the feeling that we, one of the most prosperous societies in the history of the globe, can’t afford change. We need to keep digging the hole, because hole-digging is what’s going to pay our way out of this hole. Yes, I’m looking at you, TMX.

If there is hope in this, it is that there are people who see past this. There are leaders in our community, in our province, in our country who are talking about what we can do, not what we can’t. Because shit has to change, and this dread you are feeling doesn’t need to be there. We can’t settle for resilience. Sustainability is not a pipe dream we should let die, it is the survival of all we value, and it is the promise we should be making to the next generation, and to ourselves. It’s the path away from this dread.

It’s the work we have to do, now more than ever.

Council – Nov 15, 2021

Our Council meeting this week seemed like everything else this last month –  little glitchy. Staff at the City have done a phenomenal job rolling with the various changes in how we delivered Council meetings, with shifting Public Health Orders and legislative requirements around electronic meetings, which included a complete review of our digital environment. This week’s glitches were not their fault, but a failure in the phone system that was felt nationwide that just happened to occur during our meeting, and our meeting while the province was beginning to flood. I’m not sure the two were related, but if you were following in Zoom and didn’t hear everything, the streamed video of our meeting does have clear audio, so you don’t have to miss any of the exciting action on our agenda. We started with reviewing a Temporary Use Permit:

TUP00027: 502 Columbia Street (former Army and Navy Store) for Emergency Homeless Shelter
This permit would allow the Purpose Society to operate an emergency shelter in the lower floor (fronting Front Street, not Columbia) of the Army and Navy Building, in which Purpose has been providing other programming for several months. The TUP will be active for 3 years, though we hope it will not be required for this long a time. The last time we issued a TUP for an emergency shelter, it was active for about 6 months.

At this point, it is a little unclear which will be funded here. Purpose has adequate funding to open an “Emergency Weather Response” shelter, which would be made available for up to 50 persons with no other shelter overnight only during extreme weather events between November and March. The only other such service in New West was downsized to 30 beds due to COVID restrictions, and is now in the process of being repurposed to provide health services on a more permanent basis. If BC Housing comes through with additional funding, this could become an “Emergency Response Shelter”, which would provide a similar number of beds on a 24/7 basis with full supports for the residents that would fill the gap until more permanent Emergency Housing is available (which we hope to see opened within 18 months).

We has a significant amount of public feedback on this through various media. Written correspondence included 44 pieces, with concerns raised related to crime and the impact on businesses, but also a significant amount of support and recognition of the pressing need for shelter, and preferably housing.

Council moved to approve the TUP, and reinforced the message to BC Housing that true 27/7 shelter with supports is the preferred model here. We have more than 100 people living without shelter in New Westminster. We have a service provider willing to step up, BC funding willing to fund, and a building owner with vacant space willing to provide appropriate space for those residents that want to come indoors, get warm, get clean, get help, it would be unconscionable for us to say no.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Amendment Bylaw No. 8302, 2021
We are making changes to the business Bylaws we adapted to provide extended protection to renters from demo-viction and reno-viction in light of changes by the Provincial Government to the Residential Tenancy Act. We asked for public input, it got a little media attention, but we received no feedback, so Council moved to go ahead with the changes.

We then moved the following items on Consent:

Budget 2022: Engineering and Electrical Utility Amendment Bylaw Report
As previously discussed, the Bylaws for Utility Fee changes was presented and moved by Council. Yep, utility rates are going up. Both Water and Sewer primarily because of Metro Vancouver costs going up, Electrical going up basically at the inflation rate as recommended by the Electrical Utility Commission, and Solid Waste going up because we have a couple of pressing capital costs.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Extension Request: 618 Carnarvon Street
The new building that will partly encapsulate the SkyTrain downtown (reducing its noise) has been planning to do that encapsulation work for a few months, but was delayed. So the noise variance they need to do some of this work at night (when SkyTrain is not operating, for obvious reason) needs to be extended, which we are doing except for the period through the Christmas Holidays.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: New Westminster Interceptor – Columbia Sewer Rehabilitation
That shitty sewer project on Columbia needs to work up to 4 nights in late November or early December in order to get done this year. The timing is critical because they cannot do this work when there is significant surcharge in the sewer –so they need drier weather for a short stretch. Like a root canal, it sucks, but we gotta get past this and get that sewer rehabbed.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: New Westminster Interceptor – Sapperton Connection along East Columbia Street
This is a different phase of the same work, in a different location. Two nights some time before Christmas, they are going to do sonar inspection of the sewer line. This should not make much noise other than the idling of a couple of vehicles, but night construction work requires an exemption.

Covid-19 Task Forces: Update
This is our regular (now about once a month) update on the Tasks Forces the City setup to address specific challenges related to the pandemic and related Public Health measures. If you are curious about what the City has been doing in support of vulnerable and at risk populations, seniors and persons living with disabilities, and business and the local economy, these are the updates you want to see. Putting hope into action, as we have been doing for 18 months now.

Crisis Response Bylaw Amendments: Consultation Summary and Second Reading of Bylaws
More of the Hope and Vision stuff, the City has bundled three projects together to accelerate the development of supportive and affordable housing in the City in response to the ongoing homelessness crisis. One is giving Council some power to fast-track response City-wide in the event of a BC State of Emergency declaration, one to accelerate approval for a supportive housing project in Queensborough, and another to fast track a supportive modular housing project downtown. We sent this out for Public Consultation, and this is the report back.

We had four virtual information sessions (totaling >50 people), A Be Heard New West page (>450 visits. >150 active participants). General support for the City-wide plan, and general support for doing “something” about providing shelter for unhoused people, but local concerns about the specific locations and problem behaviours. There are also a significant number of responses fully in favour of each project.

As this involves an OCP amendment, it will go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until them.

District Energy Bylaw No. 8269, 2021 for First Reading
The City and the Electrical Utility are continuing to work on a District Energy Utility (DEU) for Lower Sapperton to take advantage of a Metro Vancouver sanitary sewer main (as a carbon-free energy source), in a location that can provide base load carbon-free energy to the expanded RCH and upcoming developments in the area – predominantly Sapperton Green. This single project, if fully realized, would offset community GHG emissions equivalent to the entirety of New Westminster’s Corporate Emissions. To undertake the next stage business case development, a Bylaw is required to assure new development in the area hooks up to the DEU such that space heating, cooling and/or water heating in new developments will be provided by the DEU, and sets out conditions for the relationship between a developer and the Electrical utility to let this happen.

Anyway, this is first reading, so if you have input, let us know!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Refresh: Principles and Community Consultation
This is a very preliminary report, asking that staff go out to do public consultation on this topic that eats up a completely disproportionate amount of our Council time and staff energy, considering the minuscule impact it has on the community at large. Ultimately, the process for approving HRAs (where the City gives rezoning-like benefits to property owners in exchange for them preserving a heritage asset) is cumbersome and has been the cause of much community conflict, so clarifying the process will benefit us in reducing the effort of staff needed to manage these, and potentially the conflict in the community related to their application. So off to Public Consultation it goes, and we will try to hammer out some principles to make the process work better, because the current process is clearly making no-one happy.

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8300, 2021
Every year, we need to set up a borrowing Bylaw to give staff the ability to dip into a line of credit in case we run out of cash waiting for the annual tax and utility bills to get paid. We spend money year round, but mostly get paid in one month in the summer, this gives us the $3 Million buffer we need to make sure we don’t run into a shot-term cash crunch.

Schedule of Council Meetings for 2022
Mark your Calendars. Here is the schedule for 2022. 20 Council meetings, 10 Workshops, and 7 Public Hearings. One meeting in Queensborough (haven’t done that in a while!) and 3 of those meetings are actually after the 2022 election, so will be a new Council.

The following items were Removed from consent for discussion:

Climate Action: 2020 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
We annually report out our Corporate GHG emissions, and compare to the reduction goals set out in our Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy (CEERS). 2020 was the first year in included the emissions produced by contractors working for the City as part of our own emissions, but we are still almost on track to our CEERS targets. There have also been some changes to how the Province counts electricity emission factor (how much GHG emissions are related to BC Hydro supplied electricity) so our reporting numbers look a little different than previous numbers.

In short, our emissions are about 20% lower now than they were in our 2010 baseline year, where a “straight-line” reduction to our 2030 would have us at 22.5% below 2010 now. Not quite on track, but not far off. This is, however, good news. We know that the construction of the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre will reduce our emissions by something like 15% when it replaces the Canada Games Pool, so that 15% is not yet counted, but is already in our budget and being built. We are certainly on track to get below our 2030 target by investing now, not by waiting or talking about targets, but by doing the work.

New Westminster School District’s 2021-2022 Eligible School Sites Proposal Report: City Response
The City is growing at the pace outlined in the City’s Official Community Plan and we are hitting the targets we committed to in the Regional Growth Strategy. More importantly, we are seeing that there is a demographic shift happening in the community, and (perhaps a reflection of the City’s Family Friendly Housing policies coming into effect) we are having an increased number of young families moving to the community, which means we need more schools.

Fortunately, the Provincial government has abandoned the absurd BC Liberal policy of only building schools for *current* need, and are giving School Districts more flexibility to apply for capital projects to meet projected capacity needs based on community OCPs and demographics, but we are already about 5 years behind (as schools under construction were mostly approved under that previous policy). So the City needs new school locations. Of course, it has been more than 100 years since New Westminster had any empty “greenfield” spaces for new schools. So we need to repurpose existing land use and build schools more appropriate for dense urban spaces.

The School District has been working on this, and we have had extensive discussions over the last little while at both a staff-to-staff level, and a Council-to-School-Board level, to see how we can help the School District achieve their goals. The Board has developed a needs assessment and an Eligible School Sites Proposal to take to the Provincial government, and have asked the City to provide support. Staff say their projections look spot on, so we are sending a note to that effect. More to come here!

Preliminary Application Review: OCP Amendment and Rezoning – 1084 Tanaka Court
A property owner in Queensborough previous approached the City about building a banquet hall on a piece of industrial-zoned property in Queensborough. They now want to build a residential (Purpose built Rental) on this property as part of a mixed-use development. This is an area (North of the freeway, near the Casino and Lowe’s) not previously envisioned for residential use, and is a pretty significant departure from our OCP. Not just an increase in density or built form, but a substantial shift in land use areas. Staff is recommending against this change, but the applicant has an opportunity to apply to Council.

This was an interesting discussion at Council, and I honestly think most of us are on the fence on this one – but I can only really speak for myself here. At first pass, this does not look like an appropriate change of land use. The property is in a light industrial area, though most of the surrounding use is more commercial. We have long supported a policy of protecting job-creation and industrial space in the City, as it is under threat form a variety of directions. Then you consider that adjacent properties and those across the street are zoned M-1 or M-2, and as such are currently permitted to be lumberyards, machine shops, or factories manufacturing anything from rubber tires to textiles. The pedestrian realm nearby is not designed for a family neighbourhood, and most services are not easily accessible. But the idea of saying no to daycare and housing when both are in such critical need in the community and the region right now puts us in a real conundrum.

Council, in a split vote, agree to allow staff to continue to work with the property owner to see if they can develop the project some more, but also expressed some concerns about it. If this proceeds, it will eventually end up in a Public Hearing, and it will no doubt be an interesting one that asks some difficult question of Council and the community.

We also had a Presentation:

We got a presentation from a person who lives in the Driftwood Village Cohousing Project in North Vancouver, and from a member of a burgeoning co-housing group in New West, to outline how co-housing might work in the City. A lot of this was very educational about what co-housing is and (more importantly) about what is isn’t. This is a different model than Co-op housing, and though it may include some affordability elements, it would generally not be considered an Affordable Housing model. It does however, fill as a bit of a “missing middle” niche for people who want to live in a more community-focused setting ,somewhere between a regular strata and a co-op (though they are usually structured as a Strata in the legal and financial sense. Our new OCP provides an opening to supporting Co-housing, and this presentation gave us an opportunity to learn what models might work in the Greater Vancouver context, and how we might support that model better. It also ended in Council asking staff to look deeper into how we might support such a model in the City if the opportunity arises.

Finally, we had a boatload of Bylaws, including the following for Adoption:

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Amendment Bylaw No. 8298, 2021
Municipal Ticket Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8299, 2021
These bylaw amendments support the change in the Business Licensing Bylaws around Tenant Protection, as discussed above, and were Adopted by Council.

Climate Action, Planning and Development User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8293, 2021
Cultural Services User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8294, 2021
Electric Utility Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8295, 2021
Engineering Services User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8292, 2021 and
Financial Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8296, 2021
These Bylaws amend the fees for 2022 for the various services provided by the City, mostly going up to match inflation. And they were all adopted by Council.

Ask Pat: Zoning shops

Ject asks—

How do zoning and bylaws work in New West? It seems to me that allowing for small retail spaces in neighbourhoods like the ones surrounding Agnes and Carnarvon @ Elliot, for example, would be of great benefit to the community: More walking distance shops and such (I’m thinking coffeeshops, produce stands, maybe a convenience store) would make this area more walkable, livable and agreeable to its inhabitants. I have seen some small stores close to brow of the hill, and I know that there are stores on sixth, but why not more centric?

To answer your first question: it works like zoning everywhere else in BC (except Vancouver), because although the powers local government have under zoning are very broad, they are set out in Provincial legislation. And as in many other things, when it comes to zoning power, the Local Government Act giveth, but the Community Charter taketh away.

There is a lot of talk in urbanist and activist circles about zoning, some even suggesting that it is more trouble than it is worth. There is no doubt the history of zoning is problematic (racist and classist zoning was more the norm than the anomaly for North America for much of the twentieth century), and it is currently a cause of (or at least a functional part of) a lot of inequity in communities. However most don’t really understand what it is as a tool in modern local government.

Many armchair planners have a perhaps SimCity-derived thought that zoning is designed to keep noisy, polluting, industries and busy, crowded commercial areas separate from comparatively pastoral and quiet residential areas, so people are healthy and can sleep at night. But in BC, that type of high level distribution of land use is more achieved by an Official Community Plan (OCP). Zoning is a finer-grained distribution of land uses within those bigger categories. It also speaks more to the size, shape, and form of development within neighborhoods, and it also manages more specific land uses and how different land uses are mixed together within the same area. A neighbourhood might be designated Residential in the OCP, but zoning may allow “four floors and a corner store” types of buildings, or even stand-alone buildings that don’t necessarily “fit” the strict OCP designation for the entire neighbourhood, like a stand-alone cafe in an otherwise residential neighbourhood.Map of the OCP designations for the eastern part of Downtown from the City’s on-line map.

It’s important to note that zoning doesn’t necessarily drive changes in use, it is usually the other way around. If a specific use is allowed in a zone, it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will actually come along and do that use, or build a new building for that use. Council rarely re-zones or changes the allowable uses on a zoned piece of land unless a landowner requests it by making a rezoning application – they want to change the use and ask the City for permission.

Map of zoning designations in the eastern part of Downtown from the City’s on-line map.

The thing about zoning is that zoning changes for any lot need to be approved by Council, and (this is the big part) Council can say “no” to a change for pretty much any reason they want. Most powers of Councils are limited by legislation or common law, and we are expected to act reasonably. In administering building permits (as a random example), we cannot capriciously withhold a permit if you want to build something – as long as what you are building meets the zoning and the building code, no bylaws are violated, and you pay your fees. We can’t just say “no” without providing a reasoning for why, and can get dragged into court if we act arbitrarily in refusing you a permit for, say, a bathroom renovation. But if you ask us to change your zoning, we have almost unlimited power to say “no” and you are unlikely to have any recourse.

As a result, a City can ask for pretty much anything in exchange for zoning – Development Cost Charges to pay for sewer, water, and transportation upgrades, so-called “Voluntary” Amenity Charges to pay for other things in the City, we sometimes ask for a strip of land to be dedicated to the City for a boulevard, or sidewalk replacement or other upgrades to adjacent City lands. We can ask the developer looking to re-zone that they build space in their proposed building for Daycare use or Affordable Housing or that they build more (or less) parking, or that they paint their building a different shade of blue. Every rezoning is a negotiation.

Now, this of course is a power a wise Council will not want to abuse. Besides making ourselves unpopular and getting voted out, making rezoning too onerous will cause landowners to scoff at the demands, and no-one will invest in developing your City, which might mean you will not achieve the goals of your OCP. On top of this, the community may lose out on those amenity benefits that could be negotiated. Of course, a Council could cynically use this piling on of demands as a great way to prevent new housing from being built while not appearing like you are opposed to new housing. “This development just didn’t quite do enough to address (pick a concern)” is a great stall tactic that effectively shuts down development as easily as saying no, with predictable results. But as a practicality, most Councils want to make sure the community gets “its share” of the value that the developer receives when a property is rezoned. It’s a balance, and no-one does it perfect.

The point is, if we abolished zoning, we would need to replace it with another tool that provided the community an ability to leverage a fair share of the land lift (the increase in property value that comes with zoning changes in a land-constrained region such as ours) in order to pay for the externalized cost if development and community growth. Right now, it is the best tool we have for that because it is the only tool that gives Local Government negotiating power.

But you were asking about zoning for small retail. This has been a topic of *much* discussion over my 7 years on Council, going back to the last big OCP update. Part of livable, walkable, dense urban communities like Downtown New West is being able to walk to some basic services. I feel fortunate that I live in a part of the Brow of the Hill where I am a <10 minute walk from most services, and as such can do most of my shopping by waking or riding my bike. But there are areas of New West with a paucity of services within such a short distance, like the west part of the West End, parts of Upper Sapperton, or Port Royal in Queensborough. There are also some areas like the east aside of Downtown (as you note) are surprisingly far from some services, and probably don’t achieve the walkscore we would like to see for such a dense community.

Expanding on your example of the east part of Downtown, most of that area (other than Columbia Street, which is commercial) is zoned for low-rise multi-family residential, with a note in the zoning that higher density may be permitted if enough amenity is provided. Any retail coming to this area would need a rezoning. Would Council approve such a rezoning? I don’t know, but I doubt we are going to be asked to any time soon.

There is an ongoing discussion locally and regionally about retail space. I have heard owners of commercial property argue there is too much, and if Cities require retail space as part of new mixed-use developments, they will remain empty, especially as the traditional retail environment has been Amazoned into a state of… shall we call it uncertainty? Others suggest high lease rates and somewhat onerous triple-net lease terms are a result of there being too few spaces available and commercial owners holding all the cards. There is also a universe where both of these are true at the same time, and location and neighbourhood characteristics determine where your street or block fall on that spectrum.

Developers definitely would rather build residential, given the option, because they know the demand is there. Build residential, and it will sell for a pretty easily predicted price per square foot. Commercial space is not as certain. Building a residential property is also more predictable in how you fit it out. Every home needs a toilet and sink in every bathroom, countertops and appliances, wired and plumbed for in suite laundry and known kitchen appliances. But a commercial space is largely unknown. To use your examples, a coffee shop, a produce stand, a convenience store all need very different layouts, plumbing, electrical loads, even locations of doors. So commercial space built on speculation is built as an empty shell, creating uncertain costs for anyone who hopes to lease them and fit them out. I can point you to several places in the city where retail-at grade is still an empty shell years after the residential building it sits on is occupied.

So when the City talked about updating the OCP for the middle part of Sixth Street (between Royal and 4th), the question was raised about whether requiring retail at grade was worthwhile. Perhaps having more residential spaces built will provide better support to the existing retail spaces on Sixth, and zoning for retail grade is making it uneconomic to develop. The same conversation ensued along the Twelfth Street retail strip. Is more retail space needed? If we force developers to build retail at grade, will it be occupied? More importantly, will it make it so hard for a developer to make any money developing the area that nothing gets built, and then the existing retailers don’t have nearby customers. The answer is not simple, and opinions vary.

Where we do see new community-serving retail is in major development projects. Plaza 88 is an obvious example. I think if we were planning Victoria Hill now (instead of 15-20 years ago when the vision for the community was being hammered out), we would include more commercial spaces, and perhaps a few larger retail spaces, though no-one is going to open a major grocery there (with a Safeway and a Save-on each just a little over a km away). That said, the few spaces that are there have taken a significant amount of time finding their purpose. Was that because there are more spaces than needed, or because there are two few to create a real “hub”? The long-proposed “Eastern Node” development area in Queensborough would finally bring some community-serving retail to Port Royal, which is now an established medium-density residential neighbourhood with nary a place to buy an apple. In hindsight, the long wait for this commercial node is really disappointing for the City, and for the residents of that neighbourhood. Hopefully these lessons are being learned and Sapperton Green looks to not only bring more commercial square footage, but is phased to bring it earlier in the neighbourhood development.

So, back again to eastern downtown. To my knowledge, there is only one development in the works in that neighbourhood, and it came to Council as a preliminary application as a mixed use residential, affordable housing and childcare – but no commercial space. For a new commercial space to be built in that neighbourhood, someone would have to come to the City with a plan, and go through a rezoning to make it happen. I cannot predict if Council would support this plan or not, but for the reasons I outlined above, that is just not where the market is for development now, or really where the market is for retail. Neighbourhood convenience stores you do see around mostly have one thing in common – they have been there for a long time and are very low-cost operations. Starting a new one would probably be a financial risk with little chance of recovery. I suspect if you could make money doing it, people would be doing it. So, alas, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any new commercial or retail being built in that area (other than along Columbia) any time soon.

Council – Nov 1, 2021

Another Council meeting that followed another afternoon workshop on the budget. This one was our first look at the Operational budget, and you can see the video here and look at the agenda that has spreadsheets and numbers of such if that is your thing. More on that later, because we had an entire evening Agenda to go through. We started with a Presentation:

Peer Assisted Crisis Team Pilot Project
There is no questioning the mental health and addiction crises impacting our City. This doesn’t make us any different than any city in North America during the overlapping crises of opioid addiction and poisoned drug supply, housing affordability and homelessness, COVID-related strains on support services, ongoing austerity approaches to health care and neoliberal approaches to addressing poverty. In most jurisdictions, the biggest impacts of all of these are falling upon police to address, when policing usually isn’t what is lacking in these spaces, and when police interactions have a history of turning out poorly for some people in mental health distress, and for the police. We have committed in New Westminster to not put this burden on police, but to find alternative approaches.

This presentation outlines a pilot project that takes a different approach, working in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association, and three other municipalities, based on best practices applied in other jurisdictions around North America. We are also applying to a couple of Provincial funding programs to help support this approach. The goal (fully supported by New Westminster Police) is to shift from a criminal response to a health response for the calls that warrant that response.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Canada Games Pool Unplanned Closure Update
The CGP has been closed for a couple of reasons, none of them good. An equipment vault under the pool building flooded during heavy rain damaging a bunch of water heating and recirculating equipment. With uncertain drainage capacity, and no hot water for operations, the entire pool building had to be shut down while the flooding problem was fixed and damaged equipment was repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, as these repairs were occurring, a leak in the main pool tank was detected, and that is going to take some time to diagnose and (hopefully) repair. In the meantime, we have to make some hard decisions about programming and staff as it looks like the facility will not be able to operate until at least early 2022.

One of the foundational ideas of the CGP replacement plan was that the existing pool was old and subject to significant maintenance and operational risk, but we needed to keep it running while the new pool was built so there was as little loss in continuity of programming as possible. That is still our principle, and our goal is still to get the exiting pool operating ASAP so we are no going without for the next three years. So we will hope the engineers can assess and provide a remediation plan in short order. Fingers crossed.

Electric Bikeshare Program – Motion from Sustainable Transportation Task Force
There is a new e-bike share program being piloted on the North Shore after a couple of false starts. We did some preliminary look at a similar program a couple of years ago, but the business case was not looking promising. There has been some learning in the North Shore program, some change in technology and we are moving from bleeding-edge to leading-edge on these types of programs, so we are asking Staff to take another stab at putting together a model that might work here. (That sentence was more Halloween-themed than I intended).

Miscellaneous Zoning Bylaw Amendments for First and Second Readings
Our Zoning Bylaw is a big, cumbersome document. Occasionally, staff do these omnibus updates to fix miscellaneous text, definitions, alignments with other city bylaws, or to simplify parts that are unnecessarily complicated or redundant. These don’t change how the zoning bylaw works, just how it reads. This is First and Second Reading, and we will waive Public Hearing for this update, but if you have opinions or feelings about the categorization of drive-in theatres or anything else, let us know.

Public Art Calls: Artist Roster and Artist-Initiated Projects
The Arts Commission recommends we put together an Artist Roster to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes ot engage an artist for smaller public art projects in the City. We will also open up opportunities for Artist-Led public art projects in the City, with some funding from the Public art Reserve Fund.

Temporary Use Permit: 502 Columbia Street (Former Army and Navy Department Store) – For Emergency Shelter
We have an emergency shelter crisis in the City – there are simply not enough emergency shelter beds for the unhoused population of the City. The Purpose Society has vacant space on the lower floor of the Army & Navy building they can convert to emergency shelter space for up to 50 adults. That doesn’t fit their current zoning, so we can issue a Temporary Use Permit for up to three years. This report outlines the plan and gives notice we will consider the TUP in a future meeting. If you have opinion, let us know.

But think of this: the City has no Weather Emergency Beds right now. Unhoused residents of New Westminster (of which there are more than 50) currently have no-where to seek emergency shelter as we are heading into winter. We can put in up to 50 beds for Weather Emergencies where unhoused residents can safely spend the night in the event a weather emergency is declared. If BC Housing comes through with Emergency Shelter funds, we can create up to 50 shelter beds that would be available 24/7 and come with full support for people needing support. All of this is for up to 18 months until Emergency Supportive shelter that is planned can come on line.

User Fees and Rates Review for 2022, Amendment Bylaws for Three Readings
As discussed last meeting, one of the early parts of our annual Budget process is to update our fees. We gave tacit approval last meeting, now the appropriate Bylaws have been sketched up and we are giving them three readings.

These items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Arts Advisory Committee
We are streamlining a couple of committees that provide subject matter expertise and community input to the City’s arts policies. This approves the committee Term of Reference to the new Arts Advisory Committee.

Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Unit) Bylaw: Next Steps
This is a slightly complicated success story. A couple of years ago, as the City was facing a burgeoning reno-viction crisis, so we took a proactive approach to use our Business Licensing powers to fill what we identified as gaps in the tenant protection parts of the Residential Tenancy Act. Since then, three things happened: the Landlord Lobby challenged us in court (we won), other cities have followed our approach (yeah!), and the province update the Residential Tenancy Act to fill some of those gaps.

Those RTA changes made parts of our Bylaw inoperative, so staff is suggesting we repeal those parts of the Bylaw (and the parts of the ticketing Bylaw that support it) as is good practice (you don’t need inoperative bylaws kicking around), and as the new RTA changes are coming into operation, we will continue to keep an eye on how they work in practice, and will be ready to act if we feel the protections are not adequate to address the issue in our community.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (208 Fifth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8271, 2021 and Heritage Designation (208 Fifth Avenue) Bylaw No. 8272, 2021: Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owner of this house in Queens Park wants to restore and permanently preserve the existing heritage house and move it forward on the lot while subdividing the lot and building an infill house facing Elgin Street. This project will go to a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

HRA Refresh: Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area Post-Implementation Evaluation and Report Back on Final Incentives
When the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area was implemented 4 years ago, the plan included developing a series of immediate and longer-term incentives to encourage the conservation of heritage homes, and perhaps to compensate owners for perceived or actual loss of house value due to the HCA. All of the short-term incentives have been introduced, and this report talks about the medium-term incentives. The great part is we are 4 years out and can do the analysis to determine whether the knock-off effects some people feared with the HCA occurred.

There was fear that the extra “red tape” would reduce the amount of renovation activity. Turns out permits are slightly up. There were fears that housing values would be impacted, and it turns out that during the HCA debates price increases went up 5% -7% slower than the rest of the region, but two years after implementation this had rebounded with values going up 10% faster than the regional average. Overall, there has been no significant impact on housing process relative to larger regional trends.

With a couple of medium-term incentives already introduced, and a couple more already in the pipeline, we are not going to explore the housing-price-driven incentives of multi-unit conversions and stratification. These will not be introduced as an as-right benefit of owning a home in the HCA, but will still be possible on a project-by-project basis under the Heritage Restoration Agreement process, much like in the rest of the City. More will come on that as we are working on a refreshing of the HRA program.

Regional Growth Strategy Update: Metro 2050 Comment Period
As we saw in the workshop presentations last time Council met, Metro Vancouver is working to update the Regional Growth Strategy, adopted 10 years ago, and look forward to 2050.

The existing plan was ratified in 2011 by the 20 Municipalities in Greater Vancouver, the sole Treaty First Nation with Municipal powers (Tsawwassen) and the neighboring Regional Districts. It projected the expected growth in the region (pretty accurately, it turns out) and set targets for each of the 22 jurisdictions within the region to fulfill the need to accommodate this growth (which were perhaps less accurate). The updated RGS puts more of an emphasis on climate, equity, reconciliation, and housing affordability, but will work in pretty much the same way. There are other changes, and I will write about this in a follow-up.

New West, like all other municipalities, was asked to provide formal feedback through both staff and council. Our Staff have already helped assure that more analysis is done on the current impacts of climate disruption (e.g. heat waves and air quality related to fires) and how we plan to address the horrific health impacts of these. They also introduced the need for more ecologically-focused set of policies around conservation lands and a more equity-focused set of strategies around tree canopy enhancement. We now have a few more suggestion to include in out input. The target of 15% of new units in transit-dense areas of the region being Affordable Rental Housing is consistent with New Westminster’s own goals, but we cannot limit ourselves to transit-dense areas where land prices are highest to fill this need, and need to find the incentives to leverage affordable housing development in these areas. We also need to have stronger renter protection regionally, so new affordable housing is not displacing the already-most-affordable stock in the region. The one part I added was a concern that jurisdictional targets are being replaced by sub-regional targets. I’m not sure I like this, because it seems to make local governments less accountable. We need more accountability for inequity across the region, not less, and we need elected officials to be accountable for decisions that impact the whole region. A sub-regional approach may remove that.

We then moved a bunch of Bylaws, including Adopting the following:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (733 Thirteenth Street) No. 8266, 2021
This Bylaw that enables the conversion of a existing single detached dwelling in the West End for use as a licensed group child care facility was Adopted by Council.

And we had one Motion from Council
Creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment outside Council Chamber, Councillor Trentadue

Whereas the City of New Westminster’s vision is “A vibrant, compassionate, sustainable city that includes everyone”; and
Whereas Reconciliation, Inclusion and Engagement is a high priority for the City as we work towards “creating a welcoming, inclusive and accepting community that promotes a deep understanding and respect for all cultures”; and
Whereas our 2019 Arts Strategy outlines goals and a vision that encompasses “Communicate, Nurture, Include, Generate and Innovate” while expanding opportunities for the Arts in our community; and Whereas a motion approved in January 2020 called for ways in which the City can be more welcoming and inclusive, specifically related to Civic facilities, City Hall and Council Meetings;
Therefore be it resolved that Arts Services report back to Council and the PAAC with options to reimagine the space and walls outside Council Chamber to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

With all the renovations of City Hall, the foyer in front of Council Chambers has been largely ignored, and is really not a very inclusive or particularly attractive place. Giving the Public Art Advisory Committee a chance to dream up something better and more fitting is a great idea.