Council – Feb 14, 2022

Nothing makes Valentine’s Day more special than a few hours spent meeting with the loveliest City Council in the Lower Mainland. We are back to “hybrid” style meetings, with a few of us in chambers and a few on-line, and the public are able to attend in person again, so come on by some Monday. It would be good to see you. We had an Agenda that really went to the dogs (that’s a joke! Scroll down to see why!), starting with consideration of a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00691 for 520 Eighth Street
As discussed last meeting, the owner of this 56-unit rental building in the Brow of the Hill wants to add 5 suites in underused above-ground parking spaces under the existing building. They need a variance not for the density or units, but for reducing the amount of parking below the zoning requirements. In exchange for this variance, they are agreeing to a housing agreement with the City that secures rental tenure for the property for 60 years or the life of the building – whichever is longer.

My reflex reaction to this type of application is that we are in a housing crisis and need more secured market rental much more than we need more parking spaces. Looking at the details of the application, it is clear these are surplus parking spaces to what the building needs. More than half of renters in New West don’t own a car, and that is a growing trend, especially with car-sharing and other options now available for people who might sometimes need a car but don’t want the cost and hassle. This helps balance the amount of parking with the amount actually needed, and secures 61 rental units at the affable end of the market.

We received no submissions in regards to this application, and Council moved to approve the required Variance.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Development)
If you have been downtown, you will note the 660 Quayside project is moving along. The daycare and commercial building looks topped out, the west tower is out of the ground, and the underground by Pier Park is coming along. Much like when the West Tower was done a few months ago, the East tower needs a “monolithic foundation” pour – a lot of concrete needs to go in at once to avoid seams in the foundation, and it is likely this continuous pour will take longer than typical work hours, requiring a one-time noise bylaw exemption. The actual date is a bit weather-dependent, but notice will be sent to adjacent residents.

Local Government Election 2022: Appointment of Chief Election Officer and Deputy Chief Election Officer
I don’t know if you have heard, but there is a Local Government Election coming up in October. The way local elections work in BC, the Province sets the rules, but leaves it up to each City to run its own election as it sees fit within those rules. The first order of business is to appoint someone to be the Chief Elections Officer, and it has been practice to make the City Clerk that person, as the work is similar – managing a bunch of people who are unclear on the rules, and making sure the rules are strictly followed.

Peer Assisted Crisis Team (PACT) Pilot Project Update
The City is collaborating with the Canadian Mental Health Association on a PACT pilot project. This follows up earlier acknowledgement that people suffering from a mental health crises in our community need a new approach other than the limited options Police currently have which has traditionally been to take the person to the hospital or jail, neither necessarily equipped to address sometimes very complex issues. The PACT project would see mobile crisis intervention teams (a Mental Health Professional and a trained Peer Crisis Responder) responding to mental health calls as an auxiliary service to the Police.

This is going to take a community to be successful, so not-for-profit and faith-based service providers, police, government social service and health service agencies and First Nations will be engaged in a community planning table. We also need to hire a Coordinator to move this forward through engagement and into implementation. This is ground-breaking in BC, though there are similar programs finding success in other North American jurisdictions, and well understood best practices. I’m really proud that our Council has supported this work, and that the community partners are working with us to bring this to reality.

People, Parks & Pups: A 10-Year Strategy for Sharing Public Space
There are lots of dogs in New West, with something like 40% of households having a dog. We have several Off Leash Areas (OLAs), much less park space dedicated to dogs by area and per capita than Vancouver (for example) but more than Surrey (for example). Of course, these comparisons are difficult because of the urban nature of the City, but we have also had a bit of an ad-hoc approach to new OLAs. This strategy brings a more holistic approach. 50 recommendations covering 15 different aspects of making better spaces for dogs and their people. If you are a dog person it’s probably worth a read, as there is a lot of great goals in here: an off-leash area within 1km of most residents; a better more integrated approach to dog waste; better strategies to reduce dog-people conflicts; better design of OLAs to make them more accessible and more fun.

This is a decade-long plan, but some of the early work is already in the City’s Capital Budget and will be rolled out soon, like the accessibility audit of the existing OLAs and the first “Puppy Parklet” Downtown. Woof.

Provincial Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program Funding Approval for the Riverfront Tugger – Community Gathering and Play Space
You might have notice the three little tugboats and rubberized scramble/play area where the Exop86 Tugger used to be. This was a pretty big piece of work, as the piers and decking around Tugger needed significant repair and upgrade with the removal of old steel bulk. But the City got financial support from the province (which is why this report arrived, as we have to officially authorize spending that money we were given on the thing for which we were given it). We were also given a substantial donation from the Rotary Club of New Westminster in recognition of their late member and New Westminster doctor and humanitarian Irwin Stewart. In honour of his work on pediatric hearing care, there is a bit of an Easter-egg in the design of the play area involving those colourful pipes. Kal Tire also donated through their Kal’s Replay Fund, allowing the installation of the recycled rubber surface for the scramble area. Have fun!

Revised Public Art Policy
The City has a Public Art Policy that needed an update after a decade. This is a little bit administrative (we are clarifying roles and procedures), and a little bit foundational (we are establishing guiding principles and adjusting our Artist Selection Process). There is a good body of work in this update, worth a read if you want to know the hows, whys and whats of Public Art in the City.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Extension Request: New Westminster Interceptor – Columbia Sewer Rehabilitation
The major re-piping project downtown has gone on too long. This project was supposed to be off our streets by now, and some of the important work we need to do downtown seems stalled by this project taking up space. That said, this is as important a piece of work as it is complicated, and I recognize I have no idea what the engineering challenges may be, even as my patience is running out. I walk downtown almost every day, and that pile of pipes in front of the Anvil Centre doesn’t seem to be shrinking, leading me to believe that progress is not being made, which had me concerned. But it appears the pipes are ready to get moving, as the massive amount of prep work before the actual pipe slip-lining work is now at the point where the pipes can go in.

So we are extending the Noise Bylaw exemption they need to do that slip-lining work, and the sooner it gets done, the sooner we can get them out of there and give the streetscape back to the businesses and residents of downtown.

Still, this project timeline has expanded more than we expected, and considering the high profile and impact of these works, and the concerns Council and the BIA raised as Metro Vancouver began consulting with us on this work, I thought it was timely to ask Metro Vancouver for an update on the timeline. I asked for three points of clarification: when they will be out of there, what efforts are being taken to accelerate the work to assure they finish in a timely manner, and what extra mitigation is being considered for businesses and residents of downtown considering the extended timeline.

We will be expecting a follow-up report next meeting, but the good news since the Council meeting is that slip-lining is proceeding this week, and that pile of pipes should be going away soon.

Filming Activity in 2021 and Proposed Filming Fees for 2022
The Film industry has been impacted by COVID-19 like everything else, and City revenues from film permits has gone down from the Pre-COVID average of about $800K/year to about $600K in 202. Note, these are Gross values, as film permits include providing some services to the film industry which cost the City some money to provide – though we do have net “profit” from having this activity in town. This is also aside of the spin-off economic benefits to local residents and businesses that the industry brings, which is more than $1 Million a year.

This report also includes planned fee changes based on the first review of our fees in 5 years, and comparison to industry standards around the region.

We then adopted some Bylaws:

Heritage Designation (125 Third Street) Bylaw No. 8306, 2021
This Bylaw to designate this 1905 House in Queens Park and preserve it for posterity was adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (323 Regina Street) Bylaw No. 8304, 2022
Heritage Designation (323 Regina Street) Bylaw No. 8305, 2022
These Bylaw that permits the construction of an infill house along with the designation of the existing 1928 house in Queens Park to preserve it for posterity was adopted by Council.

Housing Agreement (520 Eighth Street) Bylaw No. 8273, 2022
This Bylaw that secures rental tenure for 60 years or the life of this building (whichever is longer) was adopted by Council.

Finally, we had a Motion from Council:

Support for Bill C-229 – Banning Symbols of Hate Act Mayor Cote

New Westminster City Council endorses MP Peter Julian’s Private Member’s Bill C-229 – Banning Symbols of Hate Act.

We received correspondence from MP Julian seeking endorsement for this bill recently raised at the Parliament. The recent events in Ottawa has put this issue on the front burner but I do want to mark there has been some local action by residents (perhaps most vocally, Kevin McConnell) asking for action like this based on some local events and historic sales of Nazi-themed paraphernalia in New West. Council voted to send our endorsement of this bill, with a caveat regarding the need for some cultural nuance in some of the symbolism typically related to hate in our culture, and the need to differentiate that use of the symbol from some traditional or very culturally distinct uses of the same symbols before they were appropriated by hate groups.

And that was all for the Valentines Edition of the New West Council Report. Please share with those you love the most.

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