Council – Jan 31, 2022

The January 31 #NewWest Council meeting was a great blend of old and new, all done virtually because this plague keeps sticking around. The agenda was fairly light, but we started with two always exciting Pubic Hearings, both on heritage houses in Queens Park:

Heritage Designation: 125 Third Street
This property owner wants to “designate” their home in Queens Park, which results in a higher level of preservation than even the Heritage Conservation Area under which this house is already protected. Designation is the highest level of protection we can do in local government in BC for property we don’t own, and for all intents and purposes prevents the building form ever being demolished. This designation does not include an HRA, in that the homeowner is not asking for compensation through a zoning relaxation or other benefit, but this designation does not preclude them applying, in the future, for some changes of the land such has the building of a laneway house or changes to the building, but it would have to align with the Heritage Conservation principles inherent in the designation.

We received three written submissions on this application and one person spoke in favour. Council moved to give the Designation Third Reading, which means we supported it.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement 8304, 2022 and Heritage Designation 8305, 2022: 323 Regina Street
The owner of this house in Queens Park wants to build a laneway house, and is asking for two variances to allow that to happen, for setbacks and to allow the laneway house to be bigger than guidelines (1420sqft instead of 958sqft), in exchange for Designation of the main 1928 house which permanently protects it. The extra square footage of the laneway house is basement, so the effective surface expression will be similar to a typical 958sqft accessory building that meets the guidelines.

This project has changed a bit since first proposed, including a reduction in the size of the laneway house, based on earlier public feedback and committee review in the City. We had 10 written submissions and about a dozen people present at the Public Hearing, with a mix of support and opposition. Some concerns were raised about the restoration that had already occurred on the house, but the Community Heritage Commission supports this project, as the work previously done on the existing house meets the Standards and Guidelines typical of heritage restoration. There was also some concern about the density on site, though it meets the guidelines for above-ground massing, though it is located on a corner lot, so the laneway house faces the main road more than the lane.

Ultimately, the variances here are reasonable in my opinion, and the opportunity for intergenerational living and added housing diversity in Queens Park is aligned with our goals in the City. Council voted to support the application and give it three readings.

In the Council meeting that followed the Public Hearing, the following items were Moved on Consent:

Covid-19 Task Forces: Update
This is our regular update on work that staff are engaged in towards supporting the community during the COVID pandemic, with an emphasis on vulnerable populations.

Heritage Review Policy Update: Buildings on the Heritage Inventory
The Community Heritage Commission made a recommendation that we shift a bit how we review the heritage merits of buildings likely to face demolition or renovation through permit applications at the City. Every building that is older than 100 years is reviewed when an application comes in, and if there is heritage merit to the building, the potential for Heritage Restoration as part of the application is reviewed. This change would add “all building on the Heritage Registry” to this list, adding about 89 registered by less than 100-year-old buildings to this review process. This may actually simplify our internal process slightly, as it takes two separate streams in city processes and amalgamates them.

Housing Agreement Bylaw and Development Variance Permit to Vary Residential and Visitor Parking Requirements: 520 Eighth Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
This existing apartment building wants to convert some parking spaces to residential units. The building will go from 56 homes to 61 homes, but the parking count will go from 62 spaces to 49 spaces. As per our existing parking policy, the 5 new units don’t need parking, but the loss of existing parking does require a development variance. In exchange, we are entering into a Housing Agreement to secure all 61 units as rental for the life of the building or 60 years.

There units will be small, with the front partially below grade, they will be at grade at the back, and will be at the affordable end of the “market rental” scale (though not, regulated “affordable housing” where rents are set below market value by regulation). We have seen a few applications like this a parking need reduces in the rental market. The only variance here we are being asked for is the parking (not the building form, FSR, or anything like that). Council moved to give notice it will consider the development variance permit.

Recruitment 2022: Appointments to Advisory Committees, Commissions, Boards, and Panels
Staff brought recommendations to our last closed meeting on applicants for the various Advisory Committees in the City. Council approved the recommendations, and this is now released to the public. The City has taken greater effort to account for diversity in life experience and neighbourhood in our committee appointments, and though it is always positive to see new people signing up to join committees, but it is also sad to see some people not returning after having contributed their time and energy. Thank you to everyone who volunteers in to helping staff and council make better decisions for the entire community.

Summer 2022 Outdoor Aquatics Plan
With the CGP out of service, staff have been looking in how much we can practically expand the outdoor pool season, and did some public engagement to test the public’s interest in an expended outdoor season. Moody Park will be opening in April, and Hume (due to ongoing maintenance of the building) in June, while both will be planned to operate until October.

There are some details to be worked out with outdoor tented or shelter areas (because many pool users, especially youth, are accompanied by parents or other supporters when they attend the pool) and area heating for change areas or spectator areas. Unfortunately, completely covering a pool with a bubble as some suggested is prohibitively expensive, as much because it would involve some complicated HVAC / air handling engineering required by building and health codes, but hopefully we can make other areas a little more comfortable in mixed weather.

And the following item was Removed from Consent for discussion:

Canada Games Pool Fitness Centre Relocation Plan
As we all know now, the Canada Games Pool had some unexpected mechanical and structural failures that make it unusable. Not just the pool, but the water management and drainage systems that make it impossible to operate the fitness areas as there are no useable bathrooms, showers, or even hot water to clean and maintain the building.

The fitness equipment in the pool, from free weights to treadmills and elliptical trainers and other gym machines, were very heavily used by the wider community, even through various COVID-related restrictions. So staff were charged with the task of finding a way to make this equipment available to the community in our limited available community spaces without interrupting existing programs (fitness programs and pickle ball for the most part) using those other spaces.

The gym at the Centennial Community Centre is one of the few spaces in the City that can accommodate the range of fitness equipment currently at the CGP, however there are programs that operate out of that gym, and after some initial investigation of this option, it was made clear by the community that those programs are valued. So Staff found creative solutions to assure all of those programs can continue to operate at the same capacity as they have for the last few years. Some will move to a separate room in the Centennial Community Centre, some to the Centennial Lodge in Queens Park, and some to Century House. Herbert Spencer School is also going to help us out to host some community Pickleball.

The closure of the CGP is unfortunate, and untimely. We really hoped to keep it running until the TAAC was opened, with its expanded gyms and activity rooms that would allow us to grow these programs. Fortunately, staff have done an exceptional job shuffling the decks, and partners from the Arts Council (who do some programming in the Centennial Lodge), the Century House Association, and the School District have helped immensely in assuring every program has a home and secure place to operate.

Then we read some Bylaws including adopting the following:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2022 – 2026) Bylaw No. 8308, 2022 290
As previously discussed, the five year financial plan was adopted by Council, formalizing our budget for the upcoming year.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Bicycle Parking) No. 8231, 2021 295
As discussed back in October, these amendments to modify bicycle parking requirements and bicycle facility design standards for new buildings were adopted by Council.

Finally, we had a Motion from Council:

Maternity/Parental Leave, Councillors Trentadue and Nakagawa

Whereas the Local Government Act, Community Charter, and New Westminster Council Procedure Bylaw do not provide maternity and/or parental leave rights to elected officials; and
Whereas the absence of maternity and/or parental leave for local elected officials specifically disadvantages persons considering running for office and, hence, is a systemic barrier to attracting more diverse and representative candidates to local government; and
Whereas an elected official may want to take maternal and/or parental leave from their position and it is currently unclear as to this leave availability. It is unreasonable to expect the Councillor to have to rely on Council deliberations or “hope” that their request for leave will be accepted officially;
Therefore be it resolved that staff report back on options that would include common entitlements for maternity and/or parental leave for elected officials in the City of New Westminster following the birth or adoption of a child.

In recent work with UBCM and the Lower Mainland LGA, this has increasingly been seen as an overdue change. We are not the first community to take this step, but I think when we talk about removing systemic barriers to the work of representative government, this is often an overlooked area. I very much support this, and also strongly support us having strong policy guidance on this so people considering this work are not put in a position of uncertainty, and that leave options are not something only available at the whim of a council.

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