The last Council meeting of the month is often a Public Hearing meeting, and May 30th was no exception. We had a single Public Hearing this month:
Heritage Revitalization Agreement (328 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8309, 2022 and Heritage Designation (328 Second Street) Bylaw No. 8310, 2022
The owner of this 1889 house in Queens Park wants to extensively restore and permanently protect the house, subdivide the lot, and build a second infill house on the property. No secondary suites are being permitted meaning two housing units where three would ostensibly be allowed. Application is consistent with OCP, and was approved by the Community Heritage Commission. Relaxations being sought are mostly the lot size (both resultant lots will be smaller than 6,000 sqft), and the “panhandle” shape of the new lot that allows a narrow frontage to a front/back subdivision to allows the heritage house to stay where it is unmoved. The two properties would share a common driveway with an easement securing this.
There was a high response rate to the public consultation, weighed heavily in support. We also received 20 pieces of correspondence, mostly in support. The Public Hearing brought some concerns from neighbours about the density increase being too much, potential tree removal (turns out most will be protected), and some confusion about the easement for a shared driveway, which is not really that uncommon a process. I think, in hearing the arguments for and against, and reading the correspondence, this proposal balances well two differing opinions in the neighbourhood about preserving the heritage houses in the neighbourhood and the need for more housing options. The majority of council voted to support the project.
We also had three projects that went to third reading with a waiving of the need for a Public Hearing because they met the OCP and City policy:
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8325, 2022 for 122 Eighth Avenue
This proposal is to build a duplex on a large lot on Eighth Ave in Glenbrook North where an older house current sits. Again, no secondary suites here, so two homes where three may be permitted. We received a couple of pieces of correspondence from neighbours concerned about the loss of a mature faux-cherry tree, but the tree was assessed by the City arborist as near-end-of-life, and replacements will be planted. Council voted later in the meeting to approve Third Reading.
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8324, 2022 for 337 and 339 Keary Street
This proposal would see nine ground oriented and family-friendly row-home style townhomes in Sapperton where there are currently two houses. It generally fits RT zoning, complies with the OCP for that block and design Panel approved it. Again, we received correspondence in favour and opposed. Council voted later in the meeting to give it Third Reading.
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8323, 2022 for 817 St. Andrews Street
This project would replace a pretty run-down 1926 house in the Brow of the hill with a Passive House standard (very high energy efficiency) triplex. The density (FSR 0.785) takes advantage of the bonus the City provides for building to Passive house. This fits well in to the slightly funny spot, nestled between other older SFD and a three-story apartment building with a taller tower right across the street. FSR 0.785 (includes allowance for Passive House). We received some correspondence, ranging support to calling this triplex a “monstrosity”. Nonetheless, Council voted later in the meeting to give it Third Reading.
Flipping over to the Regular Meeting Agenda, we started by moving the following item On Consent:
British Columbia Electoral Boundaries Commission Reform Submission – May 2022
The Provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission is looking at adding seats to the provincial legislature to keep up with population growth, potentially adding up to 6 new seats province wide. We are sending the commissioners a letter to make sure they are aware that New West is growing fast – much faster than the provincial average – and if we are looking at increased representation, we have a claim on some of that.
Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: New Westminster Interceptor – Columbia Sewer Rehabilitation
The ongoing and disruptive sewer rehab project has mostly left Columbia Street downtown, but the project is not done, and more work needs to happen both downtown (work that will be suspended until the fall) and in the more eastern parts of the project towards the Albert Crescent Park. This eastern part is where the current noise exemption is being requested as they may need to do some of this work at night a day or two a week to get the slip-lining done when the water level in the sewers is low enough.
Development Variance Permit for Works & Services Security (823-841Sixth Street Affordable Housing Project) – Notice of Consideration of Issuance
This might be a bit more of the detailed sausage-making of development governance than people want to read, but I’ll try to keep this short. When developers build new buildings, the City makes them do stuff on City land to support the integration of the development with the community – sewer tie-ins, road and sidewalk improvements, street trees, boulevard restoration, etc. To make sure this work gets done, the City asks for security – we ask the developer to give us money or a secured letter of credit for 120% of the estimated value of the work. We give that money back when the work is done, or (potentially) we use the money to do the thing the developer didn’t do if they fail to do it. It’s not that we don’t trust the developer, it’s just that the nature of development finance is that sometimes things go wrong, and if the developer goes broke or folds, we don’t want the taxpayers holding the bag, or wasting money in court trying to recover this money. So we get security.
This Affordable Housing project Uptown is backed by BC Housing (The Province of British Columbia) and they have provided us an Indemnification Agreement instead of security. Essentially, the Province agrees to cover the cost of this work if things go south. We are confident BC won’t go broke, so we don’t need extra security and there is no reason for the non-profit housing provide to tie up that capital, so Council is agreeing to waive the security based on this Agreement. Waiving that security changes the terms of the Development Permit, so we need this variance to get that done.
Downtown Livability Strategy – Update
This is an information report on the ongoing downtown support program. It outlines some of the challenges with making public toilet facilities more available, and some of the successes in improving street cleanliness and in securing senior government support for addressing homelessness, our ongoing on-staffing of more Bylaw officers and our participation in the provincial pilot PACT program.
Regional Growth Strategy Update: Metro 2050 Acceptance
The City is a “member jurisdiction” of Metro Vancouver, and are therefore party to the Regional Growth Strategy that defines the regional planning goals. The once-a-decade update in the RGS is called Metro 2050, as it looks forward to what the region will look like in three decades. This long-look is important, because multi-Billion-dollar infrastructure like sewer treatment plants and water reservoirs and the pipes that connect neighbourhoods to them, take decades to plan and finance. So we need to know about where the buildings are going to be, and how many of them there are going to be. The way the City’s planning intersects with the Regional Growth Strategy is through a “context statement” in our Official Community Plan, stating that our OCP is aligned with the RGS. This Context statement will now be prepared by staff.
We are also sending Metro Van a letter telling them we agree with the RGS, and reminding them that our Council would prefer that “projections” for new housing in a city-by-city basis be re-framed as “targets”, which puts a bit more onus on each member municipality to do their part to address the regional housing crises. Alas, it is going to look like the consensus of member municipalities is to be less accountable in the face of the crises, which is disappointing, but not surprising. I hope this is a conversation in every municipality during the fall elections.
Rezoning and Development Permit for Infill Townhouses: 102 – 128 East Eighth Avenue and 721 Cumberland Street – Preliminary Report
This is a preliminary report to Council to get a check-in before this project moves to committee and public consultation. The project would see 10 single family homes on East Eighth Ave replaced with a 55 townhouse-form homes. It’s an interesting location as it is on a significant slope, so the built form will be pretty unique. The block is designated for this type of building in the Official Community Plan, and the project does not exceed RT zoning for FSR, ground coverage, height, offsets, or parking, but this application will still require a rezoning. As this would likely end up at a Public Hearing, I’ll hold my comments until then.
Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Event-Driven Liquor Primary Licence: 735 Eighth Avenue (Massey Theatre) – Bylaw for First and Second Readings
The new Arts Hub at Massey Theatre wants to change their liquor license to better suit their operations. This type of Liquor Primary license requires a Public Hearing, so I’ll hold my comments until then. If you have opinions, let us know!
And the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:
Budget 2023: Proposed Framework and Timelines 101
Just as 2022 Property tax bills are being delivered, we are already working on Budget 2023. A major focus of this council term has been to open up the budgeting process and engage the public early in our very open budget deliberations. That means starting the conversation earlier, but it also means running the conversation through an October election, so Staff are making some recommendations about the decisions that need to be made before the election period to give staff enough guidance about their budgets and ability to deliver their services, while also giving staff a chance to onboard the new Council so they can make informed decisions in early 2023 on approval of the final budget. The balance is between doing the work we need to do without unnecessarily tying the hands of the new Council.
The proposal staff put forward is to approve User Fee changes and the 2023 Capital Budget before the election, and defer the Utility Rates and Operation Budget (and therefore, any tax rate changes) until after the election.
Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 330 East Columbia Street
The company building the new RCH are asking for an exemption from the Construction Noise Bylaw for up to six nights a month to complete the refinishing of concrete floor pours. The concrete pour work will be done within permitted times, but the sometimes need to go past 8pm with those power-trowel things to assure a smooth concrete surface. This means a humming noise that may be heard by neighbours after 8pm.
We received correspondence from the Residents Association, and it appears the construction company has been responsive to the RA on ongoing construction impact concerns, so there were some more restrictions added to this Exemption based on the discussions with the RA.
Staffing Resource Challenges and Implications on Departments’ Service Delivery Work Plans
You no doubt have read about the labour shortage facing the region. I can go on at length about potential causes (the “great resignation”, local cost of living, shift in demographics), but you see the results all around: BC Ferries is cancelling sailings for lack of crews, restaurants are reducing hours, shortages in medical services, delays in construction projects, etc. Cities are not immune to this, and in some ways are on the leading edge, exacerbated by decades-long austerity-driven gaps in hiring and shifts in the labour market where “secure job with a good pension” is not the motivator it once was. This was one of the main side-bar conversations at the recent Lower Mainland Local Government Association conference – “How is your city dealing with the labour shortage?” Turns out the smaller the local government, the more critical the situation right now – we aren’t the worst off, but we are definitely feeling it.
Unlike a construction company or restaurant, a City can’t just reduce operating hours or bid on fewer jobs, but with short staff we need to re-set our priorities and choose what things don’t get done or are delayed because our staff simply don’t have capacity. The HR process in this super-tight market adds to the challenge of back-filling and training up new people, so the solutions are not quick.
So this is more of a for-information report about the issue, to let the public know what is going on, and to let staff know that Council is aware of the challenges staff are facing. There is some work going on in the background to address the shortage (some HR and staffing discussion happens in closed, because of Community Charter Section 90(1)(c)), but it is going to take a bit of time to get over this hump because there is a lot of it going around, and because even with on-boarding new staff, training is real thing in the City, so new folks will need a bit of time to get up to speed. Things you may notice: some lawns in parks are going to be mowed less often (good for the pollinators, I guess), permits for smaller building projects are going to take a bit longer, and some engineering projects will be delayed not for lack of capital funds committed, but for lack of project management staff to coordinate the work.
And on that note, and after reading a few Bylaws, Council adjourned while it was still a little sunny outside, which is a bonus.