Our Council meeting this week started with a Public Hearing, as is pretty typical for last-meeting-of-the-month. But that wasn’t the only item on the agenda, so join me on a journey.
Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 8374, 2023 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8375, 2023 for 102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street
This project would see 10 townhouses built in two buildings where there is currently a single family house and a duplex in Glenbrook North. The overall FSR would be 1.03 (0.87 above grade) and all units would be three-bedroom family-friendly (1,700 -1,800 sq ft) with a single parking spot which meets the parking requirement for this type of development. The project would exceed energy efficiency required by the BC Energy Step Code, achieving Step 4.
This requires not just a rezoning (from RS-1 single family residential to RT townhouse) but an amendment to the Official Community Plan to change the land use from RD (single family detached and duplex) to RGO (Ground-Oriented Infill Housing). This designation was considered as part of the OCP update 6 years ago now, but Council in its wisdom chose to not designate the entire block, and instead to allow piecemeal applications if they come up.
Since 2021, this project has gone through the Land Use Planning Committee (which led to minor modifications), the Advisory Planning Commission (supported) and Design Panel (supported), and there was consultation with First Nations and the School District (as required for an OCP amendment). There was also active and passive public consultation, including virtual open house and communications through the Glenbrook North Residents’ Association. Most of the feedback was positive, noting the lack of family-friendly townhouse building form in this part of New West, with the main concerns being lack of parking (natch), the desire for more affordability, and infrastructure not keeping up with growth.
We had two pieces of correspondence and about a half dozen delegates speak to council, including the proponent. We heard opposition to any change to the OCP, and we heard some concerns about parking, rodent control and construction impacts, which were directed to staff.
Overall, I am in support of this kind of infill missing middle housing, as it fills an important gap in our housing supply – family-sized ground oriented units in a high-service neighbourhood so close to schools, shops, parks, and everything families need. This is the kind of infill housing I hear residents in New West asking for more of.
Council voted in favour of the application, and in the Council meeting to follow, gave the Bylaws three readings.
Following some announcements and proclamations, we go our first Report for discussion:
Train Whistle Cessation – Update
Staff have started a practice of making quarterly reports on train whistle cessation. They are attached as information reports on the end of Council Agenda (as there is no decision for council to make, we are just being informed), but as with all information reports, a Councilor may ask to have them raised to the next council meeting for discussion. This one was raised from April 3. Most of the information here is also freely available on the City’s public website about Whistle Cessation.
The new part here is the renewed activity in the Rail Technical Working Group, and a few more details about timelines for the rail crossings where we are currently working on cessation and clarity about the funding sources for that work.
There is also a notion in here worth calling attention to. There has been political conversation about the desire to end “unnecessary whistling” in the community. This report takes the time to point out that “unnecessary whistling” is already illegal by federal law, and there have been no reports of “unnecessary whistling” being a problem in the City. The whistling we hear is a regulatory requirement, and it is that regulatory requirement we are trying to address.
We then approved the following items On Consent:
Construction Noise Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street – Signia Construction Ltd.
The Provincial Court House is being renovated with new cladding and roofing, increasing its energy efficiency. Because of the nature of other operations, construction work during court hours is not preferred, so they need to do some of their work outside of court hours. This means evening and weekend work that exceeds our construction noise Bylaw, which is why they are asking for an exemption.
Recruitment 2023: Appointments to the Accessibility Advisory Committee
We have an Accessibility Advisory Committee, to which we appoint people. Here is one of those appointments.
Salmonbellies Municipally Significant LCRB Resolution
There is a quirk in the LCRB rules about how you sell beer at a beer garden involving their fixed prices and sizes of containers and such where, in rare occasion, an event can get around some of the rigidity by the City deeming the event “Municipally Significant”. I’m not sure we have ever done this before, but if hosting the Most Famous Team in Lacrosse*, 24-time Mann Cup winners over a proud 130+ year history isn’t “Municipally Significant” for New Westminster, I don’t know what is. So in deeming them so, they have some new partnership opportunities that are theirs to announce not mine. Or, you know, check my Instagram.
We then had the following items Removed from Consent for discussion:
2023 Tax Rates Bylaw No 8395, 2023
With the budget Bylaw prepared last meeting, staff can now set the Tax Rates to recover the required $102 Million in property taxes from the roughly $30 Billion of assessed real estate value in the City.
There are also reminders here that homeowners need to apply to the Provincial Government for the $570 grant to help offset property taxes, $845 if you are over 65. Also, anyone over the age of 55 can defer 100% of their property taxes, which means the Province will pay them for you, and you pay them back at some point in the future (presumably when you sell the property, but that’s up to you). The current interest rate for deferral is 4.45% simple interest.
So doing the math on this, if you are a 65 year old living in a house assessed at $1 Million, your Municipal taxes will be $2,500. Less Homeowner grant, that is $1155. If you defer your taxes, it will cost you about $51 in interest per year until you (or your heirs) decide to sell the house. As this interest is applied against your house, it is important to note that the value of the typical $1 Million house in New West went up 11% last year, or about $110,000. So for less than 0.05% of the amount the typical house value goes up every year, you could never pay property taxes again. Just saying.
City Hall Community Art Exhibition Program
This is the result of a Motion from former Councillor Mary Trentadue, and some work staff have been doing with partners in the Community since. The walls in the area outside Council chambers are kind of dull, and looked pretty uninviting. The thought was, as we are trying to invite more people into City Hall, it would be an opportunity to liven the space up while providing more space for local and regional artists to display their work. Staff coordinated with the Arts Advisory Committee and Arts Council of New Westminster to use these spaces to let folks know what works are happening at the other Arts Council locations.
City Hall is
old historic, so we need to do a Hazardous Building Materials survey and install some appropriate hardware, but we should see Art in City Hall soon! Arts adds to conversations, it leads to deeper thinking, it fills our souls and gives us inspiration, and all of those things should happen in the entrance to Council Chambers.
Economic Impact Model Scope of Work
The idea here is that staff want to put together a new economic analysis tool. This way existing programs (in this case, the Anvil Centre, but it could be applicable to the Library, to the Queens Park Arena or Pier Park) could be evaluated for their impact on the local economy. The idea is that it could inform future civic initiatives.
I like the idea of an economic Input-output model, but I wonder about its usefulness as a decision-making tool unless it incorporates more than economic factors. We are not a business, we are a local government, and the economic lens can act like blinders limiting our analysis of social impacts of our work, of climate and environmental impacts, of cultural and community connection impacts, of health and happiness impacts. Little of what we do in the City serves only an economic goal. We could also get into a deeper discussion about the role of a Local Government in driving Fiscal Policy in a Monetary Policy epoch, but that way leads to rabbit holes.
Anyway, it is a small relative cost, and I do generally like staff to have good data to help guide our decision-making, so I am comfortable with Economic Development staff being given time and budget to do this work. However, like any tool, it is more important that we be judicious in its application.
Queen’s Park Farm Master Plan Adoption
This has been discussed a few times now in council and workshop, and this final report and ask for endorsement of the plan comes after a year-long two-phase community engagement and iterative design process. The results of that are a model to replace the old “petting zoo” with a new set of program elements and activity spaces for all ages. The theme is “habitat + grow” – a mix of learning and experience spaces around forest habitats and around the sources of our food. This will be a new jewel in the Queens Park space, and I am really proud of the work staff and the design team did in bringing a diverse set of elements together.
Rezoning and Special Development Permit (810 Agnes Street and 815 821 Victoria Street) – Application Consideration
This project downtown has been in the planning process for a couple of years. It includes a space that was an informal community centre for the Chinese community in New West more than 100 years ago, which was gifted to the City about 50 years ago by the Chinese Benevolent Society. The plan is to develop part of the site (that currently has older warehouse type buildings on it) for a residential tower, and create an outdoor public park that honours the history of the site and its importance to the history of Chinese people in early New Westminster. This has been on the books for some time, so much of the public consultation and design of the park amenity space has already occurred.
The development itself has been shifted from what was originally going to be market condos to 350 Purpose Built Rental suites in a 33 story building. This project saw the Land Use and Planning Committee and a Preliminary Report to Council in early 2018, has been through public open houses and consultation before the pandemic and again in 2022. As the results of that consultation were positive, it is consistent with the OCP, provides a much needed form of housing (market rental adjacent to a SkyTrain Station) and a well understood public amenity package, is consistent with City’s stated policy direction for housing development, Council agreed to waive the Public Hearing and will consider giving the Rezoning three readings in an upcoming council meeting following circulation of notice in accordance with the Local Government Act..
We then adopted the following Bylaws:
Building Amendment Bylaw No. 8388, 2023
This Bylaw that amends our Building Bylaw to align with changes to the BC Building Code was adopted unanimously by council, because we all love alignment.
Five Year Financial Plan 2023 – 2027 Bylaw No 8392, 2023
This Bylaw that formalizes our Consolidated Financial Plan for 2023 through 2027 was adopted by Council. The Budget is in the books. Bring on 2024.
Then we had one final piece of New Business
2023 Summer Heat Response Update
This report set out the various initiatives that staff in the Emergency Management Office and other departments in the City (working with partners at Fraser Health and in the community) have put together to prepare for heat related events. It includes expanded accessible public spaces to cool off, outreach to building managers, seniors, people with disabilities through a new communications strategy, a program to rent air conditioners out on a means-tested basis, and outdoor misting stations, and more.
This is good, but I have asked for us to look at going a step further. I have discussed with several people from being on a panel at UBCM with Dr. Bonnie Henry to recent meetings with Fraser Health, and organizations in town that support vulnerable people and seniors the idea of us applying regulatory tools not dissimilar to our fire preparedness legislation to address heat emergency preparedness. As such, I asked that staff explore our ability to regulate a heat response plan requirement for all Multi-unit residential building in the City.
I don’t know if we have the tools we need, or if we need to advocate for them from the province, but with the scale of the deaths New West faced in the 2021 Heat Dome, I don’t want our connect and prepare response to be one driven by and relying on volunteers. We don’t let building operators volunteer to have sprinklers or fire alarms, nor do we rely on volunteers to assure these systems are operational. They are fundamental life safety measures, and we have learned now that a heat emergency plan is also a fundamental life saving measure.
This first request is just to help us understand what tools we may have, there will no doubt be deeper discussions after to determine the viability of applying those tools, this is just information gathering at this time.
And that was the week that was, I can’t believe it’s almost May. Go outside, enjoy some spring sun. Or go see a lavish musical. I’m going to do both!