Council – July 10, 2023

Last Council meeting before we take a summer break, and there was a lot on the agenda. We started with a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00696 for 300 Duncan Street, 313 to 325 Blackley Street, and 326 to 340 Mercer Street
The “Eastern Node” is an area of Q’boro just to the west of Port Royal that has a Master Plan to provide some moderate-density family-friendly housing and (at long last) a local-serving commercial node on the east end of Q’boro. As they work through the development of different phases of the project, they are now asking for a parking variance to include tandem parking in some of the residential and reduce the number of residential guest parking spots. For this they need a Development Variance Permit. We received no correspondence on this, and the parking numbers they are proposing actually align with our new standards, just not the standards that were in place back when this development was approved. Council agreed to grant the variance.

We then had a Report for Discussion:

City Staff’s Heat Plan Response to Extreme Heat in New Westminster: Accelerated Workplan and Funding for Summer 2023
As I have written here many times, the City had a Heat Emergency Response Plan. But like other plans across the province, it was a great plan for the mid-30s heat waves we used to have, it was not adequate for the unprecedented and anomalous 40+ heat dome event of 2021. The intensity of that event surprised everyone from the national weather service that offers forecast warnings to provincial emergency organizations that receive them to first responders across the region, all to tragic results.

In the time since that 2021 event, the City’s Emergency Management Office (EMO) has been working with our Climate Action Team, Social Planning and Facilities Staff to bring stronger measures in, and have forged partnerships with Fraser Health and Senior Services Society to help identify and target vulnerable populations in preparation for this new type of heat emergency.

There was a motion brought to Council recently to give subsidies to residents to purchase air conditioners and to further subsidize their electrical utility bill, which Council referred to the Electrical Utility Commission. The Commission suggested against this approach, and instead recommended new money be spent on enhancement of the more targeted and effective approach already underway by the EMO. During this conversation, the Province introduced an Air Conditioner program for vulnerable people (that will be administered by BC Hydro, but like pervious programs of the type, is available to New Westminster residents), which looks slightly different than the program the City was already running through the EMO and our partners.

So this is the ask from staff for the resources to accelerate the program EMO was running, and to align the City’s plan with the Provincial program being run through BC Hydro. Estimated one-time budget ask is $268K, about half of which is for air conditioners for our enhanced program, the other half for staff resources to do all the other things. Council voted to support this.

We then moved the following item On Consent:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 1426 Seventh Avenue – Preliminary Report
This property owner in the West End hopes to preserve a small 1911 heritage home in the West End and put one large and two small infill houses on the same lot. With two rental units, this is a total of 6 homes where there is currently one, which is a pretty creative infill density plan that nonetheless keeps the FSR under 1, and the site coverage under 35%, though there is a challenge meeting the City’s open space requirements with the current configuration. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

And the following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 651 Carnarvon Street (Provincial Courthouse)
The Courthouse needs to be re-roofed and have new siding put on. Unlike every other workplace in recent history (City Hall, the Hospital, etc.), the Courts feel they cannot work while construction is actively occurring. It is unclear how much of this is security or privacy or just no wanting to be in a noisy environment when they are working. I have some concerns about the potential scale of impact to the community here – there are ~400 homes within 100m of this site, and this is a projet asking for work ate in the evening and on the weekends for 18 months. To me, that level of impact requires a strong justification to explain why this work cannot happen during operational hours, and what is being done ot reduce community impacts.

There was a bit of a discussion here, and in the end, Council agreed to issue the variance for 6 months and ask the applicant to re-apply early in the new year to put them on notice that they will need to be cognizant of community impact and mitigation measures during the early phases of the work. This will come back to Council in January.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption: 660 Quayside Drive (Bosa Developments)
Unlike the above, there is a good rationale for one day starting a little early to get these crane sections delivered to site, so council is granting a Construction Noise exemption for one day without debate.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement: 203 Pembina Street – Preliminary Report
This is, for all practical effects, a rezoning request, asking for a change to allow the building of a small 6-unit townhouse project on what is currently a largish (>1,000 sq m) single family lot in Queensborough. What makes it an HRA is the proposal to protect and designate as a Heritage Asset, a significant mature tree – which is a first for New West. This is a preliminary report, and the project will see public consultation. If you have opinions, let us know!

New Westminster School District’s 2023-2024 Eligible School Sites Proposal
The School Board has been doing a lot of work updating their needs for the decade ahead, in recognition that New West is not only one of the fastest-growing communities in the lower mainland, but is growing fastest in the young family demographic. The Board develops 10-year plans to inform the School Site Acquisition Charges the City collects from all developers on behalf of the Province, and to apply for capital needs. One step in their capital planning is to run their projections by the City, which this report does.

For the first time I remember, the School District is actually anticipating faster growth of homes than the City is projecting, and faster than the city’s Regional Growth Strategy targets. This is offset somewhat by the disconnect between how the province calculates the number of students that will be yielded by multi-family housing forms – in short, the province has a record of assuming “families don’t live in apartments”, and New West has proven that untrue. The end result is the SD and the City agreeing we will have 2,000 more school-aged residents by 2043. If you want to read how the AD is planning to fill this capacity need, read their Capital Plan submission report attached to this.

The City is also sending some feedback to the Province here to reinforce the need for childcare funding to go with new school funding (as this is Provincial responsibility, and Child Care is now part of the Ministry of Education mandate), and to ask the province to recognize the unique challenges in finding adequate outdoor recreation space for new schools in one of the densest communities in the country, and increased construction costs for multi-story building in Queensborough.

Parks and Recreation 2024 Fees and Charges Bylaw Amendment
Every Year, Parks and Recreation review their fee structures, and we need to codify them with an annual bylaw update. There are several factors that inform the fees, including the inflationary effect on the cost of offering space and programs, comparison to adjacent communities, and overall market trends.

As a general trend, New Westminster has very low rates for almost all forms of recreation programming and space compared to adjacent communities, especially in facility rental rates charges to amateur sports. As we move towards opening of təməsew̓txʷ, we will need to set up an appropriate fee schedule. Though most fees are going up in the 2-5% range expected with inflation, some will be bumped a bit more to better reflect regional trends and cost, most noticeably lane rentals in the new pool. This is partly a result of us having not increased rates in the last few years as we recognized CGP was reaching end of life (though that end arrived faster than we hoped) so we had some catching up to do both to inflation and to regional averages. That said, historic user groups (read: Hyack Swim Club) and youth will still receive the “grandfathered” reduced rate.

All in all, Council voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Proposed timeline to advance requirements of the Energy Step Code and the Zero Carbon Step Code for new buildings
One of the city’s Bold Steps for climate action is to create “Carbon Free Homes and Buildings”. The City does not, however, have its own building code like Vancouver; we rely on the Provincial building code. The province gives municipalities some flexibility in how they choose to apply the Energy Step Code (“ESC”), which regulates the energy efficiency of new buildings, and the Zero Carbon Step Code (“ZCSC”) which regulates the types of energy systems in new buildings. The idea behind this approach is that the province will gradually move towards highest-efficiency zero-carbon buildings in the decade ahead, but will do so in a way that allows the market and the building industry to adapt to the new requirements. We have the option as a City to move to higher steps faster than the provincial standard.

This report offers an update approach to the Step Codes for the City, including “Part 9” buildings (mostly single family homes and townhouse type homes) and “Part 3” buildings (mostly larger multi-family buildings and mixed-use buildings). Both provide more flexibility for efficiency if builders commit to building lower-carbon buildings.

For 2024, the proposal is to require Part 9 buildings reach Step 5 (the highest step) in the ESC if the building meets only Step 1 in the ZCSC, but to allow a lower ESC level (Step 3) if building only has carbon-free fuels (ZCSC Level 4). For this first year, staff are proposing Part 3 buildings start at the lowest ZCSC level. Both of these standards will ramp up every 2 years so we are Step 5 ESC / Level 4 ZCSC by 2027.

The City is also looking at regulatory ability to require heat pumps in place of much less efficient resistive heating (baseboards) in new Part 3 buildings, but that is work still being developed.

Retail Strategy Endorsement
The City has been working for some time (slightly COVID-disrupted) on a new Retail strategy. Council watchers (hi Mom!) will know we have had a few workshops on this over the last 6 months, this is the final report to Council for adoption. Despite its name, this is not just about “retail” in the traditional sense, but all ground-level commercial land use planning in the City. It also recognized the unique character of our distinct commercial areas from Sapperton to Queensborough Landing.

Response to public engagement on this late stage was low (though there has been a tonne of engagement earlier in the development of the strategy, both with the business community and the general public), and the Economic Development Advisory Committee endorsed the plan as developed. The full report is a good read, as it talks about the modern state of experiential retail, the (negative and possibly positive) impacts of business migration to on-line, and the emphasis on integrating arts and culture to commercial areas to provide attractants to the streetscape.

The report comes with an implementation plan, and there will have to be a discussion in our 2024 budget about whether we pay for the staffing needed to see this implementation. There are some suggested changes to our Zoning Bylaw, changing our development guidelines for new storefronts, Public realm improvements, etc. etc. Council moved to adopt the Strategy, so we are on the way.

Zoning Bylaw Amendment for Retail Liquor Store: 812 Twentieth Street – Preliminary Report
There is an application to open a retail liquor store on 20th Street. This was previously discouraged by the pervious Land Use Planning Committee, but the application is back before us as is the right of any applicant. As the zoning is retail but doesn’t specifically include retail liquor, a rezoning would be required. Of course, provincial permitting will also be required, but apparently the province has put a freeze on new liquor store licenses until (get this) 2032 – so one would have to be relocated to this location.

This is not near any other liquor retailers (something the Province actually requires, which is one of the weird bits in how we regulate alcohol – we would never deny two shoe stores the right to be next to each other, or two cigarette retailers or used car lots), and it would occupy and otherwise vacant retail store. This is a preliminary report on the rezoning that would see public consultation, so if you have an opinion, let us know.

Finally, we had a Motion from Council:

Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project
Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, has developed the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action, and has previously opposed the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project as an intervenor; and
WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has concerns about the impacts to the Fraser River stemming from the pipeline crossing near the Port Mann bridge;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster file a Statement of Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project that is traversing the Fraser River (stal̕əw̓) to the Canada Energy Regulator website.

This motion follows a delegation that came to Council about a month ago expressing concerns about some of the recent actions in punching the new TMX pipeline under the river near Port Mann. However, it is also consistent with concerns New Westminster has raised regarding the potential impacts on The Burnette and Fraser Rivers immediately upstream of New Westminster, which led us to be Intervenors in the Environmental Assessment process and delegates to the review panel. Consistent with our previous opposition, with our stated concerns about the climate emergency, and in support of concerns raised in our community by land defenders, I am happy to support this.

And with that, we were out of Council before it got dark outside. Our next scheduled meeting is August 28th, so I’ll have to find something else to write about here. Otherwise, have a good summer!

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