Council – Sept 25, 2023

We had a relatively quick Council Meeting on Monday, everyone probably nursing UBCM exhaustion, but we nonetheless got quite a bit done. The Agenda started with a Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment No. 8399, 2023 and Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8400, 2023 for 909-915 Twelfth Street
The owner of these three properties on Twelfth Street want to bring more medium-density housing to the commercial strip. This is consistent with the OCP and neighbourhood plans, but there is a bit of a complication. To develop the property, they are looking to purchase a small strip of City owned land around the back of the property. It is a short laneway that belongs to the City, but only accesses these properties. This is not atypical, and the owner will have to pay the City the fair market value of that land, but the situation here is that the 5m wide laneway falls under a different OCP designation, so we would need to do an OCP amendment on just that small strip to bring it into the same land use category as the rest of the properties. So we go to Public Hearing.

The project itself is for a 5-story residential building with 40 units. The OCP would allow up to 6 stories here, but the zoning does not, so it needs a rezoning. The current buildings are older commercial with some upstairs suites, and a used car lot. 9 units are “ground oriented”, meaning they are townhouse-style with individual openings to the street to improve the vitality of the streetscape along that stretch, and half of all units meet our family friendly criteria with 2 or three bedrooms. The building will be highly efficient as it is built to Step 4 of the Energy Step Code, and yet will have 62 off-street parking spots. The City’s tenant relocation policies do not apply to properties with fewer than 6 rental units, nor to commercial units, however the applicant has agreed to and the City has secured relocation standards for both.

The project saw separate City-led and Applicant-led public consultation, including First Nations consultation appropriate for the OCP amendment, with a few people in the neighbourhood raising concerns about traffic impacts for the most part. The project was approved by the Design Panel, the Heritage Commission approved the demo of the existing buildings that have no significant heritage merits. We had six written submissions and about the same number of delegates at the Public Hearing. Concerns were related to increased density and traffic impacts.

I supported this project, as I think it strikes the right balance of density, family-friendliness, and a refresh of a streetscape that could use one. It not only complies with the OCP and community plans (including the Retail Strategy), but was shaped by those policies and plans. Which brings us to the regular council meeting, where we started by addressing the Bylaws form the Public Hearing:

Official Community Plan Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No.8399, 2023
Zoning Amendment (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8400, 2023
Road Closure, Dedication Removal, and Disposition (909-915 Twelfth Street) Bylaw No. 8401, 2023</b.
Council unanimously supported giving these Bylaws Third reading.

We then had a Development Variance Permit to consider:

Development Variance Permit DVP00701 for 311 Ash Street
I recused myself from this discussion, as I live right across the street from the subject property, and there is a perceived conflict of interest (if not a direct pecuniary interest). We generally use the 100m rule to say if you live within 100m of a rezoning of development project, you probably have the perception of interest, but it is up to members of Council to make that determination under advice of the Corporate Office and City Solicitor.

So I don’t know what happened here and to find out, you will have to watch the video or read someone else’s blog.

We had this Report for Information:

2023 New Westminster Intersection Safety Study
The City has thousands of intersections used by cars, and all of them are dangerous, because cars are dangerous, and getting more dangerous. We have to ask the Feds and the Province to deal with the vehicles, but one of the jobs of our Engineering department (in cooperation with ICBC, the Police, MOTI, and others) is to make the intersections less dangerous. Of all these intersections in the City, at 1,089 of them had at least one ICBC-claim-generating collision over the 5-year period from 2015 to 2019. Doing engineering safety assessments and improvements for a single intersection can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, and we don’t have billions of dollars to spend locally, so how do we prioritize that work? This report answers that question.

Staff have combed through the data to infer what the most dangerous intersections are based on that ICBC data. They have prioritized 51 locations with the highest collision risk, and further filtered out locations that have already seen significant change since 2019, or are under work. From this they prioritized 25 intersections for detailed analysis of traffic operations and potential design changes. Demonstrating the difference between anecdote and data, the first intersection I always think of as crash-prone is right near my home, and it didn’t even make the top 50 list.

A traffic engineering consultant was then engaged to make safety recommendations for each of the 25. Common issues like traffic volume or gradient changes are hard to address, others like poor visibility because of parking near the intersection or inadequate lighting are easier. So interventions can be similarly prioritized, with some near-immediate changes like signage, line work, light signal timing that can be incorporated into our existing budgets as part of regular maintenance. Medium-term changes will require a capital budget to be developed and approved, while longer-term major projects require land acquisition, agreement with outside stakeholders (like TransLink or MOTI) and longer-term capital planning.

This report is a good read for transportation safety geeks, but one interesting data point I was able to pull out of it: Rear-enders are the majority collision type in all of our highest-risk intersections, ranging from 55% to 66% of all collisions. To me, this demonstrates we can’t engineer our way out of all bad driving practices. Slow down out there folks.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Decriminalization – Update to the exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
The province and federal government are taking preliminary tentative steps into drug decriminalization, as you may have read in the news. There was a lot of conversation at UBCM last week around this, and a lot of common understanding between Local Governments and the Provincial Government on reducing harms for all residents. A few months ago, New West put forward a resolution to UBCM asking for a small change – that playgrounds and park spaces be included in the “exemption” to decriminalized spaces (meaning, possession of small amounts of these harmful drugs is still illegal in those place). On Thursday I was able to withdraw that resolution as the Province and Feds had recently come through and made the change. It was unusual to hear the UBCM delegates cheer when a City withdrew a resolution, but that’s the weirdness of where we are.

Permissive Property Tax: Exempt Properties – Review of Application Result
Some properties don’t pay property tax in the City. Churches and a few other specific uses have a “statutory” exemption under provincial law, some other users can get a “permissive” exemption at the grace of local city councils. Since my time on Council (and for some time before that) we have continued legacy exemptions, but have been very reluctant to hand out new permissive exemptions, as they represent a significant subsidy to groups that operate in the City. Many of these orgs are doing good things in the community (including providing some services that should be funded by senior governments), we have taken the position that organizations doing good works in the city should avail themselves of our generous community partner grant process, not the permissive tax exemption process. This report asks Council to review new applications and continue this practice.

Rezoning Application for Duplex: 902 First Street – Comprehensive Report
The owner of this lot in Glenbrooke North wants to build a duplex; that is two residential units where the current zoning would permit three (a main residence, a secondary suite, and a carriage home). It is the duplex form itself (two front doors, strata title) that does not currently fit zoning, though there are no other variances in regards to FSR, setback, height, or other regulations, and it is consistent with the OCP. Three pretty beat-up trees on site would be replaced with 7 new trees. There was City-led and applicant-led Public Consultation with not a lot of feedback, and Council moved to approve the application going to Bylaw readings.

Update on Council Motion Regarding the Chinatown Community Stewards Program
The City is going to work with Partners to see if the Is on the Street Program can be expanded to provide some of the enhanced ambassador-type services that the Chinatown Stewards, but this report also highlights that the Is on the Street program itself is not funded for the long-term. This report was asking if we want Staff to do the work to find a longer-term solution here.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Budget 2024: Fees and Rates Review
Every year as part of our Budget process, we review rates of various fees in the city, because those rates impact our revenue that impact our tax rates that are always centred in our budget deliberations. This report asks our endorsement for rate changes so Bylaws can be drawn up in time for budgeting.

Most rates are increased to keep pace with inflation (based on CPI). There some that have different forces on them, such as towing fees being based on ICBC rates and therefore no going up in 2024. There is a suggestion to change Street Occupancy Permit fees to better reflect the framework used by MOTI, and to increase some higher-impact SOPs related to heavy construction impacts to better match adjacent communities, n dot reduce fees for projects that provide enhanced pedestrian access through sites. We are also continuing the “Five Year Approach to On-Street Parking Fees and Rates” from 2019. There are also a number of inspection and permitting fees we try to align with other cities and reflect as best as possible the cost of delivering the service the fee is paying for. Finally, some fees have not gone up in several years, and we have some catching up to do, like increasing the cost of a replacement garbage bin or Development Permit application fees.

Overall, the average rate increase is equal to about 3% (which is CPI inflation for the last year), and will bring an extra $700,000 into the City in increased revenue.

Massey Theatre Working Group
We are working through developing a new relationship with the Massey Theatre Society as they are going to be operating a major asset that the City owns, and the City is committing Millions to capital improvement of that building that will be disruptive to the operations of the theatre and arts spaces at 8&8. A working group is being established to help keep communication between the two entities functional and positive during this time of transition. Council moved to approve the terms, and appointed Councillor McEvoy (for consistency, as he was on the working group during the ownership transition) and Councillor Campbell (as Chair of the Arts Culture and Act Dev Advisory Committee) to the committee.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws (but for brevity sake, I only report the Adopted ones here, of which we had none this week), before addressing a couple of Motions form Council:

Implementing speed limits for motorized vehicles operating on sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine

BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the operational and budget considerations pertaining to the implementation of a by-law that would impose speed limits on our sidewalks to help reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries

This was an interesting conversation at Council, and I think I am going to have to write up a follow-up post about it, and by “it”, I mean about the conversation at Council, not the motion. Council moved to agree to have staff do this preliminary work, and added a part about discussing better education programs around new mobility. The fact both of these are action items already in staff workplans as part of the eMobility Strategy adopted back in June of last year, it was a bit of a strange thing to bring forward in this form, but that speaks to the conversation that occurred and a biit about how Council is working these days, hence the follow up to come.

Increasing trust and accountability for civic officials in New Westminster
Submitted by Councillor Minhas

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council call upon all elected officials to engender public trust by abiding to such key principles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the City’s Chief Electoral Officer report back to Council on the City’s state of readiness for and budget impacts pertaining to a possible school trustee byelection.

This motion was weirdly phrased, though I leave the political dogwhistle aspects of it to the reader’s interpretation. Asking elected officials to abide by a Code of Conduct is rather unassailable, as Council has been working on updating our Code of Conduct and introducing proper accountability measures including an independent Integrity Commissioner. It is perhaps ironic that the mover need to be reminded about the Code of Conduct and proper procedure during their motivation of the motion.

The second part is (in my opinion) an email, not a motion requiring Council deliberation. The simple answer to the question, which was asked and answered Council (therefore the second motion was defeated as now being moot), was there are no budget impacts on the City of a School Board by-election.

Finally, we had one piece of New business:

Extension of the Terms of Reference of Economic Development Advisory Committee
We are extending the term of the EDAC so we can develop new terms for the newly-proposed integration of Arts and Culture into the EDAC scope of work.

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