Council – June 24, 2024

Better than Game 7, we had a Council meeting on Monday! And it again went a little longer than necessary, considering the length of the Agenda. But it started the most fun way ever, with issuance of a Development Variance Permit:

Development Variance Permit No. DVP00730 for 602 Agnes Street (68 Sixth Street)
Last meeting, Council agreed that BC Housing doesn’t need to provide a Letter of Credit for offsite works related to this already-approved affordable housing development, but that an Indemnity Agreement would be sufficient. After all, we don’t think they are going to fold their company and abscond with what they owe us. Since those terms of the agreement are tied up in the Development Permit language, we need a DVP to make things legal. This is that DVP, which Council unanimously approved.

We received some supportive correspondence from folks in the area who were statutorily informed of the application. We also received a few notes in opposition to the project itself, mostly from lack of information about the project. This is a problematic result of a three year delay between the City’s approval of this project and the builder getting started on the breaking of ground.

We then approved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Utility Construction – 1900 Block Stewardson Way
A utility hatch needs replacing on Stewardson, and Metro Vancouver is asking to do that work when the sewer levels are low enough, and the work requires closing two lanes of Stewardson, so that means a night project, requiring a construction noise exemption. This is also means trucks will be detoured around the site one night, having impacts on traffic on 12th Street, 10th Ave and 20th Street on that night. Sorry, folks, sewers gotta work.

Council Authorization of the Province’s Short Term Rental Information Sharing Agreement
There are new provincial regulations around Short Term Rentals (AirBnB and VRBO type operations). The City’s regulation has not changed as we discussed in Council back in May. You still need a Bed and Breakfast Business License to operate legally, but the Provincial rules give us new tools to enforce these regulations along with enforcing the Provincial regulations, should we choose to do so. For us to use the Province’s tools, we need to sign an Information Sharing Agreement, and we will start sharing info in July to understand how many listings we have ion New West.

Currently, staff estimate there are 225 STR listings in the City, but only 23 approved B&B licenses and 17 applications pending, totaling about 17% of the inferred listings. A question arises on whether this has a meaningful effect on rental availability. Considering these numbers represent a little more than 1% of the 16,000+ rental households in the City, it’s not sure that there would be a meaningful effect on the long-term rental market if even half of the STR operations convert over. As a comparison, the latest purpose built rental building we approved on Agnes Street (currently under construction) includes more than 300 rental units. This is much more meaningful to the market, I think, but it is useful for Staff to get the real data.

Fair Wage Policy at the City of New Westminster
The City has been a Living Wage Employer since 2011, and are now taking the next step to become a Fair Wage Employer. Staff reviewed the experiences of North Vancouver City and Burnaby, which have both been FW Employers for some time, and found that it does not meaningfully increase contracting costs, and is relatively simple to administer. Staff are recommending using the North Vancouver City policy as a framework and will bring back a policy for our approval.

New Westminster School District’s 2024-2025 Eligible School Sites Proposal
The School District provides a report every year to the City outlining their anticipated school needs. Mostly as a check-in between City planning staff and the School District planning staff. We are basically agreed on the projected need, and have a consistent voice to the Provincial Government about these numbers. The plan in the next decade includes no less than four new school expansion projects: expanding Queensborough Middle School, new Elementary and Middle Schools in the Fraser River Zone (central New West), and a new Elementary in the Glenbrook Zone (east New West). Yes, New West is growing fastest in the young-family-having demographic.

One interesting thing in this report is the review of School Site Acquisition Charges, which are development charges the City collects from developments and turns over to the province to (ostensibly) pay for purchasing land to put schools on. The amount we collect is limited by provincial regulation, and we currently collect the maximum amount permitted (between $600 and $1,000 per new unit depending on density). And in the financial Report earlier in the meeting, it is noted New Westminster residents paid almost $44 million in school taxes this year. We need to get some schools built.

Street and Traffic Bylaw Amendment (Bylaw No. 8459, 2024) and Engineering User Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment (Bylaw No. 8458, 2024)
The City is ready to bring forward an e-bike share program. In order to administer it, we need to amend a couple of City Bylaws to make it happen. One is the Street and Traffic Bylaw to align with the Provincial Pilot Program we talked about in a previous meeting. The Engineering User Fees Bylaw needs to be adjusted so we can charge a fee to the proponent providing shared mobility services in order to recover our costs for help in administering the program.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2023 Statement of Financial Information
This is our annual Financial Statements as audited by KPMG. Overall, it is a story of a City in good financial shape investing in infrastructure and Asset Management at an unprecedented pace. Compared to our budget for the year, our revenues were quite a bit higher, mostly because of a large insurance settlement on the Pier Park and interest earned on our reserves. Spending tracked within a few % of budget across the board, with an overall surplus of almost $40 Million more than budgeted (again, more than half of this in the form of an insurance settlement that we will need to stuff away for eventual Pier Park replacement work). Our accumulated surplus for the first time exceeded $1Billion, but most of this is in the form of capital assets, boosted by us bringing the $114 Million TACC online.

We have about $280 Million “in the bank”, earning interest at between 3 and 6%, depending on which fund it is in. We also have $167 Million in loans, which cost us about $8.5M a year to service (a manageable 2.4% of our annual revenue). We made a lot more on interest than we paid last year, which is always a good thing. That said, opening of TACC in 2024 and paying the balance of those bills will adjust these numbers for 2024.

Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning: 801 Boyd Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owner of Queensborough Landing wants to re-purpose a small portion of their site to install a new self-storage business. This is a significant enough change that it warrants an OCP amendment and rezoning. This report is about reviewing the application to send the OCP amendment to Public Hearing. Council gave the Bylaw two readings, and a Public Hearing coming, I will hold my opinion until after that Public Hearing to respect that process, but if you have opinions, let us know!

Public Hearing Prohibited for Residential Development Applications
One of the new provincial regulations affecting how cities regulate land use (Bill 44) includes a prohibition of Public Hearings for rezonings that are residential and align with the Official Community Plan (note, the Public Hearing in the item above is not residential, so it doesn’t apply). This is generally consistent with the way we have been addressing residential Public Hearings since we introduced changes to speed up the approval of affordable housing a couple of years ago, however, now that the Province has a specific and strict regulation, staff have identified a gap in our Procedure Bylaw that does not align with the Provincial Regulation.

We have likely the most unrestricted Public Delegation practice in the region, likely in the province. Allowing anyone 5 minutes on any topic every meeting gives the public a large platform to speak to Council. However, if a few people come to speak to a land use application where Public Hearings are banned by Provincial Regulation, that may constitute a de facto Public Hearing, which could put the City in a perilous legal position if someone wishes to challenge an approval or denial of a permit. So we are following the lead of many municipalities around the province, and are adjusting our Procedures Bylaw to give staff the authority to not permit delegation on those specific topics.

Response to Council Motion: 2026 FIFA World Cup
No surprise, doing community events around FIFA will take resources, which is why I brought a motion two years in advance of the World Cup arriving so we could plan and budget accordingly. We will consider bringing in a program coordinator as part of the 2025 budget considerations. There is some very preliminary numbers here on the scale of $200,000. I would not put too much faith in those as they are very preliminary at this time, but give Council and idea of what to expect during our future budget considerations. There is an interesting part in here about LED screens as potential legacy infrastructure, and a synergy opportunity to update the scoreboard at Queens Park Arena, but I’m putting carts ahead of horses here. This report is really only a temperature check to Council to make sure we still want to ask staff to develop and budget these plans.

Uptown Live Municipally Significant LCRB Resolution
Our provincial liquor licensing regulations are ridiculous and archaic, and everyone involved (manufacturers, retailers, events coordinators, even cities) are always trying to find a way through or around them to make things happen while keeping letter-of-the-law legal. For festivals, especially, this can be daunting. For a festival, not only does the Province regulate the size of a glass of beer or wine that can be served, they regulate a maximum price it can be sold at – a maximum price that has not been raised in 9 years. So if a festival wants to charge a little more and make a bit more money from alcohol sales to pay for other aspects of the festival (like hiring talent, security, advertising, etc.), they can’t do that. Unless they are designated a “Municipally Significant Event”, whatever that means. The request here is to designate Uptown Live as “Municipally Significant” so they can charge a little more for beer to help offset the other costs of a free to the public festival.

We then read some Bylaws, including a couple of Bylaws for Adoption:

Transit Oriented Area Designation Bylaw No. 8460, 2024
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Transit Oriented Area and Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing Amendments) No. 8453, 2024
These two bylaws amend the Zoning Bylaw to implement the requirements of Provincial Bill 44 (Small Scale Multi-unit Housing) and Bill 47 (Transit Oriented Areas) and bring us in compliance before the June 30th deadline set by the province. These were adopted by the province.

We then covered a couple of Reports for Action:

Permanent Free-Standing Toilet – follow up from Workshop on June 17th.
I wanted to give council and opportunity to revisit the Free-standing Public Toilet discussion from workshop last week, in recognition of the feedback we have been receiving from the community, and a general feeling that our discussion in workshop last week raised a lot of issues that were a little aside of the specific capital project that staff were presenting. A challenge we always have with capital projects like this is this chicken-and-egg issue of informing the public before you have a discussion with Council or vice versa. Having a public conversation about a project without Council being informed about it is obviously problematic. So the report in last week’s workshop was both Council and the public being informed at the same time. Staff did ask at the workshop about how we wanted to engage the public about this, but looking back at the tape, that conversation was lost a bit on Council getting engaged in operational and budget discussions.

I have had some great conversations with the community over the last week, and it is clear people see the need to public toilets, and have good questions about how to make them more effective. I have heard stories of challenges people have had with needing to go – some pretty uncomfortable – and about how travelling to other parts of the world outside of North America, public toilets are just the standard. We have such a strange puritan mindset about toilets here, and imagine only the negatives about them in a way we rarely do with provision of other basic public services.

In the conversation at workshop last week, I heard clearly that Council hears that public call for better public toilet facilities, but that council wants to better understand the operational needs related to how those toilets operate, both the existing ones and any new ones we add. To get there, we need to ensure that we have a comprehensive plan around public toilets, both to ensure that we have enough in every neighbourhood and also a plan to ensure that they are really well maintained and lack of maintenance is not a barrier to use. We need to have that plan in place before we move ahead with these much needed capital investments.

There was a wide-ranging discussion, including several attempts to delay this work, but in the end Council agreed to ask Staff to rapidly bring back a workplan for a City-wide and comprehensive public toilet strategy and report back, to engage the community and community partners in that discussion, and to revisit locations and operational needs for 24/7 service.

Presentation of the 2023 Annual Report
Unlike the Mayor’s State of the City Address, this is the *Official* annual report of the City. It is required by regulation to be received by Council by June 30th. We were running quite late by this time, so we forwent the presentation by the CAO and moved to just receive the report, and asked the CAO to present on it at the next meeting. I’ll talk about it more then, but you can read it now!

Appointment of Council Member to the New Westminster Police Board
Due to changes in the Police Act, the Mayor is no longer automatically the Chair of the Police Board. Instead, the Council must appoint from its membership a representative to the Board, and the Board then elects a Chair from tis members. Of the Municipal Police Boards in the province, it looks like about half have appointed a member other than the mayor to the board, and of those that appointed the mayor, not all kept the Mayor as the Chair. So there is no “typical” here.

Council decided to appoint Tasha Henderson to the Board, and I have no doubt she will do an excellent job. She really has the most experience of anyone on Council working within the criminal justice system, and has the policy chops to help the Board with its ongoing Governance review, and a drive to do what is best for the community.

And that brought us to the end of the meeting. Yes, I failed to put out a Newsletter last week (thank you for those who asked if they missed it). It has been about as busy as possible the last couple of weeks, I’ll try to get one out tomorrow, but you need to subscribe!

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