Questions for New Westminster Mayoral and Council Candidates, 2022 Edition

There’s a municipal election coming up in New Westminster, and you know what that means! That’s right, stupid questions! This time around I was having a tough time thinking up good stupid questions, so I did what anybody would do when they’re looking for stupidity: I reached out to Reddit, specifically the /r/NewWest subreddit. And let me tell you, they didn’t disappoint with the stupid questions! Let’s go!

  1. Given the amount of press Vancouver’s Stanley Park received when it had a bunch of coyotes roaming around it, do you support introducing more coyotes into New Westminster’s parks, potentially entering a Tourism / Parks partnership for tourist-coyote meet-and-greet programs?
  2. Improving connections between Queensborough and mainland New Westminster is important. Will you commit to exploring new options such as draining the Fraser, installing catapults (free branding advice: name them “Qatapults”, you’re welcome), or advocating for a gondola like stupid Burnaby is getting?
  3. Speaking of stupid Burnaby, one of the darkest chapters in New Westminster’s history was when south Burnaby claimed independence and separated from New Westminster. As a result, New West lost nearly half of its land area and tax base. To what lengths are you willing to go to in order to take our land back and bring New Westminster back to its former glory?
  4. What is your favourite bubble tea shop and flavour?
  5. Do you support hosting a local version of Burning Man in New West, culminating in the burning of a derelict building?
  6. What is your favourite neighbourhood and why is it (still) Brow of the Hill?
  7. With New Westminster’s hills, and winters having longer cold spells, what is your position on improving transportation options between Downtown and Uptown by installing rope towlines on 6th, 8th, and 10th Streets between Carnarvon and 4th Ave during the winter months?
  8. When will you bring metal to the Anvil Centre theatre?

Stay tuned for the answers!

Adventures in Z Scale: The First Locomotive

I’m doing a little bit of catch-up here, because this actually happened a couple of months ago: I got my first Z scale engine!

This is a German Federal Railroad Class 64 steam locomotive made by Marklin, model number 88744. A 2-6-2 passenger train tank engine, its prototype was built in Germany between 1928 and 1940, and 20 of them still exist today.

That picture doesn’t really give you a sense of how small Z scale is. Maybe this picture will help:

It’s so small! Coming from HO these Z scale locomotives are just so tiny, about 2.5 times smaller than their HO scale equivalent.

I had the engine for a few weeks sitting in a box because I was waiting for track to arrive. But more about that in the next post!

Adventures in Z Scale: A New Layout

After looking at the two layouts I’d initially come up with, I realized that the first layout had the spurs laid out better than the second. In the first, you could have a locomotive pointing to travel counter-clockwise, and have it pick up rolling stock either at the train station or along the bottom spur, and everything would work out fine.

All tracks work for counter-clockwise travel…

In the second, you couldn’t! If you set up a locomotive to pull cars from the station and travel clockwise, it would then be set up to pull cars from the spur backwards, the front of the locomotive would couple with the cars, and that’s not great!

Station track works for clockwise travel, other spur works for counter-clockwise travel… not good!

So of course ten minutes after my first post I had to redo my layout. Here’s the new layout, where everything works for clockwise travel!

New layout works!

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I need to tweak the layout. I’m going to guess that the two switches next to each other won’t work for some reason, but I won’t find that out until I actually get the track in hand.

Adventures in Z Scale: Re-beginning the Model Railroading

I had a train set growing up. We inherited it from my Uncle Harry, who had a room-sized HO scale setup, and it lived in our basement for a few years before being disassembled and put into boxes. 30 years later, those boxes of tracks, locomotives, rolling stock, and the odd bit of scenery now live in my attic. We don’t have space to set up a large set like that.

But what we do have is a shelf. And I discovered Z scale, which is about 2.5 times smaller than the very popular HO scale.

So I’m going to put together a shelf-sized Z scale railroad!

First, the layout. Inspired by this European mountain scene, I figured I could get a nice little loop, a tunnel, and maybe a couple of spurs out of the small area. But how to figure out what tracks I need?

Actually first, the layout software! I’m doing this on a MacBook, so I needed something that ran on Mac OS. The options are RailModeller Express and RailModeller Pro, which is the paid version of RailModeller Express. RailModeller Express it is!

Track layout software (at least, RailModeller Express) comes with track databases, so you can just pick a manufacturer and drop track into a layout. My small shelf is about 30 centimetres deep, so my maximum turn radius would be less than 15 centimetres, ideally more like 12. And the shelf isn’t a rectangle, its depth shrinks down to about 25 centimetres so one end of the loop would have to be tighter. The only company that makes curved track with tighter radii is Rokuhan, a Japanese company. Rokuhan track it is!

I came up with a little layout that has a loop, a tunnel, and a couple of spurs, with a nice little spot for a train station.

This gave me an inventory list, and after a failed attempt to order from my local model train shop, I found the only other Canadian train shop that sells Rokuhan track and put in the order. Four to six weeks shipping, of course, because they need to order some of it from Japan.

But then I heard in some YouTube video that larger radius curves are more visually appealing, so I had a bad vision of having to redo the layout to put the tunnel over the left side, which means rearranging the spurs, which potentially means I’d ordered the wrong switches!

Luckily I figured it all out and came up with the layout I’m going to put together.

The larger blue block is a railway station and the smaller one is a bridge that I’m planning on putting over a small river that’s coming off the mountain to the left.

Next up: trains!

A Tale of Two OCP Amendment Proposals

New Westminster Council recently debated an Official Community Plan amendment to allow a six-storey affordable rental building to be built on land that had been designated to only allow townhouses. During the public engagement and feedback period, including the public hearing, people opposed to the project said that it did not respect the OCP, that only buildings that match the land use designation should be allowed to be built, and that allowing this proposal would encourage developers to push for further OCP amendments to allow larger buildings than are allowed through the land use designation.

Council disagreed, and the proposal was approved.

Just after that, a new proposal is starting to wind its way through the process which proposes a twelve-storey rental building, part of it affordable, to be built on land that has been designated to allow buildings up to six storeys high. It will be discussed at the Land Use and Planning Committee meeting on June 21.

Will council allow this OCP amendment, given their previous decision?

They won’t, and here’s why.

The Aboriginal Land Trust Proposal

First, we need to look at the proposal that passed, and for which Council agreed that the OCP could be amended to allow a larger building than what was designated on the land use map.

The Aboriginal Land Trust proposal was for a six-storey rental building on Sixth Street in New Westminster. The land is currently zoned residential single-family, and the land use designation allowed for townhouses. The proposal was for 96 affordable rental units composed of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments for members of the Indigenous and Swahili-speaking communities. It was also being proposed by a non-profit society, and relied upon funding from senior governments.

The proposal received pushback from nearby homeowners who said that a six-storey residential building would not fit in a single-family residential neighbourhood, that the OCP was developed by the community and didn’t allow for a building of this size, and that if the OCP amendment were to go through that it would set a precedent and New West would see more proposals like this.

The project did in fact meet many of the policy goals of the OCP and the City’s Strategic Plan, and accordingly Council unanimously approved the OCP amendment.

The Queens Avenue United Church Proposal

The Queens United Church on Queens Avenue is proposing a twelve-storey rental building on the corner of Queens Avenue and Sixth Street in New Westminster. The land is currently zoned Commercial Low-Rise to allow pedestrian-oriented commercial businesses and two storeys of residential development above, and the land use designation is to allow townhouses, rowhouses, stacked townhouses and low rises, and if a compelling case can be made a five or six storey low rise building could be considered. The proposal is for 98 rental units, 30 of which would be non-market rental, along with a childcare facility with 79 spaces, and a small commercial space, along with retaining and preserving the existing Queens United Church.

So what’s the difference?

In both cases the developer is a non-profit. In both cases they’re providing secured rental homes. In both cases affordable housing would be provided. That’s really where the similarities end.

The ALT proposal was designated to provide homes for Indigenous and Swahili-speaking families, two target groups that have been disadvantaged and are overrepresented in statistics surrounding housing insecurity. Providing housing for groups like this was a policy goal of the OCP. The QUC proposal does not target any identified groups.

The ALT proposal ranged from below market rental to deeply subsidized, providing affordable housing to a large number of underadvantaged socioeconomic groups. The QUC proposal only provides 30% of the homes as affordable.

The ALT proposal needed to be six storeys because of the economics of the site. The land had to be purchased, which puts the developer at a disadvantage to start, and enough units needed to be built to be able to provide the housing without requiring massive and unrealistic funding from senior governments. For the QUC proposal, the United Church already owns the land, eliminating millions of dollars from their budget that can offset the extra units that would be needed to recoup development costs.

The ALT proposal met a large number of the policy goals of the OCP and Strategic Plan. The QUC proposal doesn’t. Here’s a quote from the staff report:

The Official Community Plan dates from 2017. While amendments may be considered, staff generally recommends those which are either: 1) minor and resulting in development that is relatively in alignment with the intent of the OCP; or, 2) providing benefits that are significantly over-and-above in relation to other Council priority areas. This application is considered to be a significant amendment, and it is not in close alignment with the intent of the current OCP. The application’s proposal of a 12-storey building form with 30% affordable units, secured for 20 years at below-market rates, offers unit amounts, subsidies and length of security that are slightly above or below City policy expectations. Staff advise that the proposal does not go significantly over-and-above in relation to meeting other Council priorities.

Loss of Childcare

Even though the QUC proposal includes a 79-space child care facility, it would replace the existing 79-space child care facility, so there’s no gain of child care spaces. Not only that, the existing spaces would likely disappear until the new ones are available, which doesn’t help anybody, especially the families of children who are already in those spaces.

What now for Queens United Church?

I strongly suspect that the Land Use & Planning Committee will discourage the applicant from submitting an OCP amendment application for this site, which is what staff have recommended.

And to answer my question, “Will council allow this OCP amendment, given their previous decision?”

The answer is no, because council won’t even be seeing this OCP amendment, because the applicant should pull it and strongly revise their project.

Opponents of the ALT proposal often said that amending the OCP would set a precedent, and other neighbourhoods in New West would see more buildings that are larger than what’s laid out in the land use designation.

The Queens United Church proposal shows that that is not the case, as projects that provide benefits that go over-and-above Council priority areas are a rarity.

As one person said at the Public Hearing for the ALT proposal:

The project is only under consideration because it is for affordable housing to provide homes for members of the Indigenous and Swahili communities. If this was a proposal for any other use, we would not be here discussing it tonight.

Indeed.