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.


What’s Coming to New West Council on June 21, 2021

New Westminster City Council is having a Regular Council Meeting on June 21, 2021, and here are some highlights on what they will be looking at.

Establishing the name for the future Aquatic & Community Centre

The Canada Games Pool is being replaced by what’s currently known as the New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre. That won’t be its name though, the City is going through a process to come up with a different one.

Unfortunately for you, reader, the report for this item has not been attached to the council package so nobody yet knows what the name is going to be, or if they’re even saying what the name is yet!

2020 Statement of Financial Information

If you want to take a look at where the City spent its (your?) money in 2020, here’s your chance.

Some people in the community will undoubtedly see the “accumulated surplus” of nearly $800 million and then say NEW WESTMINSTER IS RICH WHY DO YOU KEEP RAISING PROPERTY TAXES without realizing that the overwhelming majority of that is locked up in what are called “tangible capital assets”, which are things like land, buildings, vehicles, sewer pipes, that sort of thing. So no, New West isn’t stinking rich.

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Report for 2020

In 2020 New Westminster received 88 freedom of information requests and received just over $3,000 in fees for those requests.

Public Solicitation Request by HOPE International

If you want to go door-knocking to ask people to donate to your non-profit, you need a permit. There are some guidelines around these permits, and sometimes a request comes through that doesn’t meet the guidelines and has to go through Council for approval.

In this case HOPE International, a New Westminster base charity that funds clean water, has submitted the permit application but because it hasn’t been brought within the timelines outlined in the policy, Council has to approve the permit.

Increasing Equity in Voting: Mail Ballot Voting for Local Government Elections

To make voting more equitable, City staff is recommending that council directs the City Clerk to bring forward amendments to the Election Procedures Bylaw to enable mail ballot voting in Local Government Elections, along with directing staff to implement a mail balloting system for the election coming up in 2022.

This has been recommended because mail-in ballots can reduce barriers to voting, increase voter turnout, and help seniors and persons with disabilities who cannot get out to vote.

65 East Sixth Avenue: Development Variance Permit for Modification to Parking Requirements

The Fire Hall at Sixth Avenue and McBride Boulevard has a storage structure that they’re not moving, so as part of the New Westminster Aquatic and Community Centre parking lot was going to be there but now it won’t, the original Development Variance Permit needs to be thrown away and a new one needs to be put into place to say that the NWACC needs to have a minimum of 386 parking spaces instead of 413.

9 East Columbia Street: Heritage Alteration Permit

The Pattullo Bridge is being replaced, and as a part of that project Columbia Street is being realigned. The project wants to align it right overtop the heritage Woodlands Wall, which they’re proposing to bring down and rebuild north of where it is now.

The existing Woodlands Wall at Columbia & McBride
Proposed patio at Columbia & McBride in New Westminster
Detail of the proposed patio and multi-use path at the corner of Columbia & McBride

I’ve only been angry at this wall since at least 2014 so I’m sarcastically happy to see that it only took a billion dollar bridge replacement project to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety at this intersection. I’m actually happy that it didn’t take someone being seriously injured or killed to get change here — I’ve nearly been struck at least twice, and I know of a lot of other community members who have nearly been struck by inattentive or uncaring drivers.

I am annoyed that one of the two targeted consultation groups is focused on heritage, and there’s no targeted consultation with pedestrian and cycling advocates. Again, the bias of heritage trumping safety shines through.

100 Braid Street: Housing Agreement Bylaw

The new building going in at 100 Braid Street will be a combination of market and affordable rental, and this bylaw will be put into place to ensure that the units remain rental for 60 years or the life of the building, whichever is longer, and that the affordable units remain so for 16 years in accordance with CMHC’s affordability criteria and requirements.

Environmental Strategy and Action Plan Progress Report

The City is doing a bunch of work to make New Westminster one of the most sustainable cities in British Columbia. This report outlines progress to date, including:

  • implementation of Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code, which puts requirements on the environmental impacts of new construction
  • reducing water consumption in corporate irrigation systems
  • supporting activities that protect the natural environment, such as the Glenbrook Ravine Restoration project
2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level

The snowpack is still above normal levels, but the flood risk from snowmelt alone has dissipated. Heavy rainfall events can still trigger flooding, and the risk of significant rainfall in the Fraser River basin is still high.

Albert Crescent Park Maintenance Update
One of the Albert Crescent Park signs placed by Monkey Rebel

A few weeks ago some signs popped up in Albert Crescent Park that drew attention to the removal of a tree, overgrown vegetation, and litter and garbage in the park. Some other signs popped up that linked to Monkey Rebel, so the City contacted Monkey Rebel (I am not going to stop saying Monkey Rebel) and Monkey Rebel provided a list of changes they wanted to see to the park. City staff have done some of these!

Good job Monkey Rebel!

Canada Day 2021 Update

There will be some things going on in New Westminster for Canada Day while acknowledging and recognizing that the colonizing history of Canada resulted in people doing absolutely terrible things to the people who already lived on this land, and that Canada Day should be a day to reflect on the entire history of the country and the people who where here first instead of just being about waving flags and watching fireworks.

Motion: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Applications in the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area

The Queens Park Residents Association doesn’t like Heritage Revitalization Agreements because they’re used to very gently increase density in the Queens Park neighbourhood, so they wrote a letter to Council to ask them to stop HRAs. Mayor Cote took this letter and has presented a motion to Council to temporarily suspend HRAs in Queens Park, which effectively turns “very gently increase density” into “don’t increase density at all”.

This is a disappointing motion to see come forward, as HRAs have been used over the past few months to preserve the Queens Park Deli and allow a 1907 pre-fab home to be preserved at the cost of slightly more living and working space. They’re not being used to knock down houses to build towers, they’re not even being used to knock down houses to build townhomes, they’re being used to preserve existing homes and occasionally add a little bit more space to a laneway house that’s already allowed.

This, apparently, is even too much for the delicate sensibilities of Queens Park, where an HRA to allow a laneway house that’s 958 square feet instead of 475 square feet is an affront to heritage and will ruin the entire neighbourhood because god forbid a family would move into that laneway house.

The motion also says that this would be “temporary” but there is absolutely nothing in the motion putting an end to this suspension on gentle density other than “until a revised HRA policy is in place” which means that they can continue to kick that can down the road as higher priority items come up and knock this down the priority list.

What a terrible motion. I mean, I see “heritage” and I think “oh here we go the riches are getting riled up again” but Heritage Revitalization Agreements have been used in the past to allow more heritage to be protected while at the same time adding a little bit more housing in New Westminster, and now that little bit is being taken away?


What’s Coming to New West Council on June 7, 2021

New Westminster City Council is having a Regular Meeting on June 7, 2021, and here’s what’s on the agenda.

Housing Agreement Bylaw & Development Variance Permit for 322 Seventh Street

This is a two-for-one for 322 Seventh Street, a rental apartment building in Brow of the Hill. The Housing Agreement Bylaw would require that all of the residential units would be secured as market rental for the next 60 years or the life of the building, whichever is longer. In exchange for this, the property owner wants to convert nine of the parking spaces in the underground parkade into five studio residential units between 352 and 388 square feet.

This proposal highlights an interesting dynamic between public and private parking. Parking stalls in this building are going for $50 per month, whereas to park on the street costs $28 per year. That’s one heck of a subsidy that the city is giving people for car storage, and it’s no wonder that half the parking spots in this building are being used. It’s also no wonder that the owner of the building wants to make more money, which they can do very easily by converting parking spots into tiny apartments. Nine parking spots would get them $450 a month, and five micro-studio apartments will get them much more than this.

I’m all for turning car storage into homes, but this particular proposal just rubs me the wrong way.

Appointment of Poet Laureate 2021-2024

New Westminster is appointing Elliott Slinn as the next Poet Laureate.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the Five Task Forces

New Westminster’s Task Forces continue to do work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • work to improve conditions for people facing homelessness and other social issues
  • working with BC Housing to identify suitable locations for a new emergency response shelter
  • operating the Friendly Caller Program for seniors seeking social interaction
Engagement for the 2022 Budget Process

Staff is planning the public engagement process for the 2022 Budget, and they’re proposing holding workshop series with advisory committees and other established groups in Spring/Summer 2021, along with a community-wide check-in survey in Fall 2021. Watch for more information from the City on how you can give feedback on the proposed budget!

22nd Street SkyTrain Station – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption

TransLink’s going to be replacing the escalator at 22nd Street SkyTrain Station, and they need to do it at night when the station is closed to passengers. They’re asking for an exemption to the Construction Noise Bylaw from June 11 to June 26 to allow this work to proceed.

Action Planning the Implementation of the Green Fleet Roadmap

One of New Westminster’s Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 (less than nine years away!) and one of the ways they’re going to do that is to switch vehicles from fossil fuel to zero emission vehicles. The City’s vehicle fleet makes up 41% of its total emissions, so this would make the biggest impact towards realizing that zero emission goal.

This report outlines the steps that the City will be taking in figuring out what the infrastructure requirements will be to be able to switch to an EV fleet.

416 Tenth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Side Yard Projection

416 Tenth Street and 1002 St. Andrews Street are neighbouring properties. The house at 416 Tenth is right up against the property line, and there’s an easement on 1002 St. Andrews to allow driveway access. In 1992 the easement was amended to allow a deck to be built off of 416 Tenth, over the driveway and onto the property at 1002 St. Andrews.

416 Tenth is looking to rebuild the deck, which requires a development variance permit to be issued.

230 Princess Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Driveway Width

Driveways in New Westminster need to be 3.0 metres wide. The driveway at 230 Princess Street currently ranges from 2.81 to 3.12 metres wide. The owners want to construct a carriage house in their back yard, which requires parking, and that parking would require a driveway, which would need to be 3.0 metres wide. As such, the owners are looking to get a development variance permit to allow the 2.81 metre wide driveway that’s already there.

601 Sixth Street: Development Variance Permit to Vary Parking Requirements

The owner of 601 Sixth Street (the building that Westminster Savings is currently in) wants to add floor space by closing an existing two-storey atrium and extending the second floor. When floor space is proposed to be aded to a building, the City reviews the parking requirements against current Zoning Bylaw requirements. Adding this space would require the building supply 4 accessible parking spaces (up from the current 1), 23 short-term bicycle spaces (up from the current 0) and 2 loading spaces (up from 1). The proposal is asking to allow 2 accessible spaces (2 lower than required), 6 short-term bicycle spaces (17 lower than required) and 1 loading space (1 lower than required).

Cancellation of the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program

The Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP) was a grant program from the Provincial Government to essentially refund the carbon taxes a local government paid to support its operations. In exchange, the local government was required to report greenhouse gas emissions and were encouraged to invest the funding in climate action programs. 187 of the 190 local governments in BC had signed up for the program. Over the lifetime of the program, New Westminster had received over $1.2 million, which it used to pursue higher efficiency equipment and innovative technologies.

The program was unexpectedly cancelled on May 11, 2021 by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. There has been no mention of any sort of a replacement funding program.

New Westminster will be sending a letter to Premier John Horgan, the Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman to essentially say “what the fuck”.

618 Carnarvon Street: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption

The building going in at 618 Carnarvon Street needs some concrete poured for the foundation, approximately 1,200 cubic metres in one day. To get it all done in one day, the construction company needs to start and end earlier than the allowed times. They’re asking for a variance to the Construction Noise Bylaw to allow them to operate from 7 AM to 9 PM on June 26, 2021.

2020 Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report

Drinking water in New West is compliant with the Canadian Drinking Water Regulations for E. coli levels and total coliform levels, and is also compliant with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for chlorine residuals and turbidity.

Fraser Health Authority has requested that the City implement a City-wide cross-connection control program to mitigate the potential of backflow from private properties into the City water distribution system.

COVID-19 Update: BC’s Restart Plan and New Westminster’s Restart Planning Matrix

The Provincial government released BC’s Restart plan that outlines how BC will move through opening different sectors back up as COVID-19 levels drop thanks to vaccinations and other mitigation efforts.

New Westminster also has to plan how to restart operations in conjunction with the changing guidelines for safe practices, and this report lays out those plans for the different areas that the City is responsible for. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if you’re interested in how New Westminster will re-open, check out the report.

What’s Coming to New West Council on May 3, 2021

New Westminster City Council is having a Regular Meeting on May 3, 2021, and here’s what they’ll be looking at.

Submission to the Provincial Special Committee on the Reform of the Police Act

The Province is reforming the Police Act. The City of New Westminster set up a working group to do research into what sort of reforms the City would like to see. The working group has prepared a report and video that will be submitted to the Province.

There are obviously a lot of details into what the working group would like to see changed, and I would encourage everybody to read the report.

2021 Tax Rates Bylaw No. 8259, 2021

Taxes are going up!

823 – 841 Sixth Street: Affordable Housing Project – Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw and Zoning Amendment Bylaw for First and Second Readings

The Aboriginal Land Trust Society wants to build 96 homes for members of the Indigenous and Swahili communities in New Westminster. These homes would be in a six-storey building, be permanent rental, and be affordable.

If you want to read some truly terrible statements from members of our community who put greater value on their back yards potentially getting a sliver of shadow thrown on it once or twice a year than providing stable housing for people, you can find them in this week’s Council package. Here’s one especially terrible one:

This development cannot be allowed to go ahead. It should be built in an area which would benefit from the development, such as where there are already used car lots, abandoned houses, or other blights in New West. Please don’t put a slum in the only moderately affordable single family house neighbourhood in New West, where young professionals with kids have a chance to own a house.

This development would be the Strathcona tent city permanently dropped 2 blocks from my house. How can I continue to live here if this is allowed to be built. It invalidates all the hardwork and sweat equity I put into living here and will put my family in danger.

Council will approve First and Second Readings and this project will soon be moving to a Public Hearing.

1319 Third Avenue (Steel and Oak): Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment and Manufacturing Facility Structural Change Applications – Bylaw for First and Second Readings

This one came to Council on March 28, and now it’s time to make it slightly more official. Council will approve First and Second Readings and this project will soon be moving to a Public Hearing.

Grant Application: Local Government Development Approvals

City Staff will be applying for a grant for $480,000 to transition the City’s development application and review process to be substantially online.

208 Fifth Avenue: Heritage Revitalization Agreement Application Process Update – For Information

208 Fifth Avenue wants to subdivide into two lots, move the existing heritage house onto one of those lots, and then build a new house on the second lot.

Expect Queens Park residents to lose their minds because the owners here are asking for a little more house than they’re permitted to have.

Consumption of Liquor in Public Spaces – Designated Park Zones

New West Parks and Recreation has set up maps showing where liquor may be lawfully consumed after the bylaw allowing it has passed. Not yet, but soon!