What’s Coming to New West Council on April 12, 2021

New Westminster City Council is having a Regular Meeting on April 12, 2021, and here’s some of what’s on the agenda.

Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project – Multi-Use Pathways

The Pattullo Bridge is being replaced. Originally the replacement project was being done by TransLink, and the design they had included multi-use paths that weren’t a complete spaghetti circuit, as if they actually cared about providing half-way decent cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Then the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure took over the project, and since the provincial government sees cycling as a complete afterthought, they redesigned the multi-use paths to have them wind all over God’s green earth (or at least the part around the Pattullo Bridge).

Especially stupid was the decision to leave the corner of Columbia Street and McBride Boulevard alone, when that’s the absolute shittiest corner in New Westminster for people who aren’t riding around in armoured couches.

Needless to say this wasn’t well-received.

User groups, City staff, and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force expressed significant concerns about the circuitous nature of the MUP network, which included a number of switchbacks to achieve accessible grades on the approaches to grade-separated crossings.

Well, changes have been made and they’re really underwhelming. There’s an added stairway (people with mobility challenges are obviously being told to fuck off and take the long route), a direct connection from the Agnes Greenway to the bridge (okay, that’s good), and a better connection from the Agnes Greenway to Royal Avenue to connect through to Victoria Hill. Columbia and McBride is unchanged for some reason.

But hey, motordom has to take priority over the losers riding bicycles, right?

515 St. George Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Preliminary Report

This is basically serving notice to the Queens Park neighbourhood that they’d better start getting their knickers in a knot because someone wants to build a laneway house that’s HOLY JESUS TWICE AS BIG AS CURRENTLY ALLOWED oh wait it’ll still only be 958 square feet, which is smaller than the townhouse I live in. But knowing Queens Park, this will undoubtedly cause the complete decay of the neighbourhood.

To which I say bring it on!

Council Resolution in Support of the City of New Westminster’s Application under the COVID-19 Restart Funding for Local Governments, Strengthening Communities’ Services Program

The number of homeless people living in New Westminster has risen since the March 2020 Homeless Count, undoubtedly exacerbated by reduced shelter capacity due to physical distancing requirements. The City is working with faith-based and non-profit groups to apply for a $390,000 grant from the federal government for ten projects that will try and help in a few ways:

  • to improve the health and safety of persons who are experiencing homelessness
  • to reduce community concerns about public health and safety in neighbourhoods related to homelessness,
  • to improve coordination related to health and service provision related to homelessness
  • to increase capacity to work with persons who are experiencing homelessness and Indigenous organizations towards culturally-safe and trauma-informed responses.

Let’s all hope the federal government approves this grant application and these groups can get some help to people who desperately need it.

97 Braid Street: Temporary Use Permit Amendment for Food Truck Events

There’s a big parking lot at 97 Braid Street that’s normally used for Royal Columbian Hospital staff and construction workers. During weekends it’s underused, and a Temporary Use Permit was granted in 2020 to allow food trucks to set up shop. The applicant wants to have their TUP amended to allow food trucks to set up shop until the middle of September 2022.

445 Brunette Avenue: Temporary Use Permit for Off-Site Parking During Construction of 100 Braid Street

100 Braid Street is getting a big building built on it and there’s nowhere for construction crews to park. The applicant wants to use a property just down the street for parking.

New Westminster Arena Strategy

New Westminster has two arenas: Queen’s Park Arena and Moody Park Arena. In 2017 some people in the community felt this wasn’t enough and circulated a petition to build a third arena. In 2018 Council directed staff to do a study. In 2021 that study is being presented to Council.

And what does that study say?

  1. Add no new arena capacity during the next five to ten years.
  2. Explore ways to accommodate spring lacrosse in new City sports facilities.
  3. Plan for a new full sized arena sheet to be added to Queen’s Park Arena.
  4. Plan for the future longer term replacement of Moody Park Arena.

The study has a few interesting take-aways:

The long term trends in arena use are all downward in New Westminster, the Metro Vancouver region and the province. The proportion of residents that used ice peaked sometime before 2000 and has declined since then.

The annual tax supported subsidy for both arenas (net of skate shop and concessions) is about $1.7 million. That equates to an hourly subsidy of about $270 for each of the 6300 hours of use. As an example, that means that minor hockey’s 1500 hours of use triggers a subsidy of over $400,000, or a subsidy of almost $1200 for each of its 340 registered players.

If you look into the details around #3 and #4, they are not recommending a third sheet be added to New Westminster’s supply. What they’re actually suggesting is replacing Moody Park Arena with the second sheet at Queen’s Park Arena, because the single dual-sheet facility at Queen’s Park would cost less to operate than the two single-sheet facilities at QPA and MPA. Only after that should the City consider looking to add a third venue back into the Moody Park Arena site.

808 Royal Avenue: Academic Building and Student Housing – Preliminary Report

Douglas College wants to turn two parking lots at the corner of Eighth Street and Royal Avenue into a 16 to 18 storey building to provide academic floor space and student housing.

They’re proposing using Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction for the top 12 storeys, which is not only awesome but also not contemplated by the BC Building Code. But don’t worry! They can use a Building Code Alternative Solution to submit a design that doesn’t meet the prescriptive requirements of the Code, provided that the design meets the minimum level of performance of the Building Code. This has been done in the past, and in New Westminster no less!

I can’t wait to see these parking lots replaced.

102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street: Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning for Infill Townhouses – Preliminary Report

An application has been received that would replace two single-family houses with ten townhouses. The property is kitty-corner to a four-storey mixed-use building, a block away from a shopping mall, and on two bus routes. It’s also small-scale infill to provide slightly less expensive housing for more people; it’s the missing middle that some fantastic people have been saying New Westminster has needed for years now.

I would like to call out one statement by a member of the Land Use and Planning Committee, which reviewed the application before sending it along to Council for consideration:

A member noted that this would put increased development pressure on similar properties in the city.

HOLY BOUNCING JESUS yes we want this to happen to MAKE THINGS MORE AFFORDABLE pay attention here now

What’s more affordable, two houses that are $1.5 million each or ten townhouses that are $800,000?

Why don’t we want more housing that would be less expensive?

This member, whoever they are (my money is on Chuck Puchmayer, he’s said other stupid things like this in the past), needs to not be on the Land Use and Planning Committee.

Motion: Designation of Alcohol-Permitted Spaces

Councillor Patrick Johnstone put forth a motion that would allow adults to responsibly consume alcohol in areas of six neighbourhood parks in New Westminster: Port Royal Park, Grimston Park, Moody Park, Hume Park, Sapperton Park, and Pier Park.

The New Westminster Police Department kind of turns a blind eye to alcohol consumption in parks already, as long as adults are doing so responsibly (and it’s not during a big event, as if those are ever going to happen again THANKS COVID). This motion could potentially make things a little more equitable, as the NWPD would be less inclined to enforce the existing law in a biased way, potentially targeting BIPOC people drinking in parks over white people. I’m not saying that they do, but I’m not saying that they don’t either, and I’m also saying that these sorts of biases exist and allowing for people to make judgement calls like this can lead to biased outcomes, whether or not those people actually believe they’re being biased in the first place.

And letting adults enjoy a beverage responsibly in a park? Sounds like a pretty decent idea. I’m glad that Councillor Johnstone is following in Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West’s footsteps here.

What’s Coming to New West Council on March 29, 2021

New Westminster City Council is holding a Regular Meeting on March 29, 2021, and here are a few highlights of what’s on the agenda. The full package is 463 pages long, so I’m not going to cover everything!

New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre: Project Update & Next Steps

In case you haven’t heard, New Westminster is getting rid of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre and replacing them with the New Westminster Aquatic & Community Centre. Staff is giving a report on what’s happened (not much thanks to COVID) and what’s going to happen (communication, construction, and a groundbreaking ceremony).

City-Wide Bold Steps Work Plan

The City came up with Seven Bold Steps to work towards a zero carbon future, and this is the work plan to implement some projects that’ll fulfil some of those bold steps over 2021. Here are some highlights:

  • pedestrian crossing improvements, sidewalk repair, and accessibility improvements
  • bus shelters and operational improvements
  • greenway projects including Agnes, Crosstown, and Riverfront
  • consideration for additional density and height for higher efficiency buildings
  • researching of new construction technologies such as encapsulated mass timber
  • advance adoption of electric vehicles, e-bikes, and other electric mobility options
  • advancement of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure
  • continue increasing the city’s urban forest canopy cover
  • native planting restoration natural areas
  • pollinator pasture installations
  • advancing streetscape and sidewalk café projects
Temporary Use Permit for 40 Begbie Street

This Temporary Use Permit will be issued for a Health Contact Centre in Downtown New West. It will provide a number of services, including witnessed consumption, drug checking, harm reduction supplies, peer employment opportunities, education on safer drug use, and regular needle sweeps of the surrounding area.

Some people in the community unfortunately don’t want to see services for helping people in need, even though the drug poisoning crisis killed over 1700 people in British Columbia in 2020, but luckily we have a compassionate and empathetic Council in New Westminster and this TUP will be granted.

Cancellation of the Section 57 Notices on 711 Walmsley Street and 1402 Seventh Avenue

A Section 57 notice allows the City to put a notice on title for a property that that property is violating building regulations. This is done so that if someone wishes to purchase that property, they are informed of this notice.

This was done on two properties in New Westminster, 711 Walmsley Street in 2010, and 1402 Seventh Avenue in 2020. The owners of both properties have fixed the issues that lead to the Section 57 notices, and now Council will decide whether or not to remove those notices.

Withdrawal of LMLGA Motion Concerning Local Government Candidates Access to Multifamily Dwellings During the Campaign Period

Wordy subject there, but on March 1, 2021 Council passed a motion that would be sent to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association to ask them to ask the Province to allow candidates in local government elections access to all types of multifamily dwellings.

It turns out that on March 3, 2021 the Provincial government announced they are going to put forward legislation that would allow candidates in local government elections access to all types of multifamily dwellings.

New Westminster City Council: getting shit done.

1319 Third Avenue (Steel and Oak): Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment

Steel and Oak is popular and they want to expand their seating area from 50 to 100 people. They propose doing this by expanding the interior space, which would allow up to 89 people, and making their temporary patio on the street more permanent.

Cannabis Retail Locations: Sapperton Area Application Update

Herb Co. Cannabis had a proposal to operate a cannabis retail store at 451 East Columbia Street. They’ve had their application for a licence terminated by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, and they’ve had two years to advance their application. Staff is recommending that council rescind the First and Second Readings for the Bylaw that would have allowed them to operate at that location, and that the application for 451 East Columbia Street be put on hold.

Staff is also recommending that the second highest scoring application (North Root Cannabis) be given consideration, and a new Bylaw be considered to allow them to operate at 416 East Columbia Street. The Royal Columbian Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop is currently at this location, but they’re on a month to month lease and have been looking for a better location.

2021 Spring Freshet and Snow Pack Level

Snow pack levels for the Fraser River basin are at 115% of normal, and La Niña conditions through spring should bring higher than normal precipitation from March to May, with a likelihood of lower than normal temperatures. These combined means that there’s an elevated risk for freshet-related flooding. The City will continue to monitor the situation, and has started preparing for any potential flooding by inspecting dikes and placing orders for emergency supplies (the City currently has over 40,000 sandbags with 12,000 on standby order).

Hume Park Outdoor Pool – Summer 2021 Status

Staff is recommending that Hume Park Outdoor Pool remain closed through the summer of 2021.

Under the COVID-19 Public Health Orders, the capacity of the pool would be 15 participants (half of what Moody Park Outdoor Pool can handle), and there would be a limit of two persons in each changeroom. Lifeguard training was suspended for most of 2020, and there’s a limited supply of recertification clinics, which means that there won’t be enough certified lifeguards to be able to staff more than one outdoor pool in 2021. The City had already planned for Hume Park Outdoor Pool to be closed through the summer and has scheduled maintenance work on it, including work on the building roof, which is best done during the summer.

In short, Hume Park Outdoor Pool won’t be opening in the summer of 2021.

Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation in New Westminster 2021

COVID-19 vaccinations are here, and cities are doing what they can to help vaccine clinics get up and running. New Westminster has set up a vaccination site at Century House and is in the process of setting up one at Anvil Centre. When the Anvil Centre site is open, the Century House one will close, but don’t worry, the capacity will be much greater. The Century House site only operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 6pm, but the Anvil Centre site will operate seven days a week from 7:30am to 9:30pm.

Respect the OCP Process!

There’s a petition going around New Westminster asking people to “oppose the proposed multi-story development for Sixth Street as it does not conform to either the existing zoning Single Family Detached (RS2) or the recent OCP’s designation of RT Residential in-fill townhouse ‘small scale, side-by-side townhouses and rowhouses which are compatible within areas of single detached housing and other lower density ground-oriented housing’.”

That’s a mouthful.

First, the backstory.

The Aboriginal Land Trust non-profit society wants to purchase six (or seven) single family homes and build 96 homes for Indigenous and Swahili families. These homes would be located along Sixth Street in New Westminster, a couple of blocks away from shops and services in both New West and Burnaby. It’s close to schools, parks, and with the proposed new building, it’ll be connected to a safe cycling route that leads across New Westminster.

It will provide affordable housing for 96 families, which means that rents will be below market rates.

When people are presented with these facts, they’re generally overwhelmingly in support of the project. Simply put, it’s the right project at the right location at the right time, and it will present homes for people who not only need it, but will help enrich our neighbourhoods and our city.

The properties that they want to build this on is zoned for single family homes, which is why they’re applying for a rezoning. The land use designation does not allow six-storey buildings, which is why they’re applying for an OCP amendment.

Those two points are the only reasons why people have been asked to sign the petition in opposition. “We oppose this amendment application because the amendment is needed.” That’s it, that’s the argument.

There are signs up around town that read “Mayor and Council, honour the process! Stick to the Official Community Plan.

These signs are borne out of ignorance on the part of the people putting the signs on their front lawns, and they’re borne out of the wilful misdirection and disinformation campaign run by a very small group of people.

Next, the ignorance…

New Westminster’s Official Community Plan can be amended. It has been amended 10 times since it was adopted in 2017, three times alone to address heritage conservation in the Queens Park neighbourhood. Twice for increasing the number of allowed childcare spaces, and once to allow for temporary modular housing to shelter women and children in need. If Council were to “stick to the OCP” then that means fewer childcare spaces, less heritage conservation, and more women and children in desperate need of housing.

Further, the OCP is not just a land use map. It is an aspirational document that guides how development will occur in New Westminster for the next twenty years. It has at least eighteen policy goals and actions that directly relate to this proposal, including the following:

Policy 8.2: Facilitate access to affordable and non-market housing for low- to moderate-income households.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98

Action 8.2c: The City should continue to partner with senior governments, charitable foundations, faith groups and non-profit organizations in the development of affordable and non-market housing.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98

Policy 8.3: Foster a rental housing stock in which tenants have adequate opportunities to live in healthy, safe and secure housing.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.99

Policy 8.5: Design housing to be livable and to foster social cohesion and connectivity.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.103

There are additional values to highlight:

Target Groups for Affordable Housing – While housing affordability is important for all New Westminster residents, six population groups have been identified as priority groups who are particularly affected by housing issues in the city: hidden homeless (people staying with family or friends); lower-income renters; seniors and persons with disabilities; aboriginal households; immigrants and refugees; and moderate-income households.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.98, Policy 8.2

Three-bedroom units are attractive to families with children but multiple unit housing with three or more bedrooms is in short supply.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.102, Policy 8.4

The City should continue to… [e]xplore opportunities through development projects along designated Great Streets to implement walking, cycling, transit and place-making elements in accordance with the Great Street policies contained in the Master Transportation Plan.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.125, Policy 11.2

This proposal clearly does “stick to the Official Community Plan”, as it targets a large number of the visions and policies contained in the OCP, and the land use designation can be amended to allow proposals that target visions and policies contained in the OCP.

…and then the disinformation campaign.

The “background information” that went along with the petition I quoted above makes absolutely no mention that this project will provide affordable housing. Or that it’s for Indigenous and Swahili families. Or that it’s being proposed by a non-profit Indigenous society.

Instead they try to scare people with this quote:

…the City is opening up for developers to propose similar projects in other residential areas of New Westminster.

This makes it sound like a for-profit developer is putting in a strata luxury condo building, and your neighbourhood could be next! It’s fear-mongering, plain and simple. By leaving out crucial information, they make people afraid that Bosa’s going to buy up their neighbour’s house and build a 50-storey tower.

Simply put: that’s not going to happen.

The only reason why this proposal didn’t get rejected outright by City staff is that it meets so many of the OCP’s visions and policy goals, which the petitioners conveniently left out. They don’t want people to know what the proposal actually is, because whenever people find out that this is a non-profit run development to provide affordable housing to Indigenous and Swahili people, they’re overwhelmingly in support of the project.

That’s why this is a disinformation campaign, and a dangerous one that has tricked over a thousand people in New Westminster into opposing affordable housing that strongly aligns with the Official Community Plan that hundreds of New Westminster residents came together to craft.

It’s really a shame that a small group of comfortably housed people feel threatened by affordable homes coming to their neighbourhood, and that they would devote so much time and money towards stopping people from moving next door to them. Perhaps they forgot this crucial part of the Official Community Plan:

New Westminster citizens, community groups, and the City are socially minded. We support our neighbours and work together to create a caring and inclusive community.

As a socially minded community, we recognize the importance of a healthy and comfortable home. We work across sectors and professions to increase housing choices in our community. We strive to ensure there is housing available along the entire continuum, from emergency and transition housing to affordable and market rental. More choices allow families to meet their changing needs, enable empty nesters and seniors to downsize and stay in their neighbourhood, provide accessible and integrated homes for new immigrants and refugees, and retain and attract youth and young professionals that are just entering the housing market.

New Westminster Official Community Plan, p.29

The Chain-Link Fences of Queens Park

The purpose of the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area is to retain the existing heritage values of the neighbourhood while, at the same time, managing change. Of greatest importance is that changes respect the existing heritage character of the streetscape, and that major design elements be traditional and appropriate for the neighbourhood.

City of New Westminster

In January 2021, the president of the Queens Park Residents Association approached City Council to ask about a newly installed chain-link fence, stating “I, like most of the directors on the QPRA, thought that chain-link fences were simply a non-starter.”

This collection of photographs was taken in the Queens Park neighbourhood to demonstrate that chain-link fences are widespread throughout and represent design elements that are, in fact, traditional and appropriate for the neighbourhood.

Barnburner at Queens Park Meat & Deli Public Hearing

One of the people who spoke out in support of the recent Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation for Queens Park Meat & Deli spoke rather awesomely so I had to capture the transcript and share it. Enjoy!

This is the first public meeting we’ve ever taken part in, that’s probably how much we believe in Florin and this project. Florin did not ask us to do this, we offered to do this of our own volition. As [my partner] said we are fully supportive of this proposal, we support small business in New Westminster full stop, we don’t support small business in New Westminster but. All around New Westminster you see shuttered businesses because of COVID. While we want to hope otherwise the reality is that many of these small businesses will not reopen, they will be gone forever. Here we have a small business owner that no only wants to stay but wants to grow. How anybody cannot support such initiative is beyond us.

I’ve read through the public submissions and they generally can be divided into two camps: the residents from the neighbourhood who fully support the proposal, they can usually be identified by the brevity of their emails. In the other camp are the usual suspects that appear at most public hearings to oppose, you have the NIMBYs, the wanna-be planners who painstakingly explain why they should be the Director of Planning rather than the professionals you employ, next are the heritage buffs and finally the residents associations. All have one thing in common: they profess to speak on behalf of the community but in reality they speak on behalf of themselves.

You will notice that none of the supporters of the project spend a lot of time discussing the bylaws, the ins and outs. Why is that? A, we simply don’t have the time, and B, they understand that’s staff’s job actually, they believe that you have excellent professionals on staff whose job it is to protect the public interest.

We’re not experts in traffic patterns or parking spaces or FSR or massing or shadows dispersed. We don’t feel qualified to engage as to whether the building or the use has heritage value. We don’t presume to offer our thoughts on whether the facade should look like the 1950s, the 1920s, or the 1850s for that matter. We rely on professionals and your staff to determine what is appropriate. They’re the professionals, that’s their job, please let them do it. If staff didn’t think the project was appropriate they would not support it, but they do support it. I know the staff report says staff considers the project consistent with related policy and advises it will provide a balance of development benefits with community benefits, of heritage protection and exterior building renovation. If you believe the people telling you staff are wrong and this project doesn’t do that then I suggest you fire your staff and hire the letter writers.

It’s easy for people who sit in the cheap seats and oppose everything. They have nothing to lose and have no skin in the game. Here you have a small business owner who’s proposing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve his business, this isn’t Walmart or Save-On Foods with deep pockets, this is just Florin, Camilla, and their daughter. He isn’t asking the city for money, he isn’t asking those who oppose this proposal for money. He may be wondering why he’s risking his family’s future when he sees some of the letters from the people that don’t want him to succeed. I only hope that Florin and Camilla are buoyed by the amount of support that they have in the neighbourhood and don’t simply give up and move to Burnaby or Coquitlam.

In summary [my partner] and I urge council to approve this application in its entirety. You have before you a small business owner that is saying I believe in New Westminster, I believe in my community, I want to grow, not contract, I want to prosper, not wither. We ask you to reciprocate that belief. Thank you very much.