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.



I got a good day gig. I got a good day gig. Every day when I leave work I come here, or wherever town I might be in, and I join up with the boys.

My day gig is, well, it’s pretty gruesome actually. It’s pretty horrible.

I’m a frogman. I’m a skin diver. I’m an underwater dude for the cops. I investigate, I investigate. I go down and I find people who actually had the patience to let their cars fill with water to the roof before they decided to open the door for pressure reasons.

And I always see them blue and bloated with the window about halfway down, hand clenching the handle, wife riding shotgun, couple of kids in the back. And it just… I see this every day, and it weren’t no thing, it weren’t no thing, and then I come here, and I paddle the stage around for a while, in our little pond, and it weren’t no thing, you understand? I can see them floating in their cars.

“Honey, the ferry takes way too long. Let’s drive across the ice, it’ll be much faster.”

I’m telling her to wait, to be patient, there’s a little spot next to the roof where we can breathe. She’s screaming. The little kids in the back, well they got their carseats, they’re buckled in.

I took a couple of shots of Chivas Regal. I put on my mask. I put in my regulator, and I jumped off.

I see it, it’s a red Toyota.

I talk to the ship through a transmitter.

“I see it, it’s a red Toyota. It’s on the bottom, it seems to be covered with weeds and things, stones. I think it fell through the ice, yeah, it fell through the ice. Headlights are still on, headlights are still on. I can see some exhaust. They didn’t let the water fill up to the roof, they’ve actually got an airtight red Honda, they’re sitting in there with about an hour’s worth of air having a game of crib between man and wife and the kids.”

So I open the door and flood them out and they float to the top like pieces of popcorn. We get them on ship.

“We thought we nearly lost you Mr. Kennedy, we thought we nearly lost you, we were so concerened, we thought we nearly lost you sir!”

I took another shot of Chivas Regal. I took another shot of Chivas Regal.

I think I’m going to quit that job. I’m gonna quit that job. I’m gonna quit that job.

From New Orleans Is Sinking, Chicago 1991

A Brewery District follow-up

I want to do a little bit of a follow-up to my previous post about building heights in the Brewery District. I posted that because I kept getting annoyed at Sapperton residents saying things like “Wesgroup mislead us” and “it was eight storeys all along.”

I did a little more digging, and found the McBride-Sapperton Residents Association minutes from January 22, 2014. In this meeting, two employees of Wesgroup presented an update on the Brewery District development site, which includes this:

There will be a total of 4 tall structures with a maximum of 30 storeys, minimum 12 storeys being built.

Read that again. “…minimum 12 storeys being built.”

So in January 2014 the MSRA knew full well that the first residential tower was to be at least 12 storeys high. This meshes with the photos and statements I highlighted in the previous post.

So what really pisses me off is when MSRA acting president Ross Eichendorf says this:

“I’m sure the residents in the area will be glad to see three [fewer] storeys, but it’s sure not the eight they had been representing up until recently.”

“Until recently”? If by five years ago you mean “recently” then yes, Wesgroup has been saying that the first building will be eight storeys “recently”.

But no, you can’t say that you didn’t know that the first building was going to be at least 12 storeys when the information sessions in February 2010 showed models of at least 12 storeys. Or when a story in the New West News Leader in September 2010 said that “the building is still in the design development stage, but said it will likely be over 12 storeys high.” Or when Wesgroup staff came to your meeting in January 2014 to tell you that the residential buildings will be at least 12 storeys high.

“Eight [storeys] they had been representing”? Bullshit.

“It’s a bait-and-switch!”

Letter to Council, May 10, 2007:

…the proposed bylaw change will enable the developer to go as high as 30 storeys in sub-district 4, 18 storeys in sub-district 3

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7145, 2007, Section 581.3, adopted July 14, 2008:

The maximum height and site coverage of all buildings and structures in each sub-district shall not exceed the height and site coverage set out below.

Sub-Districts 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c) (High Density Residential and Retail): 180 ft. / 45%

Found at Royal Columbian Hospital, February 2010:

(The first residential tower to be built is the left-most in the second picture, which looks to be 12 or 13 storeys high)

New West News Leader, September 16, 2010:

The second quarter of 2011 will see Wesgroup begin to market the first residential tower on the old Labatt Brewery grounds. Nonni said the building is still in the design development stage, but said it will likely be over 12 storeys high.

Render from Bluetree Homes website, January 2013:

(Again, the left-most residential tower, this time 14 storeys high)

New West News Leader, December 4, 2014:

The McBride-Sapperton Residents Association (MSRA) is upset the developer wants to build three 18-storey residential towers and a 30-storey tower along Brunette Avenue as part of its Brewery District development. They have accused Wesgroup of pulling a bait-and-switch from their original proposal of buildings that were much smaller in height.

New West News Leader, January 7, 2015:

“I’m sure the residents in the area will be glad to see three [fewer] storeys, but it’s sure not the eight they had been representing up until recently.”


Regarding Translink’s ‘Fare Not Paid’ Button

On January 6, 2015, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation put out a press release stating

TransLink bus drivers pressed a special button in their coaches to record a “fare not paid” more than 2.76 million times in 2013…

2.76 million times! That’s a lot of button presses and a huge amount of fare evasion! Like Jordan Bateman, the CTF’s BC Director, said:

These bus drivers should be checked for carpal tunnel syndrome from having to repeatedly push that fare evasion button. TransLink executives have turned a blind eye to millions of fare cheats, causing unnecessary financial grief for honest riders and taxpayers.

Indeed! TransLink executives really don’t give a shit about fare cheats. They have no fucks to give about fare cheats. They put up giant signs saying “FARE CHEATS WELCOME HERE” on every bus.

Well, no, they didn’t. That’s hyperbolic. And so are the statements from Jordan Bateman and the CTF.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But each one of those button presses isn’t someone refusing to pay their fare. If you read the actual document you’ll find this:

A “fare not paid” entry can represent one of a range of fare-related discrepancies. An issue can include: a partial payment of fare; overpayment of a fare into a bus fare box, which cannot dispense change; failure of a passenger to AddFare when travelling across zones; or fare evasion. It is not the intent of this tool to document revenue loss.

So those 2.76 million button presses were not 2.76 million instances of fare evasion. Some of them were because someone paid, but not enough. Some of them were because someone paid too much!

Strangely, the CTF press release makes no mention of that, instead labelling every one of these button presses as caused by “fare cheats” and “freeloaders”.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But how many people boarded buses in 2013? If it’s five million, then TransLink’s got a huge problem. If it’s 50 million, then TransLink still has a problem with a potential “fare loss” of about 5.5%.

TransLink didn’t have 5 million bus boardings in 2013. It didn’t have 50 million. It didn’t even have 100 million. In 2013, TransLink had 228 million bus boardings (from Page 9 of their 2013 Bus Service Performance Review). Is 2.76 million out of 228 million still a huge problem? It’s 1.2% of bus riders. One point two percent.

That’s what happens when you take raw numbers out of context. You can take those numbers and have them fit your narrative. In Jordan Bateman’s narrative, TransLink is horribly wasteful and not deserving of any tax dollars. Finding “fare cheats” and “freeloaders” is easy to do when you just yell TWO POINT SEVEN SIX MILLION FARES NOT PAID without giving any context whatsoever. Unfortunately, reality tends to illuminate these context-free statements, showing that Jordan Bateman and the CTF are being intellectually dishonest on this issue.