April 16 PLUC Summary & Observations

For the first time in a while, this was a meeting that actually took up the time allowed to it – more even. Based on past practice I had assumed they would be done by 10am and had booked an appointment for 11am. Boy was I wrong as the meeting itself continued until nearly noon. Consequently, my Sunday afternoon was spent watching the remainder of it. 

Video for the meeting is here.

The agenda for the meeting is here.

Consent Agenda

The Consent agenda was brief. Mayor Helps tried to add a number of reasonable items to it but Councill Isitt requested that they be pulled. As such only the minutes for the March 19 PLUC and a Development Variance Permit for 1435 Brooke Street ended up on the Consent Agenda.

1733 Bank Street – Rezoning

Here is the staff powerpoint that was shown during their presentation on this file. In sum, it is a proposal for rezoning to allow for an 8 space daycare to expand to a 16 space daycare. Staff spoke briefly and only one question from Council was received. Based on her experience with previous issues involving other daycares in the city who have changed their hours of operations (e.g., including evening hour in addition to day care) Councillor Thornton-Joe asked staff if the proponent for 1733 Bank street were to do something similar, would they have to come back to Council first for approval?

Staff said no, and that the only reason for coming back to Council would be if total service capacity changed and grew again. There was then a unanimous vote of support to send the proposal to Council for approval for subsequent preparation of necessary rezoning bylaws by staff and a public hearing.

343 Bay Street Development Permit.

A staff presentation was prepared and linked but was not provided because this had been an item (a proposal for a slight office extension) that Mayor Helps had wanted on the Consent Agenda. Councillor Isitt had pulled it though because he wasn’t sure if the property of the DP was along the harbour or not. If it was along the Harbour he wanted to see if it was possible to negotiate with the proponent as part of the DPA for City Harbour Right of ways in exchange for granting the Development permit.

Staff were quick to tell him that such a suggestion was inappropriate and the DP was then quickly passed on to Council for approval.

1908 Store Street Development Permit

I believe this was a proposal that Mayor Helps also wanted to go through on the Consent agenda. Again, Councillor Isitt pulled it for discussion because he wanted to know if the city could negotiate Harbour access right of ways as part of the Development permit application process. Again, he was told by staff that this was inappropriate.

As noted in the staff presentation, the DP is for the creation of a new warehouse to replace existing rotting storage buildings. This is to say, that for two items in a row, second term Councillor Isitt had to be reminded that Development Permits are only brought before Council for “yes” or “no” approval: does the proposal align with the city development permit area guidelines or not?

After some questions, this item was passed unanimously.

89 Dallas Road Development Permit

The staff presentation was warmly received, and the only question from Council on the staff report was for why a “California Surf Shop” design was chosen by the GVHA for the temporary building from which they will be selling coffee and ice cream to cruise ship tourists.

No one said anything in response to correspondence received by the JBNA president who was concerned about this application. Where the GVHA successfully applied to an extension to their timeline for completing an Ogden Point Master plan at the last PLUC meeting, JBNA argued in the correspondence they submitted for this DP “that Council is encouraging Master Plan by DP” which would be unfortunate.

1046 North Park DP With Variances

The staff presentation for this proposal to build 6 multiple dwelling units in North park was super brief. Councillor Loveday started off Council questions by asking about parking and was reminded that a car share membership was being offered to all residents. Madoff got concerned about language, and the Isitt started asking inappropriate questions again. He even got the planner to suggest that it was ok to ask the proponent about the proposed cost of each unit.

Both the Acting Director of Planning and Mayor Helps were quick to point out that proponents do not speak at PLUC and once again, Isitt was reminded that things like “cost” are not a relevant consideration for development permits.

Then during Council discussion the issue of parking was raised again. Madoff spoke briefly of how when the proposal was initially proposed, there was concern with how the vehicles for 3 units let along 6 could be accommodated at this lot, and or along the street.  There was then a unanimous vote to move this proposal forward to Council for approval and subsequent public hearing.

Councillor Isitt followed this up with a motion for a localized transportation study where the city would “spend money on the front end”. This prompted some discussion but the was eventually passed with a condition tying it to a site specific review of current parking and possible parking impacts at the site.

Based on my understanding of the legislation and typical development procedures, the proponent should pay for such traffic studies not the city.

1015 Rockland DP with Variances

The staff presentation for this project was informative and spoke to how this proposal for a 14 unit building was previously approved by Council, and that it is only back before PLUC to account for slightly increased lot coverage and the loss of a parking staff due to increase in building massing necessary to construct a seismically safe building.

Given that he’d been hearing a lot lately about car share memberships being offered in exchange for parking variances, Councillor Loveday asked the transportation planner if the city had any data on uptake of these memberships. He was told that that is a hard questions to answer, but that it seems to typically take a few years for folks to change habits and move from personal vehicle use to car shares.

A larger discussion then got kicked off due to complaints received through councillors regarding a sales centre that is said to be existing at the construction site. Conveniently enough, I ended up walking past the site later that day and was able to take these photos:

1015 Rockland

Note that the Presentation Centre (e.g., the sales centre trailer) is on the opposite side of the street from construction and as a result of the buildings width, it is located both on the road and the boulevard. 

1015 Rockland 2

Here is a shot of the building face-on. It is quite tall in relation to the condo building behind it. 

PLUC discussion got to such a point that the City Solicitor even jumped in. His reason for jumping in mind you, was to remind PLUC ONCE AGAIN that when they are considered things like DP, they are only supposed to focus on appropriateness of design. It was then revealed through subsequent discussion that the trailer shown above (but not shown during the meeting) is the City’s first attempt to permit a combined construction/sales off trailer. Of note is that construction on the site itself has yet to commence because approval is still needed for the variances being requested on Thursday.

This is to say, that as far as I understand construction approval is still more than month away, and yet this construction/sales trailer has been parked on the site for a while now. According  to neighbourhood rep Madoff, this trailer is a primary concern both for its eyesore status and also because it takes up 2-3 possible parking stalls. With respect to the larger development procedure policy perspective of the city not having any apparent regulations for trailer size, and or any limits on permissible parking duration Madoff and other Councillors were eager to get a handle on this issue.

After some unsatisfying back and forth in response to the proposed motion from Councillor Isitt for more information on the city’s trailer permitting process, the City Manager was finally able to track down someone who knew something. The Acting Director of Public Works and Engineer revealed that his staff are currently working on compliance issues with this trailer.

Both the DP with variances and the request for a comprehensive report on the construction/sale trailer permitting process, and how it ties into the development application and permit process were then unanimously passed. As an observer to this process, it seemed odd that planning staff were not prepared for the trailer questions.

759 Yates Street Development Variance Permit

The staff presentation on the proposal to convert an existing hotel into residential suites was super brief – of note is that the conversion is for revitalization of a heritage registered building. Once again Isitt asked questions that are not appropriate for Council consideration of a DP by inquiring about kitchen layouts in the suites. When reminded that the parking variance was all to be considered, Isitt expressed a concern that he didn’t have enough information on the project to fulfill his due diligence in making a proper decision.

There was then a brief awkward moment when it looked as though no one was going to second the motion – for the DVP for consideration – but then it got moved. Isitt promptly started off discussion with a very relevant concern by stating that he cannot approve the parking variance without knowing the plan for use of the building.

The variance in question is to reduce the required number of parking stalls from 18 to zero. Where there are to be 97 resident units, which would typically necessitate 50 parking stalls, because the hotel has never had any dedicated parking stalls, the argument from staff is that 18 is the number of parking stalls that should be be required, in absence of a variance, for legal non conforming status.

Confusing stuff.

Where the proponent had come back to PLUC with an proposal to increase their accommodation of bike parking from 72 to 96 for 97 units, Madoff was not satisfied with the accompanying building plans. She specifically wanted to see more information on how  bikes were expected to travel within the building as occupants moved to and from their suites. Madoff also expressed a concern that no information was being provided for Council to gauge the size of the residential suites and whether they were even an appropriate size for keeping bikes inside.

Similarly, Coleman said he could support the application going forward to public hearing with a “real caution that [he] cannot understand how this proposal [for bike storage] works within the building”. He also expressed concern with a limited ability to designate public bike parking outside the building as parking for building residents, especially since this outside parking is tied to the DVP approval.

Alto asked what happens if Council declined the DVP, and was told by staff that the applicant would not be able to get their occupancy permit. And because they would not be able to get their occupancy permit they would have to find some other way of coming back to Council for approval for the parking variance. Both Alto and Mayor Helps expressed a willingness to support this proposal going forward to public hearing so long as the proponent provided additional information at the public hearing as to how the building will be used and how bikes are expected to move through the building.

When the question was then called to moved the proposal to public hearing, Councillors Isitt and Madoff were opposed.

Some comments from me:

As evidenced in Council discussion there was no information provided by staff for Council to gauge the appropriateness of the parking variance. Council did not know who would be in the building, how the bikes would move in the building, or what relative bike ownership/storage rates are for occupants in other downtown buildings.

Just because the proposal is for a DVP, this shouldn’t mean that staff could not have made this information available, or required the applicant to make the info available. As noted by Coleman and Madoff previous developers have made more of an effort.

Because the proposal is a DVP there was no CALUC process with the downtown Victoria residents association (DVRA). Staff however confirmed that the DVRA was given notice with a 30 day opportunity for comment. Because there was no community input session mind you, Council was not given a dedicated opportunity to hear from the public  at PLUC, in advance of a public hearing as to whether or not they found the proposal appropriate. It was not mentioned whether a DVRA comment had been received.

The mayor and some Councillors expected that more information would be made available by the developer at the Public Hearing as to who would use the bikes and how they bikes would be used in the building. This seems odd because typically, the only new information that comes available at public hearings is info from the public. Not info from the applicant.

Because only limited information is available on the proposal and because the proposal is for only internal changes to a building, it seems highly unlikely that any general member of the public will be in a position to comment at the public hearing.

Yet, an article from the Times Colonist about this proposal was entitled: Dominion Hotel Development Plans Hit Bumps over Bikes. The plan was approved by PLUC to moved to Council – a bump would have been that the DVP was declined.

1205 Wharf St Heritage Alteration Permit

The staff presentation on this item came from the Assistant Director of Community Planning who informed Council that the applicant has held a patio permit since 2007. The HAP proposal in front of PLUC was for reconsideration of a 2014 decision to decline the retro-active heritage alteration permit necessary for the additions required to facilitate patio use.

The decision to decline came after the proponent had done work without a permit which included installing permanent structures at a heritage site. Typical process as far as I understand it is that heritage alterations of this magnitude require review by the heritage advisory council, and as staff suggested in their presentation, such a review may have result in a less intrusive design.

That said, staff also indicated that a concurrent overarching bylaw review of the patio permitting process  (to occur in 2015) is one that will focus on how best to balance the many possible competing objectives of patio permits (eg., heritage conservation, placemaking or urban vibrancy). Isitt in particular was concerned on Thursday with the “creation of private rooms” in public spaces, such is the case in Bastion square which is technically a public park owned by the City. Isitt was also concerned about who would pay the bill for remediation requirements (to Bastion Square) in the case of business closure, as well as the permit fee structure for outdoor patios such as this one with the potential for all season use.

In response to both questions, Isitt was told “I don’t know” by staff, which was rather lame I found, especially since earlier in her presentation Ms. Hudson had suggested that her department be responsible for leading the permit process. Given that she was positioning herself to lead the permit process, she should have at least come to the meeting prepared to answer questions such as those asked by Isitt.

The majority of other Councillors were less picky and were satisfied by the fact that a report reviewing the permit process and related bylaws will be coming forward. Madoff was concerned with how the public lookout spot from Bastion Square is obscured by the patio permit, while Thornton-Joe was more concerned about how the staff process (lack of process) had created difficulties for the applicant She spoke of how she had been swayed by the detailed chronology of meeting instigated by the proponent with respect to confusion on an appropriate process.

Young then spoke of how there are a number of sidewalk permits in the city and that it is “always a trade off” between occupancy and use with increased vibrancy downtown. Young also spoke of needing to recognize that previous decisions have been made by staff, and that Council is obligated to “live with the decisions made by their judgement, that is based on Council direction”.

Lucas as a “downtown business owner” said that she agreed with Isitt that the patio at the Local “goes beyond” what is typically anticipated by a patio permit. But at the same time, Lucas indicated her support for respecting decisions made and moving on.

Coleman spoke in his typical axiomatic riddle filled manner on how Council is so often required to deal with issues that are consequences of previous decisions.

In response to some back and forth about when the larger report on the patio permitting process would be coming back to Council, the City Manager indicated that the report will be back in three months. He also reminded Council of upcoming efforts from staff to tie all reports backs to the council strategic plan and financial plan.

Ultimately Councillors Isitt and Madoff were opposed to both the Heritage alteration permit being granted and additional reporting being required in relation to the patio permit process review.

 Heritage Alteration Permit Pioneer Square

Coleman started speaking prior to the staff presentation (which did not occur) on this proposal to install a new memorial commemorating the involvement of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in Pioneer Square, a heritage cemetery. In an effort to “obviate” he made a motion for PLUC to reiterate their commitment to placing the granite memorial and then suggested further that this memorial be placed not in Pioneer square but in the closed portion of Rockland avenue.

Presumably to get around the opposition from heritage group.

The motion that was ultimately voted on was for installation of the memorial in the Rockland right of way subject to final approval by Council for design of the monument and the plaza. This received unanimous support I believe.

Of note is that I assume PLUC is still operating without their memorial placement policy that has apparently been in the works for a while.

151 Oswego Heritage Alteration Permit Update

The staff presentation started with a question from the Heritage Planner who wanted to know how detailed of a presentation was being requested by Council. Madoff asked about a previous incamera request for info, and Mayor Helps indicated that an incamera report had been previously received in a GPC meeting. The City Solicitor indicated that staff had met with the developer in a productive meeting, but there that are still issues to be addressed.

Ultimately, Mayor Helps instructed the Heritage Planner that Council would need all information that he had, and invited him to begin. The most recent staff report is here. In sum, the HAP in question is a retroactive permit to deal with work done at the site that was not in accordance with heritage best practices. I’m not one to speak on heritage building aspects, but based on the staff presentation, it seems that windows being installed in the site are not compliant with the larger heritage character of the building.

Madoff sought clarification on the staff recommendation, and was told that original plans depicted a requirement for compliant windows but that current construction is not reflecting the plans for heritage compliant aspects such as appropriate windows. Councillor Young was totally on his game and sought to get a more concrete answer from the planner who cautioned in response that the issue at hand is “reconstruction” not “rehabilitation or restoration” which are the only components recognized within Heritage Revitalization Agreements. Which is to say that the City has no mechanism for requiring the applicant to come back and renegotiate the heritage revitalization agreement that formed the basis of the rezoning that went through in 2014.

Ultimately Young stated that he could not support the staff recommendation to amend the HAP in line with my previous thoughts – that is, that the amendment is just to account for staff failure to require that all heritage components be met once the rezoning was complete. This was despite, as was noted by Young, the deal made resulted in a significant $100,000+ benefit to the original applicant who sold the property to the current proponent.

Madoff then got more concrete by asking for guidance on the “consequences” of when property owners do not follow legal agreements such as the original heritage revitalization agreement for 151 Oswego. To this, Mayor Helps suggested that the consequences had previously been communicated to Council, and invited Madoff to make a motion to go incamera. Madoff spoke again and categorized staff actions as a reaction, instead of a consequence. Helps was then concerned that this line of questioning  might weaken public confidence in processes such as the HAP going forward.

A motion to table consideration of this file for 151 Oswego was then passed, as well as a subsequent motion to go incamera for consideration of legal advice relating to the file. It was later revealed that resolution to this file will be coming forward at their April 30th PLUC meeting.

Totally Random Note

At one point in the PLUC meeting Mayor Helps adjourned the meeting to convene a GPC meeting, temporarily adjourn the GPC meeting and then reconvene the PLUC meeting. Of note is that no public agenda was advertised for this meeting, nor was any public notice given. The video for the meeting itself is tucked into the end of the APRIL 16 PLUC meeting and is advertised as in relation to PLUC not GPC matters:

At the end of PLUC meeting the GPC meeting was called to order to  close the meeting to discuss a number of considerations including:

  • Council & labour relation relations;
  • Acquisition or disposition of land or improvements.

In speaking to the adjournment of the PLUC meeting, Mayor Helps spoke in reference the unadvertised GPC how “there were many other matters before us for consideration today”. These items apparently included a meeting with the military (at least 5 members who I saw in the lobby that) and discussion about possible sites for a Victoria only sewage treatment facility.

 

 

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