July 23 PLUC Summary & Observations

The meeting this morning, was, shall we say illuminating?

It started late because everyone only began filtering in at 9am and I’m assuming that they were all late because they were coming from this incamera meeting that was held to consider:

  • Labour relations
  • Acquisition/Disposition of land and or improvements
  • A new municipal service

Originally it was just for “Municipal Service” and so I’m guessing the other two bullets were added late. Speaking of Incamera meetings, I’ve been waiting for more than a month for a response to this email I sent in June asking for more clarity on their incamera disclosure process.

*Note – I brought up my email in discussion with staff while at City Hall a few weeks back and was told that a response was drafted & forthcoming.

Why do I mention this? I do so because the city likes to praise themselves for their open data efforts and yet, something as basic as a set standard for where and how to reveal decisions made incamera isn’t yet established. I say this based on a subsequent conversation with Ms. Hamilton where she committed to responding to my original email and suggested that such a process (e.g., standardized ways of revealing incamera information) is still very much in process. Which is odd to me because you wouldn’t typically think that such a system should be so difficult. Especially when you’ve already praised yourselves for having created it back in 2014:

Open Meeting City Standards

See pages 11 – 12 in this document for more information):

So what was supposed to happen this morning in PLUC?

Mayor Helps started the meeting by saying she had to go in 10 minutes and everyone had to go with her for an important funding announcement. And as promised, they all got up and left at 9:10am. I tried to ask where they were going and it was revealed that a van was available for transportation to the location. When I asked if I could go in the van with them, I was told by the Director of Recreation that it “was only for council”. I persisted in my efforts to try and find out where they were going, but everyone pretty much ignored me.

And that pissed me off. It also made me wonder, just how Council, in their observing me attend every single one of their meetings over the past 6 months, did not think to invite me along (as the one person covering all their business) to this very special funding announcement of theirs? Everyone knows that I live tweet and everyone on Council with Twitter knows that I provide running commentary via Twitter of what goes on in Council and committee meetings. Do they not see the value in that?

I was thinking this morning that maybe their not seeing value in my work is because I’ve never explained to them what I’m trying to do – but then why does someone showing up and publicizing and analysing everything that happens in the Victoria City Council chamber really need explanation?

If Council are indeed our decision makers, shouldn’t they be excited to have someone like me who reliably shows up and reliably communicates out to the public what’s going on? I mean, sure, I recognize that my 650+ followers on Twitter pales in comparison to the 7,300+ followers of Mayor Helps. But I could easily have more if Council would simply retweet my tweets when I tag them (e.g., quote them in twitter speak) especially since their retweeting my work would also provide free advertising to them since I’m just tweeting what they say at Council.

Do they not want advertising?

Do they not want comment on their actions?

Do they not want to know how their actions come across?

Do they not want to be the best governors possible?

Moving on. Video from today’s 47 minute meeting is here.

2280 Forbes Street – Rezoning

Mayor Helps attempted to place this proposal to rezone the property to authorize a two lot subdivision and construct one new house on a small lot on the Consent Agenda. Associated with this proposal is a Development Permit with Variances application to authorize the design and siting of a new house on the new small lot.

However, Councillor Young pulled it off because he had some concerns about the size and orientation of the proposed new house on the proposed new lot. He was told however, that staff are satisfied that there will be no invasion of privacy because the part of the new house facing the existing houses is not “liveable space”

The staff recommendations were then moved and passed:

that Council instruct staff to prepare the necessary Zoning Regulation Bylaw Amendment that would authorize the proposed development outlined in Rezoning Application No. 00480 for 2280 Forbes Street, that first and second reading of the Zoning Regulation Bylaw Amendment be considered by Council and a Public Hearing date be set.

AND

That Council authorize the issuance of Development Permit Application No. 00480 for 2280 Forbes Street, in accordance with: 1. Plans date stamped July 7, 2015. 2. Development meeting all Zoning Regulation Bylaw requirements, except for the following variances:

Small Lot House (Proposed Lot 1)

i. Part 1.23 (8)(c): Reduce the side yard setback from 2.4m to 1.50m;

ii. Part 1.23 (8)(c): Reduce the side yard setback from 2.4m to 1.73m;

Existing House (Proposed Lot 2)

iii. Part 1.2, Section 1.2.2 (b): Reduce the lot width from 15m to 11,95m;

iv. Part 1.2, Section 1.2.5(c): Reduce the side yard setback from 3.0m to 1,5m;

v. Part 1.2, Section 1.2.5(d): Reduce the combined side yard setbacks from 4.50m to 3.04m;

Accessory Building

vi. Schedule “F” (4)(b): Reduce the side yard setback of an accessory building on Lot 1 and Lot 2 from 0.6m to 0m. 3. The Development Permit lapsing two years from the date of this resolution.

This took maybe 3 minutes.

330 Irving Road – DP with Variances

Mayor Helps tried to pass application to authorize the design of a one-storey house on a panhandle lot to the rear of an existing house on the Consent Agenda but Councillor Madoff pulled it off because “she knows everyone has likely received lots of emails on recent changes in their neighbourhood”. But then the only question she asked, was for a reminder on city standards specific to City standards. She was told that city standards were changed after previous issues with panhandle lots and that this property at 330 Irving is not an issue (e..g, satisfies current city standards).

Staff recommendations that were passed by Council including:

That Council authorize the issuance of Development Permit Application No. 000419 for 330 Irving Road, in accordance with:

  1. Plans date stamped June 2, 2015.
  2. Development meeting all Zoning Regulation Bylaw requirements, except for the following variances:
    1. Section l .6.5 e. south side yard setback reduced from 3.21 m to 1.61 m;
    2. Section 1.6.5 f. combined side yard setbacks reduced from 5.4m to 3.61m;
  3. The Development Permit lapsing two years from the date of this resolution.”  

This took maybe three minutes.

We shall have to see what happens at the Public Hearing.

613 Herald Street – DP with Variances

There was a super brief presentation from their “senior urban planner” on this application to authorize the design of a five-storey, mixed-use building with ground-floor retail fronting Herald Street and residential uses above. Because Councillor’s Madoff and Thornton-Joe were concerned about this building needing to better represent the historic core of the heritage Chinatown, they amended the staff recommendation to require additional review of this proposal by the Advisory Design Panel.

Mayor Helps then advised that once this review is complete that it would come forward to Council for consideration as unfinished business. When it does, Councillor Young requested that all associated background with this project be provided. The staff recommendation was then passed with a slight amendment:

Staff recommend that Committee forward this report to Council and that Council refer the Application to the Advisory Design Panel, with a request that the Panel provide a complete review and pay particular attention to the following:

  • the exterior finishes of the building as they relate to the Old Town Guidelines
  • the opportunity to provide a greater articulation of the upper-portion of the building.

That Council authorize the issuance of Development Permit Application No. 000377 for 613 Herald Street in accordance with:

  1. Plans date stamped June 18, 2015.
  2. Development meeting all Zoning Regulation Bylaw requirements, except for the following variances:
    1. Section 6.6.1 – Increase the maximum building height from 15m to 15.86m
    2. Section 6.8.3(b) – Reduce the front yard setback above 10m from 1.07m to 0.10m
    3. Section 6.8.5 – Reduce the minimum side yard setback from 4.50m to 0
    4. Section 6.8.6(ii) – Reduce the number of vehicle parking spaces from 70% of the number of dwelling units (21 spaces) to 40% (12 spaces)
  3. The submission of revised plans that address comments from the Advisory Design Panel to the satisfaction of City Staff.
  4. Removal of the Section 219 Covenant requirement for a car share vehicle.
  5. The applicant entering into a car share agreement with MODO to secure car share memberships for each unit.
  6. That a Car Share Agreement is in place to the satisfaction of MODO that will secure the fulfilment of the agreement in accordance with their standard practice.
  7. Council authorizing anchor-pinning into the City right-of-way provided that the applicant enters into an Encroachment Agreement in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor and the Director of Engineering and Public Works.
  8. Receipt of evidence that the Application is in compliance with the Ministry of Environment’s Environmental Management Act as it pertains to potentially contaminated sites.
  9. Final plans to be in accordance with the plans identified above to the satisfaction of City Staff.
  10. The Development Permit lapsing two years from the date of this resolution.”

Madoff was opposed – Alto, Isitt & Coleman were absent.

Looking at the staff report, you see that a Development Permit was originally approved for the property of 613 Herald Street back in 2009 but nothing was ever built and from what I understand, the current developers have been working for the past two years to try and get something built at what is currently, and has likely been for a while, an empty lot. I’m guessing the property was recently acquired by the current developers.

613 Herald Building

The current proposal

I must say, that when I first looked at the proposal for 613 Herald earlier this week, I thought “looks just like all the other new buildings in the area, and if anything possibly more historically representative of Chinatown than the other new buildings around it. Take for instance, 1725 Government street – it’s neighbour:

1725 Government St

Or the Union Building between Fisgard & Pandora:

Union Building 2015

I remember the first time I saw the Union building. Fun story.

We had been living outside of the city for a few years and the first time I walked by the Union building my immediate thought was: “what the hell is this building doing in the heart of Chinatown?” I mean like sure, heritage facades have been maintained on Pandora, but they sure haven’t along Fisgard, the actual heart of Chinatown.

And yet, the current proposal for 613 Herald Street was essentially rejected by PLUC today (even though it was moved ahead for consideration by the Advisory Design Panel) because everyone was concerned it didn’t reflect the historical character of Chinatown, given its “prominent” location and all. I saw “essentially rejected” because the developers today were not given any indication that their property has a chance or yet moving forward.

And on the issue of “prominence” I took a look at the actual boundaries of Chinatown (see Old Town Guidelines) and in doing so I’d argue that the Union building occupies a far more prominent location than 613 Herald St, especially if you’re thinking in terms of folks traveling to Chinatown from downtown.

Chinatown Boundary - Old Town Guidelines

So what gives?

I would say that PLUC’s consideration of 613 Herald today and staffs presentation to PLUC of information related to 613 Herald really truly illustrated the amateur and old school ways in which the City of Victoria approaches Land Use Development and Planning. Here we had a project with at least an 8 year history with the city and all that was provided for PLUC consideration was a brief 8 page report that concluded thusly:

The Application would allow for a five-storey, mixed-used development on a vacant site within Old Town. The proposal is in keeping with the immediate context in terms of scale and massing. While there are opportunities for improvement in the quality of the exterior finishes and materials, Staff feel these can be addressed with a review by the Advisory Design Panel.

But PLUC didn’t agree.

Where Councillor Young made sure to ask questions of “what to expect from the Advisory Design panel going forward” I have also noted in my time observing Council, disappointment from them with respect to the level of attention paid to proposals by the panel. The specific role of the panel is outlined in the City’s Land Use Procedures Bylaw which sets out how proposals can come before the panel either directly from staff, or from PLUC. In this case, staff spoke this morning of how they “didn’t want to hold up” 613 Herald further, hence their bringing it before Council today.

But then in bringing it forward, they did a shit job of providing a comprehensive history of relevant interactions between staff, the developer and the Downtown Residents Association (the relevant CALUC). And this was something they should have done because PLUC opinion on this proposal this morning turned on the July 8 CALUC letter which as Madoff noted, was notable for how she couldn’t remember a previous time when this CALUC did not support a proposal. She also had this to say:

Madoff - 613 Herald

It was later suggested to me by the applicant, that concerns raised by the CALUC (in their July 8 letter) had in fact already been addressed by the current designs for 613 Herald and that based on their own interactions with the CALUC (spanning over many years it seems), the applicants had thought all outstanding concerns were addressed. So they were surprised by the inclusion of the July 8th CALUC letter because apparently staff didn’t even let them know it would be on the agenda. Which isn’t helpful or professional.

And this would not matter if the City had a committee format similar to the District of Saanich whereby applicants get to talk directly to Council at the start of the process (e.g., PLUC) and the public also gets to weigh in right then & there. Instead, the city system is that applicants can only talk at the PUBLIC HEARING where final decisions on projects are made shortly thereafter. This makes for a silly, highly ineffective system that lacks the coherence and predictability that our development sector requires because when development is unpredictable, financing monies go elsewhere.

Such a theme was indeed highlighted at the recent City Development Summit where it was emphasized how many big project developers have to go $250,000 in the hole with multiple iterations of design plans before they can even get building.

Seems serious to me.

What is even more serious is the apparent and oftentimes evident disinterest and seeming lack of comprehension by Council for their land use and planning responsibilities. One Councillor in a recent conversation with me the other day even went so far as to say “I’m not interested in land use and planning – I prefer big picture thinking instead”.  This isn’t good.

I’d argue that it also is not legal because the legal tenets of local government development law require that everybody deserves an equal opportunity for consideration by council according to set rules. This doesn’t happen when Council fails to either engage and or engages so far that they make up their own rules as they go, oftentimes while staff sit idly by. Related to this, I must say that it was interesting when I tried to raise this issue with the City Solicitor while at the Development Summit because he coughed in offence when I suggested that Council required more education and training to adequately fulfill their roles as arbiters of our landscape.

He went so far as to suggest that Council consideration is the “most predictable part” of the development process. What do you think?

TL:DR

I was given reason to believe only a select portion of details relevant to Council approval/disapprove of 613 Herald were provided by staff to PLUC today and as a result, PLUC formed a narrow opinion that failed to respect what seem to be professional efforts to fill a long empty lot in a “prominent location” in Chinatown.

Mandatory Seismic Upgrading Bylaw

It was a good thing I didn’t attempt to predict what would happen in response to this report from staff, which itself was a response to a strategic objective of Council that implications of mandatory seismic upgrading be explored. Staff ended up seemingly dumfounded this morning when two councillors ended up declaring Conflict of Interest because they work in downtown buildings and Council lost quorum (because Isitt, Alto & Coleman were absent).

Or maybe it was all a game – I don’t know.

The staff report was thus postponed and Helps explained the situation by saying “this is just the nature of what happens sometimes”. I must say, after sitting through Saanich Council on Monday where both Richard Attwell and Fred Hayes professed no conflict of interest about advocating on behalf of a property owner who provided $10,000 & $5,000 for  their campaigns, city reasons for conflict are lame.

Liquor License Application Related Items

Both the  report to seek Council approval for a permanent change to license a 60 person Special Events Area inside the Vancouver Island Brewery and the report to seek Council approval for a small dance floor within the existing restaurant (O Bistro) at the Oswego Hotel for Patron Participation were quickly approved.

 

Consent Agenda

The development permit application for C8-1 Dallas Road to authorize an addition to a float home located at Fisherman’s Wharf went through on the consent agenda – so did the Development Variance Permit for 361 and 363 Foul Bay Road for an application to authorize the design of a two-car garage in the rear yard of the property.

 

 

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