It was quite the Council meeting on Thursday night and not just because there was a big agenda. Lots of other things happened. There was one moment in particular that was especially bizarre and led to me getting up as part of the Public Hearing for 120 Gorge Road and saying to Council: “You should be better than this!”
It was simultaneously odd and appalling (video here).
So what all happened?
The meeting started with a very intense poem from Zoe Duhaime, the City’s Youth poet laureate about fear and seemingly the death of her father from cancer. It was very beautiful, powerful and haunting.
Gave me big time shivers of appreciation for the young lady’s craft.
Public Hearing # 1: RoundHouse Development
I must confess I still don’t understand what exactly is up, has gone on and or what is now different about the proposed Roundhouse development in Vic West. I also don’t understand what’s held the property up for so long given that it was first rezoned in 2008 and I certainly found it interesting when Mayor Helps prefaced her vote of support for the project by saying that she “is concerned about the economics of the project”. Anyone know what this meant?
I do know, that as a resident of Vic West it will be nice to have locally accessible good quality shops nearby because its really tedious to have to drive so far to get the foods I need (e.g., good quality organic whole foods for a decent price). It would have been nice to hear some sort of a timeline last night for when this will be available.
No such luck though.
When the Roundhouse developers were speaking to Council they emphasized how their development will be a community driven space with a strong retail market designed to not only provide services for Vic West residents but also provide a reason for other Victorians to venture out to Vic West. Which is a good idea.
With respect to the actual roundhouse and railway tracks that currently exist at the Roundhouse site, it sounds like there are plans for an actual railway terminal to be created at the Roundhouse, if and when the E&N rail gets going. And it was because of this that Councillor Isitt recused himself from consideration of this item last night because he is the Council rep to the Island Corridor Foundation. Related to this, I note that the Roundhouse developers were granted their requested variance for relaxation of a railway distance easement from 10 m to 1m. But in actuality, I’m not quite sure what this means. It was never explained last night.
The existing comprehensive site zoning bylaw is here.
Speakers to the Public Hearing had the following comments:
- Excitement about preservation & promotion of heritage.
- Excitement about new retail opportunities and services.
- Excitement about how development will bring more folks out.
- Praise for the consultative process of the developers.
- Concern from one nearby resident who wondered about who will be targeted for each of the proposed residential units at the site (which don’t seem to be defined) and it should be noted that this concern wasn’t directly answered by the developer.
- Question of what sort of spaces will be made available for young children at the site – which also was not really answered. It was just said that there will be lots of open space and interpretative opportunities regarding the history of the railway. Of note is that it was also mentioned last night how Vic West is one of the last neighbourhoods that is affordable for young families. No actual connection was made between this and the Roundhouse though.
Council questions last night included:
There was concern about the new proposed roadway from Esquimalt down to Sitkum road which led to a response from the developers that they always advocate “multi-modality” of their streets. Which is also conveniently a new commitment of our mayor and Council (See Objective # 9 in the 2015-18 Strategic Plan). Here is a site map showing the new proposed access from Esquimalt:
There was a concerted and ultimately failed effort by Councillor Madoff to require the developers to restore two of their many sets of doors at the site to their original condition because the Roundhouse site is apparently a national historic site. The whole thing was a tad obscure and I must admit it I chuckled when the crowd booed Madoff after said she was sad that she couldn’t support the Roundhouse (after she already voted to support the Roundhouse) as a result of not getting support for her door specific motion.
Mayor Helps summed things up regarding the proposed staff recommendations for the site by saying “everyone loves it and has nothing to say”. Every component of the staff recommendation as listed in the agenda section for this item, save for the heritage alteration permit for reasons mentioned above, was then passed with the unanimous support of Council (Coleman & Young were absent while Isitt was sitting this item out). The majority of folks in attendance then left the chambers at 8:20pm last night once the Roundhouse proposal was approved.
Public Hearing # 2: 2121 Douglas Street
Both the staff and developer presentation for this item was super brief and there were no speakers for the public hearing either. What was up for decision was a rezoning to allow for additional use at the site and appropriateness of proposed updates to the building exterior and landscaping at the site.
With Helps out for a historical conflict of interest and Madoff in the chair this issue was quickly passed through by Council. Of note is that Isitt took an opportunity to speak to this item by commenting how he thinks the site is actually more appropriate for mixed used moderate density buildings than single storey office type buildings (shown above). He then made sure to clarify that he supports the need for “interim use for economic reasons” at 2121 Douglas Street.
His comments seemed unnecessary but maybe they weren’t. And I say this because it was never really discussed last night how and why this seemingly simple proposal has languished in the background since early 2014. Yet it was passed by Council in under 11 minutes. I tried to check the City’s new Development tracker for some more background information but couldn’t find anything so I called up Brian Sikstrom the City Planner responsible for the file.
Mr. Sikstrom said it’s been on the back burner because the applicant took a long time to work through the Ministry of Environment approval process related to how the site was previously a gas station. Which made sense. He also suggested that perhaps 2121 Douglas was only down from the Development tracker because it was being updated. He said he’d check it out though.
Public Hearing # 3: 821-27 Broughton Street
This item was also dealt with super quickly (in less than 7 minutes). The brief applicant & staff presentation spoke only of how a new downstairs bike storage unit will be being built to accommodate for how a 4 stall parking variance is required before a new dentist’s office can be started in an under-utilized heritage building on Broughton (shown below).
Of note is that Thornton-Joe made an interesting comment about how this site on Broughton is actually part of the Fairfield Gonzales Neighbourhood and not the downtown neighbourhood so it is misleading to always refer to sites such as these as being “downtown”. This all then led to another Ben style comment/question from Isitt about: What would the process be for the City to redraw it’s neighbourhood boundaries?
After getting a non answer the Acting Planning Director about how the downtown confusion comes from how the Downtown Core Area Plan extends up to this part of Broughton, Isitt tried again by suggesting that the issue of redrawing of neighbourhood boundaries had been ‘flagged” when the 2012 OCP was introduced.
The City Manager then responded with his favourite catch phrase of: “we’ll get back to you.” And so we shall see if and when he does.
Public Hearing # 4: 120 Gorge Road East
The architect representing this this item (phase 2 of Siem Lelum House) was a young guy who revealed that his nerves were a result of this being his 1st Public Hearing. He then went on to use nearly his entire 20 minutes (e.g., the full time available to applicants which is typically only used in its entirety by major project developers) to make a scattered and rambly presentation about the project.
The original staff report on this project is here. Up for Council consideration last night was the appropriateness of the variances being requested for increased site coverage, increased number of buildings and decreased parking at the site as part of phase 2 construction for the creation of a new family & elder tower as well as a new community building in addition to the existing 26 units onsite.
On the issue of the parking variance being requested, the architect spoke of how 120 Gorge Road has “Outstanding connectivity” with some 600 buses passing nearby everyday and this was mentioned because all tenants at this affordable housing site are required to sign a tenancy agreement declaring that there is no parking available on the site (see condition # 8 on page 8 of their Tenancy agreement). ** It is worth noting that even the Burnside Gorge CALUC were aware of this restriction where they reviewed the proposed phase 2 of the Siem Lelum house
Things then turned awkwardly chaotic when Mayor Helps reasonably demanded to know who, why and how was it decided that residents of the soon to be 41 units (up from the original 26 units) at 120 Gorge road are unable to utilize existing parking spots available on site. And she did so because one man who spoke at the Public Hearing made mention of how a number of dodgy vehicles (associated with the mix of 26 phase 1 units currently at the site) have been simply parking on Balfour avenue instead.
Remember the tenancy agreement about no parking.
No one from Balfour was there to complain last night mind you. Which is my way of suggesting the issue of parking, really isn’t an issue. So why do I mention this?
Remember the tenancy agreement about no parking.
I mention the issue of parking because as discussed on pages 4-5 of the March staff report for this proposal, it is highlighted how the existing 12 sites at the space are believed to only be being used by visitors, staff and for drop off and pick up. Prior to this a December 2014 letter from the architect to the City also justified the requested parking variance by emphasizing how “substantial parking variances” have been granted to other similar affordable housing projects (see bottom of page 12 where the case is made, hey you don’t make other affordable housing groups provide parking so why should we?). Which makes sense from a procedural fairness perspective.
It was in this context that things got really odd and awkward. Helps was demanding answers and no one on staff was moving. Neither staff nor the Siem Lelum reps were able to explain why this parking that wasn’t thought to be needed by residents, should actually be made available to residents especially in the current context of their tenancy agreement prohibiting parking on site. Nor was the property manager able to say how many of his tenants currently have vehicles but he was quick to declare that he would tow any car belonging the existing 26 units at 120 Gorge if they parked on site.
When Mayor Helps then suggested that the remaining 10 parking spots (2 being used for the two staffers) at 120 Gorge road be made immediately available for use by residents of the existing 26 units at the site, both the property manager and the Executive Director of the Native Friendship Centre expressed their excitement for Council. No mention was made mind you of how this new parking benefit would be managed or allocated to residents of the total 41 units once construction is completed.
Mayor Helps then moved to close the Public Hearing but I put my hand up to speak and was permitted to do so by Mr. Woodland because of how new information had been made available (e.g., the whole parking thing). So I got up to speak and express my disappointment with how poorly the city manages its development related information. Case in point is, how can Council determine the “appropriateness” of a parking variance when they don’t even have full information about parking on the site (e.g., that a tenancy agreement exists prohibiting residents from parking cars in spots no one thought they had, on site).
And secondly, I spoke of how frustrating it is as an observer to continuously watch Council struggle with issues of site parking variances within the context of procedural fairness which requires a consistent process. To illustrate my point I mentioned how disconsonant their treatment of 120 Gorge Road East has been with their treatment of the larger affordable housing development with significantly less parking (e.g., Dockside Green) they recently moved forward. This was something I previously wrote about at length in my May 28th PLUC Summary and Observations blog report.
Mind you I’m not sure I was able to make a clear case last night because I was speaking off the cuff and I was rather agitated by how surreal the whole thing was and also appalled by how poorly Council meetings are managed. Seriously! Writing this now I just want to emphasize how silly it was for Council to provide for affordable housing parking on a major thoroughfare like Gorge Road East and then not provide any parking for a relatively isolated and already parking challenged site like Dockside Green, which is stuck between two narrow roads with much less frequent bus service available to residents.
What else happened with this property on Thursday?
Also related to the tenancy agreements signed by residents, concern was raised for how residents prohibited from smoking within their units apparently congregate instead along the street to smoke their cigarettes and pot. This led to a comment from Thornton-Joe of how she supports the Siem Lelum (respectful house) project but wants to see that residents also respect their neighbours.
The staff recommendation as listed in the agenda was then passed.
In addition to the staff recommendations that were passed Thornton-Joe motivated an additional item that was supported by Council requiring the City to “consider” extending a sidewalk from the Siem Lelum driveway to Gorge road upon consultation with the Burnside Gorge community association to ensure a new sidewalk in the location would not disturb a large tree that is currently in the boulevard. I had to watch the video again to confirm the exact wording of this motion. In looking again at the latest staff report (specifically pgs 5-6 at the April 28th letter from the applicants) it appears as though Thornton -Joe is requesting that the City do work that the applicants have refused.
**On the issue of no on-site parking being available to residents of 120 Gorge Road East, my one thought is that perhaps the limitation is a condition of the original Housing agreement (considered by Council at a January 26, 2012) meeting whereby only heat, water & electricity are listed as services included in the rent with the idea being that providing for parking makes for a more expensive site.
This idea of onsite parking making for more expensive developments was emphasized on Thursday by Loveday who spoke of how the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force will be coming forward with recommendations for a firm policy commitment (instead of general practice such as been the case until Thursday) to not providing onsite parking for all future affordable housing developments.
Public Hearing # 5: 1015 Rockland
The staff and applicant presentation on this item were super brief. As noted in the most recent staff report, up for consideration was appropriateness of variances being requested for a minor reduction in site parking and a minor increase in site coverage as a result of structural design changes necessary to increase the seismic integrity of the four storey 14 unit residential building. No one spoke at the public hearing and council passed the staff recommendations with no questions or discussion.
Other Stuff on the Agenda
There were some interesting speakers last night. There were ladies from this new pedestrian advocacy group called “Walk on Victoria” who were looking for in-kind support from Council for a Walk On Week that they will be holding October 5-11th. Fun fact about me is that when I lived up north in a place called Fort Nelson, I was known by the towns’ four thousand residents as the “girl who walks”.
Andrew Wynn-Williams, Executive Director for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness spoke of how he’d taken the city’s Housing Action Plan around to local homeless residents to get their feedback. With that feedback in hand he cautioned strongly against Council advertising micro-housing as catch all solution because apparently the applicability of their particular model is quite limited. He then applauded the City for their efforts to address “the crisis situation” but also recommended that they remain committed to the longer term solutions that fall within the purview of his coalition.
Of note is that subsequent Council discussion of the Housing Action Plan was again stilted because they had to pull section 2b (related to the long term actions of the Coalition) since there were only 6 of the 8 councillors in attendance last night. Apparently this section of the Action Plan will be finally considered on July23rd when all Councillors are again in attendance. Related to this, apparently the amendments to the parks regulation bylaw noted in the Action plan will be coming to GPC in July – perhaps on the 16th for final approval on the 23rd? We shall have to see.
Other things of interest last night included:
I didn’t catch his name but there was a pretty cool guy who showed up in a tee-shirt to ask for changes to the pedi-cab licensing scheme. I enjoyed him because he quoted previous media interviews where Isitt and Mr. Woodland spoke on the issue of pedi-cab licensing. Sounds like one company apparently holds all the pedi-cab licenses in town.
Councillor Alto pushed for further amendments to the City’s application process for the annual $36,000 in funding for community gardens to be made available in 2016. This was only notable for the sheer amount of confusion displayed by Council on the whole thing and I mention this because the grant is solely the product of Council – which is to say, they made it so they should understand it.
When discussing the Housing Action Plan, Isitt suggested that a temporary micro-housing village in Topaz Park would be a good idea (this was generally supported by others) and spoke further of how having such a facility block access to playing fields would be a good way of getting folks to petition the premier to do more about social housing.
There was a bit of a back and forth between Alto and Isitt who disagreed on who to support for leading installation and management of any future micro-housing village in Victoria. Where Alto wanted to “step back and let a local newly forming group lead, Isitt spoke more sense in suggesting that the City work instead with more established, professional and experienced micro-housing groups.
Madoff tried to push for clarity on that vague motion that Alto passed last week (see item 3(2)) and staff ended up saying that they haven’t done anything with the motion from last week and that they’ll be bringing a report back to Council on what a possible consultation process may look like. Related to this, staff didn’t have an answer for Mayor Helps when she asked for clear reporting on “what starts tomorrow” in relation to the portions of the Housing action plan being approved are approved (e.g., everything but section 2b). She was told that a report on implementation of the plan will be coming in two weeks because time is still needed for staff to “wrap their heads around” things.
Mayor Helps concluded the discussion by expressing her desire for Victoria to be a “national leader for creative crisis housing solutions” and also expressed a preference for having the City “choose a site sooner than later” in order to get the community more on side (for both a regulated tent city & a micro-housing village I assume)? This wasn’t specified on Thursday but I know both components are in the Action Plan.
Lucas made another passionate demand, declaring that it is poor form to delve into the Housing Action Plan without first taking a fulsome look at City-wide and staff resources currently being committed to, as well as available for emergency housing related efforts. She was mostly ignored for doing so.
Mind you, Thornton-Joe actually picked up a small thread Lucas’s argument when she attempted to seek clarity from staff on what internal resources are currently being directed to this issue of folks sheltering in parks? Her reason for doing so being that, she doesn’t want other city initiatives to be held up as a result (editors note: You know – given that they recently approved a 2015 budget that included nothing about the whole Housing Action Plan). The vague response from the City Manager was that “we understanding Council priorities and will be acting as such”.
Of note is that this issue of needing an equitable distribution of City resources to all community groups was something I wrote about a few months back when I was initially reviewing the City’s strategic plan – particularly Objective 7: Facilitate Social Inclusion and Community Wellness where its clearly illustrated how the City seems to have a selective focus on community wellness. But then again I guess that’s because everyone else can take care of themselves. What do you think?
The public section of the Council meeting ended at 11:02pm.
So folks – is there really a crisis in our streets?
Is it the same crisis that Council sees?
Questions That Jaclyn Asked Council
I got up to ask if the City can make their development related information easier to access online, like how they do in Saanich. Related to this I also complained about the inadequacy of the notices sent by the City as part of the legislated notification requirement for new developments. Surprisingly, Mayor Helps also backed me on this one by requesting (not making a motion btw) that the City “do something” in response to the concerns I raised.
I then mentioned that I found city’s 2014 Annual report online and asked when the public opportunity for comment is to occur? This led to some confusion from Helps who soon received clarity from the Finance Director who said that public comment will be received at the next Council meeting. Both my partner and I will be making comments at this meeting. It will be exciting. I promise to explain why you should be excited as well.