March 19 PLUC Summary & Observations

I got approached by Katie Hamilton, Director Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning after the meeting. She first asked that I not tweet about staff, and then she sat down to ask how I was doing and inquire about my long term plans. She seemed  very nice and genuine but she caught me off guard and this led only to awkward rambly mumbles from my side.

It also made me forget what I wrote about her the other day. 

So what happened at the meeting this morning? Even less than I thought when I spent 7 hours on my Early Thoughts yesterday. Here is the video of the meeting that was 37 minutes long.

Consent Agenda

Prior to the start of the meeting, Councillors Alto and Coleman were joking around about what they could pass through on the consent agenda – that is, what items could they pass without discussion. Putting the crassness of their actions aside, I just want to emphasize again the administrative impracticality of the consent agenda and wonder if there is a Vic staffer somewhere keeping track of what sort of items get passed on the consent agenda so that similar items just don’t come forward in the future?

I say this because it must suck to go out of your way to attend a meeting to hear a particular item be discussed and then find out as soon as the damn meeting starts that your item was just passed and accepted. A number of people who had come all the way down to the meeting left after the consent agenda was passed.

What was on the Consent Agenda? The DP with variances for 549 Toronto St and the master plan timeline extension for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

Liquor Store for 1609 Fort Street

This proposal was passed without any actual discussion by Council which means the rezoning bylaw (not written yet) to permit a liquor store in the existing zone (C1-J Limited Commercial Junction District) will likely receive first reading on April 16th after Council authorizes the recommendation to move forward at their meeting on March 26th.

And then the public hearing will occur some time after that.

People need their booze!

DP with Variances 120 Gorge Road East

As mentioned yesterday, this is a development application to authorize the design, siting and landscaping for the second phase of a supportive housing development (Seim Velum) with the construction of a three-storey building consisting of 15 apartment units and a separate one-storey building in the Burnside-Gorge Neighbourhood.

Staff casually mentioned during their presentation that the city is in the process of selling the site, and if you want more detail on this you need to check out the recent 4th quarter operational update from the City of Victoria, where it is noted on page 5 that Siem Lelum is a responsibility of the Engineering and Public Works Department. Within this documented it is noted that a completed sale is anticipated in Q 2 2015 as staff are currently waiting on BC Housing to complete review of closing documents before title can be transferred to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.

I wonder why Legislative and Regulatory Services isn’t managing this transfer since they have the property management arm and all?

As for Council questions on this issue, they all circled around how the staff report did not include any streetscape imagery of the proposed development. In the words of Councillor Madoff, such imagery is needed so that they “public knows what to expect”.

Councillor Madoff then proceeded to ask what for me was an odd question – given her many years on Council – when she sought staff direction on the process involved in Development Permit with Variances such as the one requested for 120 Gorge. Staff indicated that adjacent neighbours would be notified and a public hearing will be held.

Mind you, if you search “DP with variances” in the City website all you get is this application package… there is no straight forward page that provides you with general guidance of what to expect – such as what is available for the District of Squamish with their development 101 section. 

The proposal at 120 Gorge was approved to move forward for Council consideration on Thursday March 26th.

Heritage Alteration Permit 151 Oswego

In comparison to the other two staff presentations, the heritage planner Murray G Miler was pleasant and spoke to be understood as he discussed recent happenings (staff report here) at this property. His candour was actually quite amusing as he recounted the number of public complaints received regarding perceived inappropriate actions by the builder/owner of this site.

Mr. Miller spoke in some detail of how staff have continued to work with the owner to provided consistent interpretation of the original Heritage Revitalization agreement. He also recounted how public complaints were received:

  • in August 2014 about removal of the chimneys,
  • in October 2014 about removal of the addition to the heritage home, and
  • in early 2015 about non heritage compliant windows.

One other thing of note, said by Mr. Miller, is that staff have been working with the owner of 151 Oswego (since August/October 2014 I’m not sure) to provide all necessary minor permits so that heritage restoration work could continue at the site.

It was then in this context that Councillor Madoff quickly took charge of the questioning, but then things quickly went odd  when she made a motion to go incamera for legal advice.

It should be noted that nowhere in this brief public discussion was it mentioned that the heritage house at 151 Oswego has had new owners since summer of 2014 – right after the rezoning request (to permit a small lot house) went through and the property is now zoned R1-S2 Restricted Small Lot (two storey) District. As of today mind you, the proposed small lot subdivision has not gone through and work has not begun on the second house.

I know because I just came back from a drive in the rain to check it out since the second house was not mentioned by staff today.

Regarding Councillor Madoff’s request for “legal advice” I’m really curious what she may have been after and I say this for three reasons:

1) The way the Heritage Revitalization Agreement is written is that compliance with national  Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada are incentivized by a legal tie into occupancy of the second house – e.g., new house cannot be occupied until proper heritage restoration is complete. The new house has not been started and may not since the original applicant sold the house, which is to say, are there still teeth to the agreement?

2) Staff have been dealing with a series of non-compliant actions by the owner of 151 Oswego street for 8 months now, since August of 2014. Given that staff, the planning professionals, are now satisfied with current works at the site and don’t see any grounds themselves for legal action, what grounds may there be? I myself took a look again at the City’s Clean Hand policy (the what to do with bad builder guide) and as discussed before, general practice in accordance with this policy is to step back from any enforcement actions once compliance has been received. In this case, compliance has been achieved.

Furthermore, the issue of any previous non-compliance has been an active staff issue for 8 months. Which is to say, if Council are worried now and want to inflict any sort of penalty, the penalty should be against staff for a) not managing the file properly (e..g, with the ownership transition) and b) not telling Council about for 8 months.

No?

3) The staff recommendation is that Council issue a Heritage Alteration Permit (HAP) and amend the Heritage Revitalization agreement, yet it is never made especially clear in the report what the HAP is for, or what the amendment may be. If this isn’t clear, legal action won’t be either.

Ultimately, the following motion was announced by Councillor Madoff once they came back from their incamera meeting:

That consideration of Heritage Alteration Permit No. 00197 for 151 Oswego Street be postponed pending receipt of written legal advice. 

Reconsideration 845 Yates Street

This piece of new business from Mayor Helps and Councillor Alto regarding a Development Permit Application that was rejected in 2014 by Victoria Council for the Wave Building on Yates Street – was quickly passed which means that the Strata corporation are now free to submit a new DP application that is substantially similar to the one they submitted in 2014. They must also pay the fees again, which are probably at least $1,000 (see last page in doc).

Of note is that $1000 is also their current monthly cost for the scaffolding that has been up against their building for the past few years to prevent falling tiles from hitting anyone in the head.

Long story short, Mayor Helps has paved the way for these folks to go through an onerous process again in the hopes that they will be allowed to remove a failing mural from their building and replace it with a much safer mural. No promises on this being granted though.

Similar to the concerns I raised yesterday when I was preparing my extensive thoughts on the issue, a number of the Councillors requested that the entire file history be provided when the DP comes back to Council for consideration.

On the issue of why the Strata had not been allowed to proceed with just a minor DP, I actually chatted with them yesterday about the rationale they were given by staff. Apparently, staff considered the replacement of a Tile mural with a painted mural to be a “material change” and this is why the full DP was required.

Very unfortunate indeed.

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