It was a pretty standard Council meeting on Thursday (agenda here & video here). I really enjoyed the young piano players from the Royal Conservatory of Music who performed prior to the start of the meeting and I was glad that the meeting was over before 9pm. In general, there should really be a hard and fast rule that no public meetings go past 9pm in the first place.
So what happened?
The highest tension point of the evening was at the start of the evening when Mayor Helps endeavoured to have the 5 proclamations read. And interestingly enough if you look at the agenda today, there are actually 7 proclamations listed on the agenda which is somewhat odd and speaks to the lunacy of the existing system for Council proclamations.
Which is that there is no system.
Where I’ve written and tweeted many times before of Council’s willingness to proclaim anything you want them to, the issue of concern on Thursday came from Councillor Young. He was opposed to the proclamation of Victoria Harbour Ferry Day because as he explained, existing Council practice is to not make proclamations specific to commercial businesses like Harbour Ferries. And this makes sense because in general, Public Bodies like Council are not to publicly assist (endorse) local businesses because if they did endorse one (like Harbour Ferries) they would theoretically have to endorse every other business for the purpose of fairness.
Ultimately, Victoria Harbour Ferry Day was not proclaimed and Mayor Helps committed to bringing forward a proclamation policy to Council. Which will be good.
Council gave support to the rezoning and development permit with variances required for the installation and operation of an upscale and supposedly education focused liquor retail store at 1609 Fort Street (at the Pandora & Oab Bay intersection). It will apparently be owned and operated by a friendly couple, and it is said that the wife is an international wine judge. Mayor Helps supported this proposal and applauded the applicant’s commitment to “eating and drinking better, not more” and everyone else just agreed that 1609 Fort Street is a good place for a liquor store.
Council gave support for the rezoning of an existing 8 space daycare at 1733 Bank Street so that it can operate as a 16 space kindergarten. There were a couple of speakers at the Public Hearing in support of the rezoning, as well as one interesting fellow who got up to say that he finds the happy noises of 3-5 year olds “disturbing”. Mind you, he also managed to raise what seemed to be valid questions about Council’s interpretation and application of regulations specific to land use when he asked, what is the point of rules (e.g., those limiting the property owner to an 8 space daycare) if you don’t follow them?
Councillor Isitt actually picked up on a number of concerns raised by this fellow and asked that staff speak to this perception of rules possibly being broken or loosely applied. He was promptly told that the entire rezoning process being pursued by the property owner who wants to operate a kindergarten on a residential site, is evidence of proper process being followed.
But is it really?
What’s the point of having zones that specify appropriate location specific uses if you can just pay money to have these uses changed? I mean sure, rezoning involves a notification period and process that assumes each and every possibly impacted neighbour gets notified of the possible change, but as the odd duck (the guy disturbed by the noises of young children asked) from Thursday asked, what guarantee is there that the one voice of opposition from an immediate neighbour is given the same amount of weight as the 12 voices of support from the larger community?
We saw this the other week with the 18 storey rental building.
One other thing to note from Thursday, was how staff confirmed for Council, that if the owner of 1733 Bank street ever wants to extend her operations (currently M-F 7:30am – 5pm) this will be something that gets done through the province. And I mention this because I have heard Councillors speak of how there have apparently been issues with other daycare operations in the City who have done precisely that (e.g., get rezonings/ permits for certain hours of operation and then extend these hours of operation much to the neighbours disdain). And yet, they didn’t appear to be concerned about 1733 Bank Street.
Which is interesting.
I don’t have kids and so I don’t really know much about the regulations for in-house daycares and kindergartens. The applicant for 1733 Bank Street seemed like a nice lady and I’m sure she runs a good operation. She did say something curious on Thursday though, when she spoke of how she didn’t realize that she should have been collecting written statements of support for the requested rezoning of her property. And I mention this because, I would have thought that the city would provide 1st time applicants such as her with guidance on how to move through the rezoning process because rezonings especially for big developments are sophisticated affairs.
Council also heard on Thursday from the applicants for a liquor license primary application for the Helijet Terminal in James Bay. The most interesting thing about this presentation for me, was that apparently the Council and public agenda did not include the most recent version of the liquor license application. Which is unprofessional because, how can Council decide based on public feedback if they want to support a liquor license application when they don’t even have access to the proper version of the license being applied for?
Apparently this files comes back to Council in 2 weeks.
Requests to Address Council
There were two interesting speakers on Thursday. One was a Mr. Alan Calder with the Beacon Hill Little League association looking for Council support for a proper public regulation sized little league baseball field, and the other was a Mr. Jeff Hopkins of the Learningstorm Education Society requesting that Council consider the property tax rates for non-profits.
Mr. Calder was interesting because the issue of a proper public regulation sized little league field would have been a good fit for the new strategic plan and possibly the 2015 budget especially since it doesn’t sound as though much money is actually required.
Mr. Hopkins was interesting because Council only recently gave approval to their 2015 tax rates amidst considerable theatrics and yet the only public documents available about permissive tax exemptions is this 2015-16 application form.
Which I suppose is my long way of saying, I would have thought that the issue of property tax exemptions would have come up during the recent strategic planning and budgeting sessions. Good thing the province has since stepped up with a proposal to exempt all such school properties from municipal property tax.
I got up and asked some questions again.