Apologies for the delayed post. I had it written on Thursday but my partner made me rewrite it. He said my original was too cynical and that all I did was complain. When I tried to explain to him that my brief treatment of meeting items was reflective of the level of attention seemingly paid by Council, he said “that’s not good enough. I want you to do better”.
So I took today to think.
PLUC on Thursday was a frustrating meeting (video here). It also illustrated for me the inherent difficulties and limitations of having the same people sit around the same decision-making table for too long. And I say this for two reasons: 1) When you’re at the table for a long time you’ve got all the inside information and as a result you’re less likely to do any public summary or recap because, hey, you’ve been dealing with this issue for many years, and; 2) When an issue has been at the table for a long time, the last thing you want to do is really deal with it (or at leasts that’s the impression I get) so you assume it’s being dealt with.
Which is to say that both staff and council seemed rather apathetic on Thursday. I found that discouraging. So what all happened?
It was a big agenda and things started off with the usual back and forth on the consent agenda with Mayor Helps suggesting a list of items and Councillors pulling them off for various reasons, not all of which were intelligible to those of us in the audience, including the Acting Director of Planning who at one point was waving frantically trying to get their attention.
370 & 384 Harbour Road (Dockside Green)
Building on the momentum of their presentation to PLUC last month, there was a large contingent of Dockside Green representatives in the audience to observe PLUC deliberations related to the first new construction to happen at the Dockside Green construction site in many years. For those of you who don’t venture across the Johnson or Bay Street bridges, Dockside Green is a 15 acre site that has sat at 22% completion since, I believe, 2007.
Sure everybody loves Foi Epi and the in-house sewage treatment, but we Vic West residents haven’t been particular fans of having a massive dug-out, fenced-off set of city blocks as our community gateway for the past 8 years. Which is why, good process would presume, that local needs and concerns should be incorporated when considering not only the restart of such construction, but a wholesale redesign of original construction plans and requirements.
But this hasn’t seemed to be the case.
And this was compounded Thursday by the absence from PLUC of our Vic West representative, Councillor Jeremy Loveday. Nobody knew where he was, and that was a shame because being new at the table, Loveday actually works hard to ask questions and forge public discourse on a variety of issues. Which is helpful because when no questions are asked, it is really hard for those of us without access to the many years of at- and off-table discussions, to actually know what the hell is going on.
Also, as a bit of an offhand comment, Councillors asking questions about proposed developments and other issues helps observers like me believe that they’ve actually taken the time to read staff reports and understand what’s on the table. What do you think?
Anyhow, back to Dockside.
As noted in their CALUC submission Vic West residents have a number of concerns about the two 3 storey buildings with 49 units of affordable housing being proposed in a very particular location at Dockside. Where everyone appreciates the idea of affordable housing, general consensus about the proposal is that based on current placement this housing will result in a ghetto like atmosphere.
Which really made me wonder what the Mayor’s Affordable Housing task force thinks of the Dockside proposal? I will see you all at the workshop they are having on Monday night to consider the draft recommendations they’ve prepared.
Back to Dockside.
The staff presentation was pretty brief regarding the proposed rezoning & other amendments as well as the DP with variances necessary for Catalyst Developments to construct the affordable housing as part of the #4 Greenway Mews Precinct at Dockside. Because no pictures seemed to be provided in the staff report, I went and got some context shots of the future site.
One building will be on the right side of this parking lot.
The other will be in this empty lot – also part temporary parking lot.
Council Questions and Comments
Councillor Thornton-Joe inquired about construction timelines and what impacts residents of the affordable housing units may feel from their corridor location, of construction happening around them while the rest of the site is developed. Staff told her that they are not aware of any construction timelines.
Councillor Thornton-Joe also inquired about the status of access options for emergency services to Dockside (after a resident complained about an injured spouse and paramedics unhappy about the lack of elevators and difficulty accessing existing buildings on site). She was told that the City Fire Dept is satisfied with access plans for the affordable housing units and that paramedics just need to “know where to go on site”. Which seemed like a non-answer to me, but then it was also a non-question with only anecdotal data.
Councillor Young tried multiple times to push for answers on parking concerns that have resulted from, in his words, “clearly unrealistic expectations” for personal vehicle use at Dockside and nearby developments such as the parking-less affordable housing on Wilson street. Ultimately he was told by Brad, the main city staff transportation manager, that excess parking will be accommodated on street. Brad also suggested that people will make conscious decisions based on availability of parking whether or not to live at Dockside.
Which is to say, people with cars won’t be attracted to Dockside. And it is here that I just have to note what Mr. Shearing the Dockside Green Development president said to us Vic West residents at our board meeting the other day. He said that 1,000 more cars can be expected at the site once the remaining 1,000 suites are built.
That is a lot of cars.
But staff seem to disagree and told PLUC on Thursday that parking at Dockside is “not critical” and their saying so helped move approval of the affordable housing units along. Which irked me. And as a way of explaining my ire regarding existing inadequacies of street parking at Dockside (currently at 22% capacity) I took pictures of all the available street parking around Dockside.
Yellow = two new proposed buildings
Red = existing street parking which is always at capacity
If you look in depth at parking available on Harbour road you get a total 19 cars – providing of course no trucks or large vehicles want to park on the road and that everyone also knows how to parallel park.
Harbour Road – only available dedicated street parking
Where there is maybe 40 available street parking spots on Tyee Road, I’m not sure if this could ever be exclusive to Dockside residents because there are number of multi-unit dwellings on the opposite side of the street – who also probably have lots of cars.
All and all – lots of cars & not lots of space.
Councillor Madoff spoke energetically on Thursday of how she really wants to see the “principles” of the original Master Development Agreement. In saying so however, she never actually specified what these principles are and I can’t exactly tell you either because I couldn’t find the Master Development Agreement for Dockside online. I did however find the Design Guidelines and a legal summary of the MDA and its implications for Dockside if you’re so inclined.
I guess this is why Madoff wants the “principles highlighted” at the Public Hearing when it occurs. Picking up on my theme at the start of this article, it would have been nice if Madoff spoke of her interpretation of these principles during PLUC on Thursday.
Councillor Isitt then picked up the issue of parking again and actually disagreed with staff and declared that parking is already a critical issue in Vic West but that he supports the affordable housing. In saying so however, he never actually turned his concern into anything, such as an amended motion which would require additional staff work or developer conditions. My thought is that he just said it, so that he could be recorded as saying it.
On the larger issue of parking congestion and the inadequacies of vehicle management options at Dockside, it was suggested to me by a city planner that everyone just considers urban car congestion an inevitable consequence of densification. Does it really have to be?
Comments from Mayor Helps on Thursday involved praise for Dockside’s provision of 1 bicycle and 1 Car Share membership for each unit. How these two items will actually administratively stay with renters (wonder what the turnaround is) I do not know. Mayor Helps also expressed excitement for seeing Dockside “up and running again”.
The question was then called on the staff recommendations and these were passed as written with the unanimous support of PLUC.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Dockside and proposed changes to original plans, I found a Dockside sponsored Placespeak page a really good Vibrant Victoria writeup from 2014 about Dockside.
1146 Caledonia Rezoning & OCP Amendment
Here is the staff presentation. Councillor Alto (ever the mover of alternate motions) moved option 2 (which got subsequently amended to something I did not quite catch). This meant that they supported the advancement of a proposed 6 unit residential building as drawn, even though staff had proposed further changes so that the building was more consistent with City requirements.
PLUC also moved Option 2 as listed in the associated Development Permit application report – Councillor Young was the only one opposed. Of note is that Councillor Isitt declared conflict of interest and recused himself from voting on this issue because his ex-spouse lives in the area and he is partial to it. Which was kinda weird because conflict of interest is generally related to pecuniary conflict of interest (direct or indirect) and Isitt explicitly stated that he no longer had any pecuniary interest in the neighbourhood. Yet he recused himself from the vote.
The other motion attached to this item on Thursday was a request from Councillor Thornton-Joe for a staff report on City options and costs for enhancing lighting and safety at Kings park. Councillor Isitt returned to the table to vote on this item which received unanimous support.
62 Cambridge Street Rezoning Application
Here is the staff presentation. Both the Rezoning and the Development permit with variances got passed as recommended by staff with unanimous approval of Council. General consensus was that everyone liked how the applicant (who’s previous application was rejected at Public Hearing) has since taken the time to listen to the concerns of his neighbours.
But if you read the CALUC letter, it doesn’t really seem so. Which is to say, I imagine there may be some grumpy people at the Public Hearing for this item when it occurs.
1070 Joan Crescent Rezoning & Heritage Alteration
Here is the staff presentation. The staff recommendations for the rezoning and heritage alteration permit got passed as written with unanimous support. Which makes sense because it is an application from the Craigdarroch Castle society to expand castle related activities and as Councillor Lucas observed on Thursday, the City needs good heritage related tourist services.
I’m sure us locals do too! That said, can’t say I’ve ever been to the castle myself. I should check it out one day!
1 Dallas Road Development Permits
Mayor Helps tried to put these items on the consent agenda but Councillor Isitt requested that they be pulled because he sits on the GVHA board and the GVHA are the landlords for Fishermans wharf (the applicant). Both the dock and washroom addition DPs got passed as written without discussion, and the staff presentation that was prepared was not presented.
1990 Fort Street DP with Variances
Here is the staff presentation for this item. The staff recommendation got passed as written to allow for a 100 seat restaurant to be developed on the ground floor of the Fort St Medical complex. General consensus at the table was the region needs a good restaurant and because it will be supported by locals and local workers, the lack of parking shouldn’t be an issue.
195 Bay Street DP with Variances
This was another item that Mayor Helps had proposed for the consent agenda. Here is the staff presentation which wasn’t presented because Councillor Madoff only wanted to “ask on record” if the variance were granted to the applicant (for a patio) could be used by any subsequent developer to expand the footprint of the building.
The response from staff was “no” because variances are specific to buildings so if buildings change, the variances are lost. Following this question, staff recommendation was quickly passed as written.
135 Medana Street Heritage Alteration Permit
This item was confusing. I had to watch the video again – here it is:
Here is the staff presentation even though it was not presented. It turns out that this was the item that led to the Acting Planning Director almost falling out of her chair at the start of the Thursday morning when she tried to get the attention of PLUC before they passed an amended version of the proposed staff recommendation through on the consent agenda. Confusing I know.
As shown in the clip above, this motion was “rescinded” (fancy speak for confusing Minutes documents) because as indicated by Madoff, apparently there was an “inconsistency” in the agendas being used by staff and Council. And this just seemed strange to me, especially since they are all now on electronic agendas, which is to say, in a good system, one click of a button should lead to everyone having the same damn agenda.
But only if they have a good system.
Of note is that the amended motion from Madoff was to include a requirement for a Public Hearing specific to this site, even though, public hearings in accordance with the city’s development procedure bylaw, aren’t normally required for such items.
Council’s are supposed to follow their bylaws.
1156 Fort Street Heritage Alteration Permit
This item got passed on the consent agenda. Here is the staff presentation if you’re interested. It was not presented on Thursday because the item got passed on the consent agenda. Which surprised me because it is a heritage item, and as noted in the item above (135 Medana) Councillor Madoff generally takes a keen interest in heritage items, especially when heritage items such as 1156 Fort Street aren’t respected by owners.
But then I suppose Fort Street isn’t in James Bay.
Perhaps that’s why?