September 10 Council Summary & Observations

This past Thursday was the first complete Council meeting I observed in a while, due both to Summer break and my inability to stay and observe Council business after the Bosa Blue Sky properties Public Hearing for Pandora got adjourned at 11:30pm on August 27th (post on this coming soon).  So what happened?

The agenda was full and the events (video) fairly interesting.

A Little Bit of Art & Culture

As per typical council practice for meetings to begin with a bit of culture, the Youth Poet Laureate Zoe Duhaime played her ukulele while singing a bluesy folksy version of I Can’t Make You Love Me that was interspersed with some intense spoken word.

Youth Poet

It is undeniable that this gal has extreme talent. Listening closely to her profound words and intense emotion at Council meetings however, is confusing.  Where the less frequent classical music performances prior to Council are innocuous for how such music easily spans cultures and general personal boundaries, an emotionally charged spoken word performances prior to Council is an odd experience, especially when you really listen.

But then again, I guess council meetings themselves are also really odd when you listen carefully. The other bit of non-council related excitement from last night was the presentation of a mural from Nature Kids, the young local drivers of the Blue Dot & right to a healthy environment movement.

Nature Kids Mural

It was cute.

Public Hearing 1 – 816 Government St

Got some positive feedback about our 816 Government/811-13 Wharf Street Primer that we published in advance of this hearing in response to a somewhat petulant TC article penned by the head of the Hallmark Heritage Society and member of the city Heritage Advisory Panel. Needless to say, Mr. Johnson was first to speak at the Public Hearing last night but as for what he said, I’m not too sure because I tend to tune out folks who speak with that special blend of arrogance, impatience and hostility.

All told 14 people spoke. Some to express concern with the proposed height and lighting of the building and others to express support. Of note, it was pointed out to me that the industrious young members of the UVic Urban Development club who have become frequent faces at public hearings across the region, are apparently speaking just to get hired by the big name  developers.

Which I suppose makes sense. That said, if any of you young folks read my blog I’d urge you to try and be more substantive with your comments next go around because City land use policies are rather detailed things and are meant to require far more consideration than just: “hey do you think a young person would live here?”

Ultimately, this complex proposal for redevelopment of an entire block at the north shore of the Victoria Harbour (with rezoning, heritage designation & heritage alteration components) was approved by a vote of 4:2 with Councillors Isitt and Madoff voting in opposition, Councillors Coleman & Thornton-Joe absent and Councillor Lucas out for conflict of interest since she manages a licensed liquor establishment as her day job.

What I found most curious about the whole thing, was the proponent Stan Sipos of Cielo Properties and his architect who spent their 20 minute presentation speaking in vague terms and highlighting the history of the building they are proposing to redo, instead of talking about what they are proposing to do. It was really quite odd and I must admit, the first time I’ve seen an applicant do this. They normally just speak to their buildings and lots.

Odder still were Council comments:

Madoff: Spoke forever. At first I thought she was speaking in support but then after nearly 15 minutes she spun around to opposition because for her, allowing the requested height would put the city on a “precipitous path” that she cannot support despite her appreciation for the good will & intentions of the developers. As part of her circuitous comments, she also made mention of friends from Paris who recently visited the city again after being away for 10 years and were apparently aghast by the city’s destruction of its old town during those 10 years.

Young: Diligently made notes when people spoke and asked some questions about balconies and seismic upgrading. Picking up on some of what Madoff spoke around, Young also mused about what happens when you say – there is a better project out there (than the project up for consideration). He then answered his own question by saying, of course there are always better projects out there … but by waiting for this better project, you do irreparable damage to both the site and surrounding context by letting it sit empty.

Isitt: My partner pointed something out to me the other day – Isitt frequently comports himself in Council meetings as though he is mayor by making comments that typically only the mayor should. An example of this last night, was when Isitt generously offered to “waive the 1 year wait limitation” for re-applications because he wanted the applicant to come back with a proposal that was more sensitive to the height of Old Town.

Mayor Helps: Said she heard the concerns about height but waiving the 1 year limitation wasn’t necessary because the project should be approved since she didn’t hear sufficient opposition to the project as a whole. She also spoke about how she could support the proposal “on balance,” because it’ll bring more good to the city than it will take away. In response to lengthy comments made by Madoff about the ‘death by 1000 cuts to old town”, Helps also made a strange remark about how, hey folks don’t just come to Victoria for the old buildings. They also come for the people and new buildings bring people.

Alto: Can support the project because of artistic rendering showing what project will look like on North end of the City Harbour. She approved the building because she liked the artistic rendering of the silhouette.

Loveday: Didn’t really seem like he was paying attention. Claimed making a decision was “also hard” and that he didn’t know how he’d vote prior to the meeting and that he also agreed with comments made by colleagues on both sides. Ultimately, said he agreed with the mayor and that he can support the project because “on balance” it will do more good than harm to the city.

**Additional Note: On the height issue, Mr. Sipos spoke up to clarify the confusion instigated by Mr. Johnson of the Heritage Hallmark Society by stating that the height of his building is proper for old town based on the City’s definition of “height“:

“Height” when used in reference to a building, means the distance measured in a vertical straight line between the highest point of the building and any point that is at grade directly below that highest point; and is determined as follows:

  1. a)  for buildings with flat or dome roofs, the highest point is the highest part of the building;
  2. b)  for buildings with pitched roofs, the highest point is the mid-point between the highest ridgeof the building and the highest eave and
  3. c)  for buildings with gambrel roofs, the highest point is deemed to be the mid-point betweenthe ridge and the point immediately below the ridge where the pitch changes.

The highest point excludes a mast, antenna, vent, chimney, elevator shaft, solar heating panel or similar structure that projects above the roof.

The highest point also excludes a rooftop cistern and other stormwater retention and water quality facilities together with their supporting structures.

Which is to say, the stated height of the new building isn’t the actual height of the new building (e.g, to the top of the penthouse and including the elevator shaft) but that doesn’t matter because of how the City defines height. As for whether or not Councillors understood this point, I’m not sure.

Public Hearing 2 – 2353 Douglas St

City Council quickly approved a Development Permit with Variance request for empty property that will be turned into a Great Canadian Oil Change (presentation here).

2353 Douglas

As for why, I’m not sure because this section of the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood already has two other oil and lube places just a block away at the Bay and Douglas intersection. Shouldn’t we try and get some variety?

Public Hearing 3 – 759 Yates St

I must say, the proponent for this project rubbed me the wrong way from the start of the meeting. First he thought I was city staff responsible for AV and then he felt it appropriate to plunk his large ugly binder on the media table where I sit. But anyhow. What happened with this? The whole thing seems really twisty to me.

From a procedural perspective, I found it odd how the proponent emphasized new initiatives in his presentation that he himself declared were not part of the original Development permit with variance request. But then I suppose lots of things have been odd with this development (Dominion Rocket) which was, as the proponent revealed himself last night, granted a Building Permit earlier this year. Interestingly enough, when I did some Googling I found the following article on Craigslist of all places:

The Dominion Rocket–Misinformation–We are open for business and ready to go!An anonymous individual is posting a scam alert regarding the Dominion Rocket, referencing unsourced information from the City of Victoria.The historic Dominion Hotel operates under specific zoning that allows residential use above the ground floor. In May 2013 a building permit was issued by the City of Victoria to renovate the building to meet a residential standard of occupancy. In August 2015 a Certificate of Occupancy was issued. The building is currently accepting applications for tenancy and tenants are moving in with leases governed by the Landlord Tenant Act. A parking variance application is before council to eliminate the requirement for an additional 18 parking spaces (out of 68 required) resulting from the residential occupancy. This would allow the adjacent parking lot to be utilized for the Dominion Commons concept (see: www.dominionrocket.com), a street market retail and parkette concept. Should you have any questions regarding the attached information, please don’t hesitate to contact the building at show contact info

I guess that explains my confusion about how they could be open for business and renting their property since August (see Facebook) despite not having yet received city DP approval. Slightly off topic, but also related to process is a January 30, 2015 article from Vic News of the Dominion Rocket developers getting in trouble for painting their building without City approval. Yet none of this was really discussed last night because all that was up for debate was the parking variance.

Instead of speaking to whether measures taken by the proponent have adequately compensated for the requested variance, Mayor Helps wanted to know when will the parklet and replacement of the Yates St parking be up and running?

What is this about a parklet you ask?759 Yates St
Picking up on the “parklets are great” theme even though the parklet itself is apparently connected to a subsequent DP for a separate piece of property (769 Yates) were the fellows from the neighbouring Foo Foods (located at 769 Yates) who spoke at the public hearing in support of the parking variance request (subject of the Public Hearing) because they wanted to see the parking lot outside of their restaurant cleaned up.

The Location in Question

759 Yates Parking
Related to this, I also found it amusing how the FooFood guys said they like the current parklet proposal more because the original proposal included Food Trucks. This was then followed by the proponent saying in response to Parklet timeline questions from Helps, that they’ll be kicking things off with Street Markets… which I assume will include Food Trucks.
Don’t get me wrong, 759 Yates sounds like a good development that is meeting a City need. I’m just amazed and flummoxed by the procedural history between the applicant and city. Isn’t it strange to get occupancy prior to a DP?  Or should we just consider it an isolated staff work around to Council obstinacy (e.g., long project history) regarding the requested parking variance?

Public Hearing 4 – 80 Saghalie Road

My favourite part of this DP with Variance request to permit an existing office building and allow the lands to be subdivided, was when the proponent representative commented on how:

  1. when the building in question was put up, it was put up according to requirements for a temporary building. It has always been a temporary building.
  2. when the proponents (Bayview Place) were at the city in 2013 for site rezoning, staff didn’t say anything about the temporary trailers.

80 Saghalie Road 2
Staff recommendations to permit the previously permitted trailers, were quickly passed by council after a solitary, but well-known, Vic West face (not me) got up to say that the space in question is an important and well-used community educational resource and that council approval of it should be a rubber stamp. And so Council rubber stamped what they had previously rubber stamped back on June 25th while sitting in their PLUC format.

Public Hearing 5 – 755 Caledonia

This was a Development Permit with Variances for a building apparently under construction that required some late in the game changes to allow for more 1st floor residential. Must admit I wasn’t listening during this presentation for the next step of the Hudson District and Hudson Place to which there were no speakers or questions from Council.

Other Stuff from Thursday Night

Running a city is complex business and so there is often a lot of complex stuff on the agenda. What worries me is how Public Hearings are always the main events for City of Victoria Council meetings and, as a result, the energy they require seems to detract from the other business of Council that also must occur. Case in point was my saying at the top of this post how I had to go home after the Bosa Public Hearing ended on August 27th, in part because I was dead tired, but also because I know from experience that the other stuff that occurs at Council meeting is dull because so much of it is passed through without discussion.

But does it need to be? Should it be? Is there a better way?

As I’ve gotten more involved in the City land use and development process and gotten more familiar with how Council responds to different types of projects, I’ve started to wonder more about the complex path that project proponents tread prior to final Council decision. In particular, the way in which the “Unfinished Business” and “Bylaws” sections of the City Council agenda are used troubles me because it is rare for any of the items that appear in these sections to be discussed in Council chambers.

This worries me because items from these two sections (Unfinished Business and Bylaws) are the very same items that show up in the next agenda section – under “Motions” to set public hearings.
Which is to say, it is common for the City to send things out for public comment (through public hearings) without first putting on public record a simple discussion about the current status of a given project. Because if they did, then we could easily view it through  archived webcasts instead of having to search for and then attempt to decipher city staff reports.

That such discussion doesn’t occur is worrisome because it is my experience that many projects change many times throughout the city approval process, and this means that a lot of stuff happens between the on record/video PLUC meeting and the subsequent Public Hearing. But none of that is readily disclosed. Nor is it common knowledge how to search for the less commonly discussed aspects of projects (e..g, the unfinished business).

Which means that when projects go out for notice of public hearing, people are often confused, regardless of whether or not they support the project. This isn’t good.

Speaking of public hearings, there are five scheduled for the next Council meeting on October 1st. These include:

  1. Official Community Plan Bylaw, Amendment Bylaw (No. 16) – Subdivision Exemptions and Administrative Approvals
  2. Rezoning Application No. 00480 for 2280 Forbes Street
  3. Rezoning Application No. 00478 for 370 and 384 Harbour Road
  4. Development Variance Permit Application No. 00149 for 1362 Dallas Road
  5. Development Variance Permit Application No. 00153 for 239 Menzies Street

If you follow the links from the right side of the screen (Related Articles by Tag), you should be able to find some background on each of these items.

So What Do You Think?

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