Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Council Timeline: Monday, February 22, 2021

Prince Rupert City Council continues to meet by Remote
methods with Mayor Brain and some staff members at City Hall
and Council members calling in from other locations

Themes on planning dominated much of the one hour and four minutes allocated for this weeks Prince Rupert City Council session, as the city's contract planners from iPlan provided for a range of reports for council members to consider.

The majority of the meeting was focused on a report from the city's contract planners at iPlan that outlined the path ahead for an Interim Housing Strategy should the City Council wish to pursue one.

The Council members also approved a number of variance requests and added some amendments to their zoning bylaw plans.

The city's elected officials once again met by remote methods, calling in their participation to City Hall with only the mayor and Corporate Administrator in the council chamber on the evening.

Some background on the work of Council on the evening and the various Regular Agenda elements for the February 22nd Council session can be reviewed here

Council also hosted a Closed Session earlier in the evening, the fourth closed door session of the year, the details as to why they required the doors to be closed for the 5PM meeting can be reviewed here

Monday also featured a Committee of the Whole session, though it was a brief one, with no items of note or concern provided to the Council for consideration.

Further information from our overview and placement in the video archive can be found below, with the permanent record of the minutes added as they are posted to the city website.

In attendance Monday, February 22, 2021

Mayor Lee Brain -- Present ( in Council Chamber)
Councillor Nick Adey --  Present  (by phone)
Councillor Barry Cunningham --  Present (by phone)
Councillor Blair Mirau -- Present (by phone)
Councillor Reid Skelton-Morven --  Present (by phone)
Councillor Wade Niesh -- Present (by phone)
Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa --   Present  (by phone)

Video Archive for Monday,  February 22, 2021

Committee of the Whole Session 

( 0:00 -- 1:04  )   Committee of the Session for Monday, February 22, 2021  -- Mayor Brain called the Session to order, with Council adopting minutes of previous meetings and the agenda. 

(  1:04 -- 1:15  ) Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller indicated that no residents of the community had communicated with the City with any concerns or requests for the session.

(  1:15 -- 1:30 ) Council then suspended the Committee of the Whole and returned  to the Regular Council Session.


Regular Council Session

( 1:30 -- 2:50  )   Regular City Council Session for Monday, February 22, 2021  -- Mayor Brain called the Regular Council Session to order, with Council adopting minutes of previous meetings and the agenda and revisions for the night, making two revisions to the Agenda.

(  2:50  -- 10:50  ) Reports from Planning -- The City's Council members received three different variance requests from community residents, with only one making for any discussion among the councillors.

That variance request involved some public feedback towards plans for a property on Sloan Avenue, which was related to plans to build a garage behind the house, with one area resident expressing concerns that it may be used for commercial purposes. Chris Buchan from iPlan, observed that the existing bylaws would rule out  the use of the property for such purposes.

Councillor Cunningham spoke in support of the variance, advising council that he had visited the property and been reassured that the proponent had no plans to use it as a commercial space, noting that it would be used for a number of his personal recreation or marine items. He also noted that the proponent had invested significant money into the property.

Councillor Niesh also spoke in favour of the motion, while Councillor Adey had some questions related towards it, focusing on the letter of concern from the area resident and noted the height of the building as very significant. 

Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller provided some clarity on the letter that was written on behalf of the resident, to follow up on that Mr. Adey asked if a little more work needed to be done by the city to put the neighbours concerns at ease.

The Mayor observed that the city had already done public notification and had no other process towards these types of applications, calling then for the vote towards the request.

From that Council voted to approve the variance, with the exception of Councillor Adey who voted in opposition referencing his previous comments.

 10:50 -- 20:35 Report from Planning -- Temporary Use Permit Request for a property near Miller Bay   -- iPlan's Chris Buchan provided some of the background to the request noting that the applicant wishes to use the area as temporary storage for materials from demolition in the area, for later transfer to the city's landfill site once expanded. He noted that there was no asbestos included in the construction demolition materials. 

The Mayor inquired as to whether the Ministry of Environment needed to make any approvals and if there were any guarantees that the material will be transferred to the city landfill. Rob Buchan answered the question observing that they were not aware of any need for approval, and noted that the applicant has indicated that all the waste will be stored in containers that are close-able. He added that there is no timeframe for transfer and once the city's new bylaws are introduced this temporary use permit would go away.

The Mayor observed that his main concern is to ensure that the material does move to the city's landfill site once the expansion is complete and the temporary use period is completed.

As for discussion, Councillor Cunningham called it a great idea for the current period and how it could help get rid of some of the old buildings in town and spur on development.

Councillor Adey asked about the asbestos question and sought out some guidance as to what is required in a declaration, Councllor Niesh noted that proponents must declare if there is any at the permit of demolition process, Councillor Cunningham also provided some knowledge sharing on the nature of asbestos and what would be any risk factor and how what is proposed to be stored is non hazardous. He also noted that if the city doesn't provide for the option for later storage in the city's landfill it would be lost revenue for the city.

Chris Buchan reinforced that the proponent had advised the city that there were no hazardous materials in their demolition material.

Councillor Adey then called for some additional language to put a condition in place that all the materials stored be suitable for later disposal at the landfill, Rob Buchan noted that the Temporary Use Permit could state that they cannot store hazardous materials in the storage materials.

That was added as a friendly amendment to the motion. 

Councillor Cunningham, asked who would be notified about the land use if there is no public in the adjacent areas, Mr. Buchan noted that the province would be advised as it is all Crown land in the surrounding area.

Following the discussion Council moved forward with the motion.

 20:35 -- 57:30 Report from Planning -- A report on the proposed Interim Housing Strategy   -- The nature of the city's current council arrangements of call in participation did provide challenges for the conversation on housing, with the Mayor having to admonish some participants at times over ambient noise that was detracting from the session.

As for the report, Rob Buchan provided the overview on their document that explored a range of options for the City to consider when it comes to developing a proposed housing strategy to address some of the challenges currently found in the community.

Calling on some of the themes of the city's Vision 2030 presentation, he outlined how there will be a requirement for a range of housing options for all of the workers coming to town in support of the growing port industrial footprint.

He observed that the profile of the housing situation and data that they have reviewed validates housing as a major issue in the community.

As he explained it,  the policy framework is designed for Council to use when considering future actions, comparing it as similar to an Official Community plan that does not commit the city to any actions and simply is a framework, one that simply puts forward the framework to follow when opportunity and budget permit.

The document included ten recommendations to be considered in the future,  among the elements which stirred the most attention was that of the P3 proposal which would be a public-private-partnership model, where the city would not be a developer but would partner towards housing development.

Councillor Niesh led off the discussion, providing a few of his observations particularly in the challenges that the local geography provides for, especially when it comes to the presence of muskeg and how to dispose of it, suggesting the creation of an area that is beyond development for disposal purposes.

Councillor Mirau followed up on that theme, noting how the city could be more creative beyond site preparation but also to help with the use of rock from the landfill expansion for building purposes. He then outlined some of the other challenges that are found in Prince Rupert compared to other communities both near and far.

He observed that there are currently no local contractors available to fill the gap to provide for the new build warranties on residential construction, and with few new builds in the community in recent years that is an area that has been under serviced.

Mr. Mirau then took note of the higher than average homeless situation and poverty in the region and how the city needs to come to terms with those issues and how some of the tools offered up may help towards solutions.

He also observed how the needs assessment process needs to be bumped up in importance, so as to better understand where the best strategic efforts should be directed.

Another area that Councillor Mirau spoke to was the concept of a Housing Corporation that the city may consider setting up.

Rob Buchan noted that would have to be determined in the future and outlined that the City would have consider how it would want to set it up and fund it, noting it would require a well researched business model before it could move forward.

Councillor Mirau observed how the city could use its land as its contribution to any partnership, should the City choose to follow that path. He also offered a note of caution to be careful not over step into provincial jurisdiction, and whil the city has a major role to play though not as a developer or a landlord.

He also called attention to a renoviction bylaw currently in place in New Westminster and how the City could consider adopting something similar, though more research on how enforceable such a program would be.

Councillor Cunningham also found much to like from the Housing report, but noted how Council needed to prioritize its targets when it comes to housing needs in the community.

He also spoke to the new Marina District proposals, offering up some cautionary themes towards the idea of floating homes and the guidelines they would have to follow.

Mr. Cunningham also spoke to the renoviction issue, and noted that some kind of ability to control that situation was required as it is causing a larger issue for housing in the community, noting that he also found the New Westminster blue print useful.

Council Adey made note of the immediate focus and target on the need for housing for new port workers, professionals and tradesmen as the key focus for housing owing to port expansion, but also observed that the focus contrasts with the needs that those at the lower income level may have and wondered how the plan would incorporate both elements.

City manager Robert Long spoke to that theme, observing how social housing development involves a number of levels of government, requires much in the way of capital and how the city is not in a financial position to take on those forms of projects. 

Mr. Long did note that what the City is in a financial position to do is to leverage some of the properties that it owns to be able to in effect subsidize some of it; but through the private sector providing for some housing through a P 3 arrangement, which would have to address the market housing first.

On social housing themes, he noted how the city would have to partner with BC Housing and noted that those kinds of discussions are underway and ultimately he observed would come to pass.

For now he stated that the City is only capable of dealing with market housing at this precise point of time.

Mr. Buchan noted how the study did provide some guidance on how the city could approach the need for social housing with the other levels of government, though he also put the focus on what the City could have the capacity to do and how it could respond to the need for worker housing, which he observed would be an economic development tool as well.

The city's contract planner also noted how there was provincial funding available for development of housing strategies.

Mayor Brain offered up a few thoughts on the topic of housing to date, hailing the traction that has been seen in the city so far. Making note of the Provincial government's funding of social housing and low income housing through such initiatives as the Kitkatla Anchor Inn purchase, the Crow's Nest Lodge, which he noted the city donated land towards, the new housing and shelter at Five Corners which he observed was great to see.

He also relayed how BC Housing has plans to upgrade their housing not only in the Kootenay area but in other properties around the city. As well as the prospect for potential new developments.

The Lax Kw'alaams proposal for 11th Avenue East was another housing initiative he made note of, as well as the success of the Metlakatla Elders Housing on Seventh East.

He stated that just in the last three years there has been a huge investment from the provincial side of things to play catch up and to address that part for the community;  and how in fact it's really been the main focus and how there hasn't been much seen on the other end of it.

He then followed up to note on the private level speaking of the ongoing development of the Digby Towers work and the city's  moves to encourage development downtown through their policies.

Looking to the future he observed that the city needs to look to al spectrums of housing need and that they have been addressing those themes through new bylaws, their OCP work, along with land  use regulations and how the City can continue to do what they can, referencing past land donations to the province as one option for further housing options.

His synopsis wrapped up with the Mayor noting of the hundreds of housing units that will be coming online for the community and how there has been traction and he doesn't see it stopping, noting how MLA Jennifer Rice has continued to work to make sure that there is more investment into BC Housing options.

In response, Councillor Adey observed how there is much to build on towards housing and how there has been broad consultation through the 2030 process and how a housing needs strategy for April 2022 would allow those groups that haven't shared their concerns to make them known.

He pointed towards the need for Seniors housing to allow existing residents to downsize and stay in the city that they have spent their whole lives in, observing how those other voices should be part of the conversation.

Councillor Skelton-Morven echoed much of the previous commentary and how the proposed package allows the community be nimble, enterprising and entrepreneurial on housing.

Before moving on from the topic, Mayor Brain noted how it was not just a Prince Rupert problem and how it was a nationwide concern, he then outlined some of the moves that City Council has taken on in recent months as they move the needle over the edge.

Among them changes to the development guidelines bylaw to all for a more streamlined process and provide more information to resident earlier on in that process, something he referred to as a game changing element.

He pointed to the recent Tax Incentive bylaw for the downtown area, which he stated is already attracting attention both locally and from out of town looking to invest in the community.

Other elements he hailed included the update to the OCP and Zoning Bylaws and all the elements that they will add and to clarify the housing themes. Noting how they all make for a selection of tools for Council to work with.

He also observed as to the city's ambitions for private development of housing stock as part of a recent RFP for development of a new subdivision. 

The Mayor called back to the 2030 Strategy and how it has been the guide ahead towards and how as a community there would be a need to create all these initiatives to help create a market where people would want to build; 

Looking to the future he observed how he sees the city on track for hundreds of units to be built in the next few years and how their work is developing a foundation for a new development environment in Prince Rupert for the next decade, something he stated that the community hasn't ever done. 

Towards the work ahead, the Mayor highlighted how the changes will bring a more streamlined approach that will allow for all voices to be heard and given a fair hearing, with Council needing to ensure that the process is communicated well to the public.
Following the discussion Council moved forward with the motion.

(  57:30  -- 58:15Report from the Corporate Administrator -- Re: Letter of support for Community Investment Fund application by the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association -- Council provided its approval towards the letter of support for the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association as they seek funding through the Port's Community Investment Fund for their ongoing efforts.


(  58:15 --1:00:30 ) Report from Planning  -- Re: amendments to the Zoning Bylaw  --  Chris Buchan from iPlan outlined how the amendments responds to a few different housing inquiries, including themes related to student housing and housing in the Marina District zone. 

Both provide for options to develop housing stock in the downtown and marina area and clarifies some of the terminology previously introduced.

Council had no questions related to the amendments and approved the recommendations, with the entire proposal to go to public hearing when health conditions permit.

( 1:00:30--1:04:54   ) Questions, Comments, Reports or Inquiries from Council

Council Cunningham observed at the pending retirement of the regions OBGYN Dr. Marius Pienaar wishing him his best for his dedication to the community and then to note that he hopes that Northern Health will recognize that the position has traditionally be one hosted in Prince Rupert. He made note of the search for a replacement and how the position will remain at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital.

Mr. Cunningham also asked as to the status of the city's letter campaign on building maintenance in the downtown core area. The City's Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller outlined the process ahead, which includes a review of those properties that received the letters and then to follow up on any enforcement if required.

The Councillor asked what would happen if they chose to ignore those letters, Ms. Miller outlined how a regimen of fines and if necessary the city has the option to do the clean up itself and then send the property owners a bill.

Councillor Randhawa made an inquiry related to the suspended Air Canada Service asking if the city had heard any updates from the airline towards a return of service, the Mayor noted that he had not received any further information, observing that the city had recently joined in with the campaign of Skeena MLA Taylor Bachrach to write a letter to Transport Canada.

Mr. Brain observed that once the city has information, that information will probably be known all at the same time in the community. 

With no other comments or inquiries, the Council session came to a close.

You can access our archive on the City Council Session here, where a number of items regarding the council session, including links to local media coverage, can also be found.

As always, our Council Timeline is only a reflection of our observations from the Council session of the night. Be sure to consult with the official minutes from the City, when posted to their website for further review.

Official Minutes of the Regular Council Session from February 22, 2020 (not available yet)

In addition to the city's official minutes, the City's Video archive provides a helpful record of the events from each public council session.

The next City Council session will take place on Monday, March 8, 2021.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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