New Westminster to correct errors in controversial housing bylaw

The City of New Westminster is taking steps to address incorrect information included in a controversial bylaw adopted earlier this year.

In January, council adopted a zoning amendment bylaw that designated 12 city-owned properties and six private properties for residential rental tenure. While tenants and affordable housing advocates praised the city’s decision, owners of the buildings and representatives from the development industry argued there were inaccuracies in bylaw 8078 and asked the city to put the plan on hold for 90 days so there could be more consultation.

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The bylaw is intended to preserve properties at 214 Agnes St., 215 10th St., 211 11th St., 425 12th St., 723 12th St. and 514 13th St. as rental only. These properties were built as strata but have been operating as rentals for years.

After council approved the zoning amendment bylaw, the registered owners of all six strata properties petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia to declare bylaw 8078 illegal and/or void, to impose an order quashing the bylaw and to pay costs of the legal action.They alleged city staff had provided “false, incomplete and misleading information” in relation to the purpose and effect of Bylaw 8078 to both the petitioners and to tenants living in units in the six buildings.

A May 6 report to council states that letters from the city to owners and residents of the affected properties as part of the consideration of the bylaw 8078 that “incorrectly stated that the effect of the bylaw would be to prevent the units from being individually marketed for sale.”

“The city does not have, through the enactment of zoning regulations, the authority to restrict the sale of stratified residential units, though other legislative tools exist to create such restrictions with the agreement of the property owners,” said the report.

According to the city report, the bylaw is being challenged by petition in B.C. Supreme Court and the erroneous information about the marketing of individual strata lots is one of the grounds of the challenge.

“The city has filed a response to the petition, which concedes the inaccuracy of this information,” said the report. “The proposed further zoning bylaw amendment process provides an opportunity for the city to redo the notification and public hearing procedures, including properly-worded public hearing notices.”

On May 6, council gave two readings to a new zoning amendment bylaw (8123), which aims to “more clearly achieve the intent of the original bylaw." This includes: amending the descriptions of residential rental tenure to correct a reference to the Societies Act and to add Greater Vancouver Housing Corporation as a potential landlord; more clearly indicating the rental tenure doesn’t apply to commercial properties; and amending the descriptions of the affected properties to ensure that changes in legal status, such as the wind-up of a strata corporation and cancellation of a strata plan, are covered.

A public hearing on zoning amendment bylaw 8123 will take place on Monday, May 27.

“City council and I are strongly committed to preserving our rental housing stock, and to making the policy and zoning changes needed to do that,” Mayor Jonathan Cote said in a press release. “By considering the new bylaw, we’re ensuring that New Westminster is being fully transparent in communicating the effects of rental zoning.”

The new bylaw continues the effect of the previous bylaw that was adopted on Jan. 28, which made the City of New Westminster the first municipality in the B.C. to apply a new rental residential tenure zoning authority to existing rental housing stock, according to a city press release.

“Rental residential tenure zoning is the right tool for protecting the rental tenure of stratified rental buildings,” Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services, said in the release. “It is being utilized as part of a suite of policies and tools that we’re exploring within the city’s authority and financial capacity to address the need for building and retaining the stock of affordable rental housing, and in particular addressing the impacts and prevalence of renovictions.”

At the original public hearing, opponents of the bylaw told council the province’s new rental residential tenure zoning should only be used as a tool to encourage new rental housing supply - not as a penalty or preservation tool. They questioned the legality of the city's decision to downzone their properties.


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