New West's planning department sure sounds overworked

Chris Campbell

Is the workload too big for New Westminster city staff to get council’s ambitious agenda done?

That was my question as I read an interesting quote in a Record story we published on Monday.

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Reporter Theresa McManus was writing about New Westminster taking on various components of the official community plan in 2019.

The city has an OCP implementation work program that identifies several initiatives city staff would work on in 2019.  Staff has updated council on the priorities for 2019 – the 22nd Street SkyTrain station master plan development, infill housing implementation phase one monitoring program, street activity program, short-term rental program and supporting OCP action implementation.

But staff are recommending that work on Phase 2 of the infill housing implementation, which would include duplexes and triplexes, be taken off this year’s work plan.

Why do staff want this item taken off?

Jackie Teed, the city’s planning director, said the department has been shifting staff around to work on some significant development applications that are happening in the city.

“Recently, we have been focusing on internal staff doing that work rather than using external consultants,” Teed said. “That has reduced the amount of hours that we have to apply to our policy work. We have been working to identify what pieces we can shift around. Certainly there is an opportunity to put some pieces back in, but what it means is that all pieces need to take a longer amount of time in order for us to do them.”

The way I read that is the city’s planning staff have what sounds to be a crazy workload.

But delaying work on changing the rules to allow duplexes and triplexes isn’t sitting well with Coun. Mary Trentadue, who says it’s a priority for her.

“This council has been a strong advocate for housing, and all types of housing forms,” said Trentadue. “I am concerned that by pushing this later we just become later to the game as far as planning this kind of housing. I appreciate that even by putting it into a 2019 work plan, it’s still probably going to take a couple of years to come to sort of its full extent. I don’t actually support pushing that forward.”

Trentadue raised the spectre of the city falling behind on this issue.

This brings up a lot of questions:

Does the city need more planning staff?

Does it need to bring in more external consultants?

Is council’s agenda too ambitious for the current the staffing level?

New Westminster city council is an ambitious bunch. They have big plans and are asking for a lot because they realize the urgency of the housing crisis.

It’s unclear if the city staff – at its current staffing levels - can keep with this level of ambition.

 

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