City struggles to meet provincial requirements for transit-oriented areas

Provincial zoning legislation came up again in council during its Monday, May 27 meeting as council debated ways to meet the BC government’s deadline to meet the zoning requirements for transit-oriented areas (TOAs). The goal of the new zoning requirements is to increase the density in those specified areas.

Last November, Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley spoke with the Beacon about the new legislation, expressing his concerns about the city’s ability to make the necessary infrastructure changes to meet the increased density requirements. Hurley gave examples of newer pipes to handle the increased demand for wastewater management, garbage collection, emergency services, and other essential infrastructure services.

During the May 27 meeting, council discussed other municipalities’ difficulties.

“I’ve heard that Vancouver, New Westminster, and other cities are also having difficulties in trying to live up to the spirit of the TOA legislation,” Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said.

Several councillors suggested asking the province for an extension to the deadline. Chief Administrative Officer Leon Gous replied that it would not be possible under the current rules.

“Part of Burnaby’s benefit was we were already looking at the review of our OCP and zoning bylaws. We were kind of mid-flight when all of this occurred. So we were probably a little bit ahead of some just because of luck,” Gous said. He added that many municipalities are focusing on meeting the province’s demands. “I’ve heard that in more than one place, they’ve literally stopped doing anything else and are working hard to meet them.”

Gous added that he believes the province may start enforcing the legislation if municipalities cannot meet the June 30 deadline. He said it would send a very strong message if the province failed to enforce its legislation and allowed municipalities to get away with failing to meet the requirements.

“I have a feeling that 20 municipalities aren’t going to be ready for June 30,” Hurley said.

Some councillors did not seem opposed to the legislation, seeing it as a move in the right direction.

“The provincial government was trying to address the housing crisis,” said Coun. Pietro Calendino. “Without this type of legislation, there would be a lot of developments that would not take place. We’re all talking about creating more housing for the needs that we have. The population is increasing, immigration keeps coming, the young generations are looking for someplace to live, and obviously, they can’t afford to buy, but maybe they can rent.”

However, the mayor opposed this line of thought.

“We don’t have a housing crisis. We have an affordable housing crisis. And this does nothing for affordability. Anyone that believes it does, they’re just not living in reality,” Hurley said.

Whether the BC government will allow municipalities to apply for extensions remains to be seen. In the meantime, the city is scrambling to meet the requirements before June 30.

Four new fire engines for $9.7M

Burnaby fire truck.
Burnaby fire truck.

During Monday’s meeting, council also approved $9.7M for four new fire engines. According to fire chief Chris Bowcock, the city is long overdue for new fire engines, as it had put off replacing its existing ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Postponing the new fire engines has also meant that the city now has to pay much more for any new vehicles it acquires. Bowcock said the original proposal was for five new vehicles, but now the budget allows only four.

“What’s occurred in the vehicle market is a pretty significant increase in asset costs and elongated construction times. As a result, the original budgeted amounts for each vehicle is insufficient to purchase the vehicles,” Bowcock said. “We are purchasing less vehicles in the hopes that some more innovation will take place or some market correction in the construction in the future before we come back for that fifth vehicle down the road.”

Coun. Richard Lee asked about possibly replacing the trucks with electric or hydrogen vehicles to reduce emissions and costs.

Bowcock replied that many cities that tried to replace their vehicles with electric ones are struggling with the new electric vehicles and have to send them back to the manufacturer.

“We’re really hopeful in the future that the hydrogen initiatives through the City of Burnaby and SFU and a lot of initiatives, we’re hopeful that there will be some advances in hydrogen because that seems to be a better fit for the service needs of the fire department,” Bowcock said.

Bowcock also mentioned that all of the fire department’s existing vehicles will be retrofitted to have additional battery packs to supplement their energy requirements, and all new vehicles will also come with battery packs. He said fire engines are often idling for about 60% of the time, and battery packs can reduce emissions significantly.

“We can turn off the engine and run off of a battery pack to save 60% of the emissions,” he said.

Councillors speak out about the Rafah refugee camp attack

Several city councillors spoke about the recent Israeli attack on a Rafah refugee camp that killed 45 refugees who had been sheltering there, calling on the federal government to enact measures against the Israeli government, such as sanctions and stopping the sale of military equipment.

“Over the weekend, I watched a video of a Palestinian man swaying a headless baby from side to side as people around him wailed and screamed. Israel had launched eight missiles during the night, burning homeless refugees alive in their tents after Israel’s military forced people to move there and designated it a safe zone,” Coun. Alison Gu said. “I feel like I am going insane in seeing how we still haven’t done everything in our power here in Canada to stop it. Our political leaders haven’t imposed economic sanctions or ended trade of all military goods with Israel or even advocated for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Coun. Daniel Tetrault spoke in favour of Gu’s motion as well.

“This was supposed to be a designated safe zone, an area to provide refuge to those who had already been displaced, but it was still targeted. I cannot help but replay those images of families and babies being murdered. This indefensible atrocity is just one of many violations of international law committed by the Israeli government,” Tetrault said.

“As elected officials at all levels of government, we must speak out for peace and justice in our communities and around the world. We have an obligation to uphold international law and prevent this genocide on the Palestinian people and demand an end to Israeli occupation,” he added.

Coun. Maita Santiago supported the motion but also spoke on a more hopeful note. She said that over the past few months, she has been struggling with feelings of helplessness about the situation.

“One thing that does give me hope is seeing the thousands of people around the world that are pouring out into the streets to protest the horrific and unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place,” Santiago said. “Just today, in the wake of the attack on Rafah, about 10,000 people came out in Paris to protest. Thousands also came out in Istanbul and Madrid and in places all around the world.”

Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon