Taller Burnaby buildings debated

And council renews support for affordable housing

Proposed building plans for 5388 Ewart. 📸 City of Burnaby

Monday at council, a variety of topics were discussed, including supporting Burnaby’s skateboarding future, increasing height restrictions for a Ewart Street home, and supporting the city’s affordable housing.

The next council meeting is Aug. 28.

Housing height restrictions debated

A proposal came to council to allow a single-family home at 5388 Ewart St. to build above the maximum height allowance.

The proposed redevelopment would be 2.54m above the maximum height allowed. The proposal was initially directed to the board of variance, which denied the request to waive the maximum height restrictions on June 2, 2022.

The application was put forward on the basis that the two-and-a-half-storey house would have ceiling heights between nine and 10 feet on all three levels. The house has a secondary suite in the cellar area that would contribute to the additional height, which was proposed on the basis that sinking the secondary suite deeper into the ground would adversely impact the suite’s access to natural light.

It was noted that the lot was on a steep downward slope, which contributed to the need for extra building height.

The proposal met with resistance during council’s discussion at its July 24 meeting.

“The report isn’t overly clear in terms of any hardship or community benefit or anything that would support [this]… So I'm not at this point comfortable,” Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said. “Yes, there is a right of the applicant to come to council, and we do have a process, but I'm not certain whether this is warranted at all.”

Dhaliwal also suggested staff look at the bylaws to possibly allow another couple of feet to be added to the current height standards.

“There is a point, and I think a reason to raise the height… allowing people to raise all homes, not just one house,” he said. “I think this will start [with] one area, one house… and going through council’s time and your time. Rather than that, let's focus on changing… the standard height to make better use of the lighting for the basements.”

Coun. Pietro Calendino also spoke against the request for a height variance. “Obviously, it doesn't make the neighbours very happy that we are allowing so much height when the permitted height is the usual 29 [feet]. I can go along when they [ask] for two, three, maybe four feet when there is some form of hardship, but there doesn't seem to be any hardship associated with this whatsoever, simply a desire of the owner to have 10-foot ceilings, and that's not something that I'm willing to go along with.”

The motion was defeated, with seven councillors opposed.

Municipal and Regional District Tax is renewed and increased

Council voted on whether to keep the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT), an up to 3% tax placed on accommodation purchases that’s available for all BC cities to implement.

Burnaby had a similar bylaw in place called the Hotel Room Additional Tax, a 2% tax that’s similar to the MRDT.

Council voted to implement the MRDT for all Burnaby accommodations, effective June 1, 2024.

The 3% tax will then be split three ways to support different initiatives—0.2% will go to Destination BC, which will support a provincially-led program to increase tourism in the province. The remaining 2.8% will go to Tourism Burnaby and the City of Burnaby to support tourism in the city as well as affordable housing initiatives.

Council will write a letter to Burnaby accommodation providers asking them to support MRDT and affordable housing.

Dhaliwal voiced his support of the tax proposal. “Since this is all about housing, I believe it's a very supportable increase. The city has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars into supportive and affordable housing. Hopefully, this will help and put more money into the same pot that we use for housing.”

The proposal carried unanimously.

Community and social infrastructure needs assessment and strategy development

A proposal was put forward to develop a community and social infrastructure needs assessment and strategy development plan. The plan will be submitted to UBCM’s Complete Communities program fund to provide overall grant management if accepted.

The need for this report stems from the Official Community Plan (OCP), which includes a research strategy that will inform policy development and decision-making.

The needs assessment will inform the OCP’s goal of creating complete communities by reviewing current and future needs to support the well-being, health, and resilience of residents, and the associated land use and spatial criteria for addressing these needs.

Staff reported that the timeline for getting the report completed would take roughly one year.

Dhaliwal spoke in support of the assessment, but raised concerns about city resources.

“I hate to put this kind of work on the staff because I know how busy you are, there are so many applications coming in, and we recognize how council has been pushing for a lot of infrastructure… so I do support the application to the UBCM funding… This is an opportunity, even if we have to get a consultant or something to do this work, because we should proceed with it.”

Couns. Calendino, James Lang, and Maita Santiago also supported the assessment. “It was also good to see how the definition of community and social infrastructure needs seem to encompass the whole range of things, from things that the city would operate, to things that we may not necessarily operate, and also how it included things that would consider the diversity and the population trends of a city,” Santiago said.

The proposal was passed unanimously.

Supporting skateboarding in the city

Two speakers came to council to discuss supporting skateboarding within the city. Adam Higgins, head coach and high-performance director for the Canadian national skateboard team, and Oliver Ward, a Burnaby student and national team prospect, advocated for the city to invest in more skateparks.

They highlighted the accomplishments of various Burnaby skateboarders, including Ward, Emily Ma, and others. They would like to see an indoor or outdoor Olympic-standard skatepark to allow youth to develop their skills.

Santiago and Coun. Daniel Tetrault both voiced support of developing more skateparks in Burnaby, and Tetrault asked about how rezoning of industrial spaces would work.

Staff told council that the opportunity to rezone industrial areas exists. While the city does have to ensure the availability of employment spaces under the Regional Growth Strategy, staff said additive uses for leisure opportunities—skateparks, climbing gyms, badminton courts, for example—are a possibility.

Ward was later presented with a certificate of appreciation for his commitment to skateboarding and representing Burnaby at his various competitions.

Burnaby Fire Department annual report

The Burnaby Fire Department came to council to present its annual report.

Some of the highlights:

  • 18% increase in call volume

  • 21% increase in fire events

  • 16% increase in calls for public services (non-emergency citizen calls)

  • 27% increase in medical emergency events

  • 4% increase in motor vehicle accidents

The department also said there has been a significant increase in training time, as this is one of the top priorities for the department in order to prepare for all levels of emergencies and provide the same level of service.