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City backs off on laneway policy
After getting legal advice the city has backed down on requiring laneway statutory rights of way from property owners on busy streets who are seeking building permits.
Last month contractor Brian Lowka publicly complained that the City of New Westminster was using a form of expropriation by bureaucratic blackmail, and said the policy was being applied inconsistently.
The city’s goal is to eventually be able to build lanes for blocks adjacent to busy streets that don’t currently have them, eliminating driveways on major arteries in order to make it safer for residents and pedestrians. To make that possible, New West had begun requiring property owners along the routes—such as Sixth Avenue—to register a statutory right of way before approving their building or development permit applications.
The rights of way are for strips of land at the back of property to make room for a lane at some point in the future.
Property owners aren’t allowed to build on the statutory right of way, even though they own the land, nor does the city plan to compensate them if it decides to build a lane.
City engineer Jim Lowrie said when they sought a legal opinion on their policy from the city solicitors they were told they didn’t have the authority to require statutory rights of way at the building permit stage. They could only do it if the property owners were looking to subdivide or rezone, or unless an applicant voluntarily dedicated the land.
“It is a long-term goal to have rear lane access along busy roads because of the safety concerns and to minimize the impacts on pedestrians. But as it turns out it would likely only be achieved at the subdivision or rezoning stage,” said Lowrie. “It sounds like we’re kind of stymied at the building permit stage.”
Lowka said the city’s change of heart means he can go back to his original plans to build on a property on 13th Street just above Sixth Avenue and put the garage and driveway where he wanted to in the first place.
“I’m right back to Plan A, where I started from, where I could have been building in May,” said Lowka. “They realized there were a lot of negatives to this whole thing, and yes they probably did come to their senses, but I don’t think it was anything more than from a legal standpoint. That’s my opinion anyway.”
Lowka said he wanted the city to put its change in policy in writing so he can continue on with other ventures in the city, something Lowrie said his department would do this week.
Lowrie added the city will likely identify developing lanes for busy streets that don’t have them as a goal in its upcoming master transportation plan.
Lowka is OK with that.
“You know what, if they do it in the future and they have a proper plan … then I have no problem with that because then everything is up front,” said Lowka.