Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 25, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Part 1 of 3. Council supports regulation of thrift stores and donation bins.

Last night was the last City of Langley council meeting before the August summer break. As it was the last meeting, the agenda was dense.

Normally with these council meeting notes, I go in chronological order of the meeting. This week, the notes will be group in themes.

Around 50 people attended the public hearing for the proposed changes to our zoning bylaw. The changes included limiting new thrift stores from being located within 400 meters of an existing thrift store, and prohibiting new donation drop off bins from being located anywhere in the City.

The City received two letters in support of the proposed bylaw changes, and two letters from thrift store operators expressing concern that the bylaw was too heavy handed.

Before hearing from people in the council chamber, Gerald Minchuk who is the Director of Development Services & Economic Development provided an overview of the proposed changes, and noted that existing thrift store would still be allowed, as would current donation drop off bins.

There were four people that spoke at the public hearing. One person was the operator of Thrift for Kids, and wondered if they could move locations or expand into a new unit once the bylaw is passed. They also asked why the bylaw used 400 meters as the buffer. Mr. Minchuk noted that while current thrift stores would still be allowed to operate, they could not move or expand into a different unit unless they were 400 meters from another thrift store. Mr. Minchuk also said the 400 meter rule was based on the previous 400 meter restriction put in place for pharmacies.

The next speaker was Teri James who is the Executive Director of the Downtown Langley Merchants Association. She spoke in favor of the proposed changes. The third speaker was a board member of Hope for Children Thrift Store. He asked if council had any questions about the letter he sent which expressed some concerns about the proposed bylaw changes. There were no questions from council.

The final speaker was from the Langley Association for Community Living. He noted that some donation bins in our community are for local non-profits that help people directly in Langley. He wanted council to consider allowing bins from local non-profits while restricting other donation drop off bins.

After the public hearing, there was a Committee of the Whole to get public input on proposed changes to our Business Licensing and Regulation Bylaw which would require thrift stores to have an attendant present whenever items are being received, and to post signage at every entrance stating the hours during which items will be received. It would also require that areas around drop off bins be tidy by conducting daily inspections and clean up.

At the Committee of the Whole, Teri James spoke in favour of the proposed changes as a representative of the Downtown Langley Merchants Association.

After the public hearing and Committee of the Whole, council voted on the proposed bylaw changes to regulate new thrift stores from locating within 400 meters of another thrift store, and preventing new donation drop off bin from being placed in the City.

I was the first person to speak about the proposed changes. I was in full support of limiting donation drop off bin because I see the negative impacts they cause to our public realm. I also spoke about the need to ensure that there was a healthy business mix in our Downtown Core while understanding the value that thrift stores provide for people in our community. Because existing thrift stores will be allowed to remain, I noted that I would support the bylaw to ensure that we have a healthy mix of businesses in Langley. I also said that I’d be happy to revisit this bylaw in the future and remove the 400 meter restriction if need be.

Councillor Storteboom hesitantly supported the bylaw though he had personal concerns with the bylaw as he believed that it would limit competition and not be effective. He noted that the issue wasn’t about thrift stores, but how certainly retail stores present themselves. He said that he would be supportive of community standard bylaws to help ensure that retail businesses put their best face forward to their customers and the public realm.

Councillor Storteboom put forward a resolution to place a five year limit on the 400 meter rule which I seconded. City staff advised that this wasn’t required as Council can amend the zoning bylaw at any time. For example, if there was a new thrift store proposed, the proponent could always ask for a change to the bylaw. In the end, no one on council supported placing a limit on the 400 meter rule.

Councillor Albrecht was supportive of the proposed bylaw changes, but noted that council seems to be reactionary when it comes to our zoning bylaw, and said that he would like to see us become more proactive.

Councillor van den Broek also commented about the reactionary nature of this bylaw, and noted that both businesses and the City need to work together to ensure that all businesses put their best faces forward, so that council doesn’t have to make the bylaw changes that such as the ones being proposed.

Councillor Martin was supportive of the bylaw changes while Councillor Arnold was not.

The proposed bylaw changes were approved with only Councillor Arnold opposed. Council also approved the Business Licensing and Regulation Bylaw changes.

Finally, Council approved the updated fee schedule for current donation drop off bins. I wrote about the updated fees on a previous blog post.

The decision to limit new thrift stores in our community was a difficult decision for me. Based on the feedback I received from both the business community and people that call Langley home, I believe these bylaw changes will be good for our community. If we need to change these bylaws in the future, I have no problem with that.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about the presentation we received from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority as well as about committee reports.

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