City council will take another look at a controversial building bylaw which one engineer said makes some new developments uneconomical.
Richard Stephens of Highland Engineering told council Tuesday night that a city bylaw, which requires developers to move existing overhead utilities underground, is discriminatory.
“The way we apply this particular bylaw creates a lot of unfairness to the developer and makes it uneconomical because of the cost,” Stephens said.
Stephens is representing the owners of a freight transfer depot on 14th Avenue who were notified by the city that as part of their expansion project they will be required to pay to move overheard wires underground. That’s because 14th Avenue is one of several city streets identified by the city for underground wiring on frontages that exceed 45 metres. The freight depot’s is slightly over that threshold. Stephens said it seems unreasonable that just one business will likely end up paying for everybody in the vicinity – a cost estimated around $23,700.
“The cost to actually place the overhead systems underground is very high due to the presence of three-phase power, fusing devices and drop services to other properties,” Stephens said. “This work is complex to undertake and very expensive. The utility companies may not agree to permit this work for such a short section. If they do, they will charge the full cost to convert their systems plus the service connections to other lots within the affected section. This is unfair and unjust for one developer to undertake, and pay for, all of this work.”
Council agreed, and said the bylaw deserves a second look. Council passed a motion to defer the bylaw to the city’s Advisory Planning and Environment Commission.
Mayor Walter Jakeway agreed with Stephens that some utility companies likely wouldn’t agree to having their utilities moved underground.
“I don’t believe BC Hydro will cut those cables that are 13,800 volt,” Jakeway said. “They do not like cutting high voltage cables like that because they break down and cause unreliable systems. So even if we passed it, I don’t think it’ll happen and I don’t agree with the idea of burying high tension cables.”
Coun. Larry Samson disputed that 14th Avenue is an area that needs underground utilities.
“I look at this area and to me it is a light industrial area and to me burying the hydro lines is not a priority for that area,” Samson said. “It’s not a gateway into our city and it’s not a main thoroughfare. I do agree this bylaw does need to be looked at.”
The bylaw requiring developers to put overheard utilities underground was adopted by council in 2010 and is intended to over time remove unsightly overhead wires along the city’s principal thoroughfares.
Chris Osborne, the city’s planner, admitted that the bylaw could be inhibiting development.
“In its current form, there is evidence to suggest that it is having a suppressive effect on development in some locations with relatively little overall gain to the community,” he wrote in a report to council.