Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Council to use Second reading of zoning amendment for a review towards need for a Public Hearing on Kootenay Social Housing proposal

Prince Rupert City Council members for the most part were united when it comes to the need for additional Social Housing in the community, with the City providing for first reading towards a zoning amendment for a number of parcels of land on Kootenay Avenue.

Though as the discussion moved forward on Monday night, they also made note that there was a need for significant consultation by BC Housing with residents of the neighbourhoods nearby, as well as to outline that they will review their options towards a Public Hearing on the topic at their second reading of the zoning change.

On Monday, we outlined the scope of the proposed work on Kootenay Avenue, with BC Housing joining forces with Prince Rupert Indigenous Housing to create up to sixty five units for social housing, removing some of the existing units in place and building new structures ranging from townhomes to an apartment block.

The report was delivered by Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller, who observed that once rezoning is granted the proponent would be entitled to change the plans and pursue alternative development concepts permitted within the zoning bylaw, Council may require a section 219 covenant on the property, though it wasn't recommended they pursue that at this time.

It was also noted that due to the current COVID pandemic the proponent would be required to follow Ministerial order 139, and prepare a public information package for distribution to the neighbourhood, with an invitation to provide comments to be submitted to the Corporate Administrator.

As part of their work on Monday, Council was asked to give the provide first reading for the proposed zoning amendment bylaw and that Council instruct the applicant to distribute a public information package and waive the requirement for a public hearing, as well for Council to advise if a section 219 covenant be required should the re-zoning bylaw pass.

Towards some clarification towards what could prove to be a contentious decision to waive the Public Hearing, Mayor Brain called on City Manager Robert Long to comment on the process under discussion.

"We've always obviously done public hearings for re-zonings and I think, maybe if you could provide some clarity around how that OCP and why this might fit into this context just for everyone's understanding on why it might be recommended to waive the Public hearing not just for COVID reasons." -- Mayor Lee Brain

As the City Manager explained it, the city has two levels of authority when it comes to the zoning process that is under discussion.

"Basically we've got two levels of authority, one is the OCP which indicates whether the uses are appropriate in  certain locations, and if in fact the rezoning comes within something that is already in the OCP as a permitted use we have the ability to either do this proposal as proposed, which is this notification to the neighbourhood and responding. As opposed to a public hearing, which is because of COVID is far more difficult to manage. 

However, these are choices that the Council has; we are making the recommendation that we do the public notification as opposed to the Public hearing. But if council is uncomfortable with that we can go ahead and do the public hearing.  

I think in that case it would be good to do both, because at least we have put some information out in the neighbourhood about this particular proposal and then we could subsequently have a public hearing when we are clear about how it is safely done" -- City Manager Robert Long 

On the theme  of further engagement, the Mayor made note of some recent information and guidance from the Province when it comes to public hearings.

To move forward, Mayor Brain suggested that Council would pass the first reading on the night and the order 139 to distribute the public information package; with the second reading to be used for further discussion as to whether they wanted to go with a Public Hearing and whether there was a need for a covenant.

The City Manager concurred with that strategy, observing how council would cover both sides of the issue by that approach.

The Mayor observed that the city has been working closely with BC Housing on a variety of projects and noted how they have been doing heavy public engagement with that neighbourhood through the year and how the proposed project would be just the start of further plans and projects for the area.

For discussion Council members for the most part agreed with the plan as outlined by the Mayor.

Councillor Adey noted how it falls firmly in line with a community objective to create more housing in the community and wondered as to what will happen to the current tenants that will have to be relocated during the construction period.

Mayor Brain also noted that more information would be coming from BC Housing for the second reading.

Mr. Adey also asked for what scope the public notification area would consist of.

The Corporate Administrator advised that the usual radius is 50 metres around the property to be affected, the Mayor noting that usually projects like this would require a wider radius.

That spurred on some discussion as to how the engagement with the neighbourhood should take place, Councillor Cunningham noted how they need the housing but asked that a very thorough job of notification take place, including advertisement as well as to expand the area of notification to a wider area of the neighbourhood.

Councillor Niesh suggested that the information packages be distributed to a wider group of residents and be put online, adding that anyone could request information not just the local residents of that area.

When it comes to such engagement, Mr. Brain made note of how some of the elements of a public engagement session can't take place, though he did observe as to how Council could opt for a Public hearing to allow for the neighbourhood to have a say, suggesting some form of digital process could take place.

He also offered up the prospect of an online Webinar for the topic, to allow for a presentation, suggesting that the City could work with BC Housing on that concept, that as a way around some of the COVID challenges towards public engagement on such issues.

"I think we can talk about an online piece here, as well as a further expansion of information. What comes to mind to me right now maybe like a Webinar or something because usually you do a presentation at these public information sessions, we'll work with BC Housing on that." -- Mayor Lee Brain   

To bring the discussion to an end, Council chose to go with a first reading of the motion and then to re-examine their plans to move forward at the second reading.

Councillor Adey asked to make sure that any outstanding questions such as the section 219 covenant be addressed at that second reading.

Councillor Cunningham reinforced the call to expand the public notification and how the public should be engaged as much as possible on the topic.

You can review the full conversation on the Kootenay plans from the City's Video Archive portal, starting at the 12 minute mark.

You can review the BC Housing proposal from the City's Agenda package from Monday starting at page 40.

More notes related to Housing in Prince Rupert can be found here.

A wider overview of Monday's Council session can be reviewed from our Council Timeline Feature.

Further background on past Council themes can be explored from our Council Discussion page.

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