Thursday, January 28, 2021

Many of City Council's big plans await expanded public consultation and some Public Hearings

Prince Rupert's City councillors put down some of the foundation for the many changes that hey have in motion for the community on Monday evening, with Council members moving a number of bylaw proposals tied into the new Official Community Plan work along the meandering path of governance.

Among the themes explored at the Monday session, changes to the always topical parking policies in the city, potential changes towards height restrictions and other elements of zoning, and development of new information policies towards development approval, the latter designed to actually speed up the process when it comes to getting housing and commercial projects underway in the community.

And through all the forty minutes or so of conversation, two words kept coming up ... Public Hearing.

That community engagement feature is one which puts all those plans to the public. 

Allowing for comment and providing the venue and the engagement vehicle for a key element of the process. 

That to address any concerns that the community may have when it comes to the path forward.

Since the arrival of COVID one year ago, Prince Rupert Council seems to have had some difficulties in deciding how they wish to approach the need for public engagement in a time of social distancing.

It was a theme which was touched on by Councillor Nick Adey on Monday who spoke to all of the work of the night and how he hoped the public would soon have opportunity to review all of the effort that has gone into the Official Community plan process and participate in some fashion towards moving it forward.

"When you look at the package en masse, there's just a whole lot of really I think forward thinking concepts in there, so I'm very supportive of it and I would hope that the public process that follows will allow the public access to also appreciate the scope and the comprehensiveness of the plan. 

I guess the only question that I have then around that though, is given that we're under some limitations because of the COVID, what then do we know about what that public consulation process will look like at the moment" -- Councillor Nick Adey

Towards a reply, Rob Buchan the city's contract planner from iPlan observed that he believes that so far the consultation on the OCP has been robust and comprehensive, noting however that more information could be provided to the community related to the various bylaw considerations, before they go to a public hearing process.

On the theme of Public Hearings, Mayor Brain spoke to the Current situation and how it is impacting on the city's planning for a public gathering.

"Ideally, obviously given the Current orders, I think we'll have to see how things play out here in February, but I know that the previous phase, before this current order was in place that we were allowed up to fifty people in a place and I remember that our plan was to potentially use the Civic Centre to accommodate up to fifty people in spaced area to try to do the public hearing.

I think ideally Council would be in favour of doing something like that to make sure that people can physically show up to comment on this. I do agree that I think the zoning bylaw in particular probably needs another layer of communication and explanation to the public, potentially before the public hearing. So that the information is available, whether its an information session or something to that effect."

The Mayor also recounted some of the previous work on the Official Community Plan, much of it conducted through the online portal of Rupert Talks and through community stakeholder and representative engagements noting how those elements had been well received. 

Though it's not really clear as to how many members of the community actually provided feedback, or what percentage of the larger body of those living in Prince Rupert that perhaps are not focused on online options may be aware of the all of the city's plans.

Mayor Lee Brain continues to hold out some hope for a limited
public gathering opportunity to review the city's Official Community Plan

Returning to the need for community engagement, the Mayor followed up with a hope to return to the public gathering option to seek comment from the public.

"Ideally, in my view I would really like to be able to try to see if we can do the fifty person thing in the Civic Centre to make sure that people can show up and actually voice themselves. 

I'm not too keen on doing a Zoom public hearing, even though yes we technically could do it that way. 

So perhaps maybe throughout the month of February we can play it out by ear to see where the regulations are going to go given the status of the pandemic. But I think I speak for Council when we're all kind of wanting to ensure that this gets the attention it needs and deserves and that the people have the opportunity to comment.

So, I don't know how much of a rush we're in to have this all fully completed, but in the meantime obviously we should start with the zoning bylaw engagement just to get some more information out there and then maybe play it out by ear and then maybe report back to council at some time in one of our February meetings to see how the Public Hearing is going to play out" -- Mayor Lee Brain

If they wish to see some progress on their plans, Council will soon have to make a decision on what path they will follow to ensure that the public has not only a chance to view the vision that has been presented, but to offer praise, criticism or helpful hints for approval.

Beyond the long range OCP planning, more immediately, there will also be some important land use decisions required towards creating housing stock in the community, something that the Mayor noted on Monday was one of Council's highest priorities.

As we outlined on Tuesday, a proposed housing development from last summer along Kootenay Avenue was the subject of some community criticism and at the time it was noted that before anything moved forward the work plans would make for a public hearing process. 

However since that time, nothing more has been relayed to the community by Council when it comes to those plans.

Likewise at some point this year, Council will again have to hold some kind of public consultation on the proposed Lax Kw'alaams Housing plans for 11th Avenue East, something which has not been mentioned by Council since the project was introduced in November.

While Prince Rupert tries to solve its dilemma on the path forward towards community engagement, other communities have been moving the process forwards, with both Port Edward and Terrace recently hosting online Public Hearings on two key land use issues in their communities.

By letting the months slip by without any attempt at bringing city residents into the processes required, the wheels of progress in Price Rupert are at risk of slowing to a near stop and with it, some of the hopes that the measures proposed will offer some quick relief for the many issues that have long been identified as needing attention.

You can overview of the changes in policies and plans for the future starts at the seven minute mark of the Council session.

For more notes on Monday's Council Session see our Council Timeline Feature here.

A wider overview of the Official CommunityPlan process to date can be reviewed here, while themes on Housing in Prince Rupert can be explored here.

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