Friday, June 16, 2023

Forum for community participation in Council sessions shows a few areas for improved communication

The introduction earlier this year of a set period for the public council sessions for public participation was  one noted by Mayor Herb Pond a few weeks ago as a welcome thing, with residents coming to City Hall in recent months to speak to issues listed on the Council Agenda for each session.

"I gotta tell you, I love this process, this democracy in action. So thank you all for being here and part of it"  -- Mayor Herb Pond at the May 8th Council session 

However, as the process has evolved since introduced at the start of the year,  the chance to participate has also provided some glimpses into where the City Council members are falling short of the public's expectations when it comes to information sharing, particularly in the always sure to gain notice area of proposed housing.

We charted two areas for public frustration this week on that theme, one related to the proposed housing plans for an area adjacent to Prince Rupert Middle School which was on the agenda following a public hearing earlier in the night.

The other related to a proposed apartment building for the Hays Cove Area, which wasn't on the agenda but through some guidance from City Councillor Nick Adey,  who while  serving as chair on the night, managed to shape into a discussion on Council and city process on notifications for the public.

Despite Public Hearing Concerns and petition from the neighbourhood, Council's desire for 'desperately needed; housing moves proposed 9th Avenue West plans forward

East side residents find frustration from City's process of information sharing on Apartment plans 

What seems to have come from all of that is a fair bit of confusion for the public and indeed for some of the council members as to what their role is in the evolution of housing plans.

The Ninth Avenue West proposal in particular seemed to highlight that Council members weren't really clear on the procedure, or what might come next following  the zoning topic of the night.

With some suggesting that the project would come back for another look at the variance stage, only to be reminded by Mayor Pond that if the proponents requested no variance, then for the most part the plans would move ahead.

"I just want to correct Councillor Forster, this is actually a rezoning bylaw, so we're changing the zoning on that property ... you're correct it comes with a height restriction that's lower than what the new zoning would normally allow. 

But technically speaking, I think we have to be aware that if you approve the zoning change and if the developer brings a project forward that requires no new variances, this could be the approval that allows them to go ahead with the project.

And I'll just tell you, that while I appreciate the concern of the neighbours in that neighbourhood, my experience has been that every project in every neighbourhood has concerns and I expect that staff working with the developer will be able to overcome them.

We desperately need the housing and  so I'm certainly voting in favour of the bylaw rezoning" 

What's frustrating for the residents seems to be the lack of information towards what they may find in their neighbourhoods not too far down the line. 

On Monday participants spoke of lack of consultation, as well as a suggestion that the city has much land in its holdings that may be better suited to such projects.  

And those are areas where Council and staff could improve on how they present the proposals, share information and how the community can track them.

First probably is a refresher course for the Council members on the various stages and elements of their duties on housing and how they can and can't engage with the public.

Followed by an explanation for the public as to how that process works, as well as to create some kind of online archive for what soon could be a growing file of projects under consideration or development.

An information portal that might serve to provide residents with up to date information as to where each proposal is at.

The final portion of the Mayor's comments of Monday are important to take note of.  

This is a community that as Mr. Pond stated,  desperately needs housing and as he noted at any given time, a proposal is going to find some push back in neighbourhoods that haven't seen any change in decades, if at all.

Along with that is a push by the province to ensure that housing is built by reducing the zoning issues that have slowed the pace in many communities, a move into municipal territory that could effectively reduce a Council's overview on housing themes.

By providing for a bit more information early on in the process and clearly outlining when the public will have a chance for their say, Council and staff may be able to head off any larger issues.  

Some of which sometimes are based on misinformation, that could come along to make for nights where the audience leaves disappointed with a sense of not being heard.

We're not sure what Council's expectations are when it comes to feedback, engagement and Democracy in Action from the public which they serve; but on this past Monday night, it's safe to say that the process didn't not meet up with the expectations of those in the gallery.

More notes on housing in the community can be reviewed here.

A wider overview of past council discussion themes can be explored from our Council archive page.


  1. NCR: complaining since 2011

    1. And attracting a loyal readership since then, including yourself it seems.

  2. Overall it was a pretty lamentable display by a self-absorbed council and administration that appears desperate to show progress on the housing file.

    In the zoning case the residents' petition and letters are treated dismissively. "It's a modest sized development", said the City Manager, which implies that it's not a big deal.

    In the variance case the City Manager says that there is "some confusion", but the only confusion is that the administration does not know whether it sent out the required statutory notices. He talked about "re-sending" the notices, implying that they had already been sent, but the residents are more credible when they say that they did not receive any notices.

    Then at the end, in answer to Mrs Quast's question about when the residents can have their say, the City Manager commented that they are always free to have their say outside of "formal processes", which was giving the brush off. Rather obviously, the residents want to be know when they will be heard formally before the variance is decided.

    I'm more than a little surprised by the tone of some of the City Manager's comments, while the council comes across as being out of their depth and confused.

    1. What’s lamentable is the age old not in my backyard syndrome.

      The most vocal and ardent supporters of new affordable housing always end their opening statement with “but just not in this location”

    2. They haven't made an "opening statement". As of the date of the meeting they had not received the statutory notice that is required and they have not been given an opportunity to be heard. The City skipped those steps, and will now have to backtrack.

    3. All the change, variances and bylaw changes should have a checklist of what is required and when in relation to public notification along with the timeline.
      The next item on the check list should be when each item was implemented along with a date when complete.
      The list at least should be available at any public meeting regarding the variance/rezoning.
      This will protect the taxpayers interests along with that of the administration.
      With the city here it often seems like it is the first time they have done it. Consistency should be welcome to all both proponents and detractors.

    4. You forgot to mention things should not more forward until items are checked off then onto the next step.

    5. I wonder if the administration would be up to the challenge of providing such eminently sensible and helpful information for the public. The administration's preference seems to be to provide as little information as they can get away with. In the case of the notice requirement for variance application they did not even manage that.

      Regarding the zoning bylaw issue where Mr Sawka was ruled out of order because he was too late, the notice for the public hearing on the 12th refers only "Zoning amendment bylaw no. 3507, 2023", which was one of two zoning bylaws to be voted on at the meeting. No details were provided as to the street address and there was no reference back to the May 23 report to the council as a background document. Some explanatory notes in the notice would have been helpful.

    6. Council sits back and lets it happen. I am sad to say I voted for some of them and have been disappointed. The bad part for the city is I don’t see any change coming.