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City of Powell River Council hears public hearing update

Director of planning services briefs councillors on how recently passed provincial legislation affects engagement processes
PROVIDES REPORT: City of Powell River director of planning services Jason Gow provided city councillors a report on provincial Bill 44, and the provisions within it to prohibit some public hearings for zoning changes.

City of Powell River councillors were briefed on a new provincial prohibition on holding public hearings in prescribed circumstances.

At the March 19 committee of the whole meeting, director of planning services Jason Gow said he was presenting information regarding the new provincial prohibition on holding public hearings linked to provincial Bill 44, the House Statutes (Residential Development) Amendment Act. He said staff was seeking direction from the committee on how best to update bylaws and procedures to comply with the provincial request.

Gow said Bill 44, along with sweeping changes to the density provisions in single- and two-family residential zones, has established a prohibition on public hearings for proposed zoning bylaws where: an official community plan is in effect for the area that is the subject of the zoning bylaw; the bylaw is consistent with that official community plan; the sole purpose of the bylaw is to permit a development that is, in whole or in part, a residential development; the residential component of the development accounts for at least half of the gross floor area of all buildings and other structures proposed as part of the development.

“It’s worth pointing out that since 2021, local government has had the option to not hold public hearings where bylaws are determined to be consistent with official community plans,” said Gow.

He said that where public hearings are not required or are prohibited, local governments are still required to provide notice, so the city must consider how it communicates notice requirements for some proposed zoning amendment applications.

“Currently, the zoning bylaw only references situations where public hearings will be held,” said Gow. “At a basic level, city bylaws will need to be updated to address situations where public hearings are not required or are prohibited. To do this, staff are recommending the zoning bylaw be updated to remove development-related activities and that a new development procedures bylaw that incorporates these changes be adopted.”

Gow said the prohibition on holding public hearings raises questions on how local governments can achieve the duty of procedural fairness and provide transparency in decision making to the public. He said this is where public hearings are not required or are prohibited, the opportunity to receive oral submissions from the public is no longer available.

“This could be viewed as an erosion of the public engagement process and council may wish to consider ways to enhance existing public engagement practices where public hearings are not required or prohibited,” said Gow. “One opportunity could be establishing a longer length of time information signs are displayed. Currently, city bylaws require that information signs be displayed on the subject property 14 days prior to the public hearing. Staff are recommending for all proposed zoning bylaws and official community plan amendment applications, the applicants are required to install information signs no later than 28 days prior to council considering first reading of an amendment bylaw.”

Staff are also recommending that links to project-specific engagement pages established on the city’s engagement website be included on notices and information signs.

The committee passed a four-part recommendation that included the committee agreeing that the proposed zoning bylaw amendment is consistent with the official community plan, and that a public hearing for the amendment bylaw will not be held. The recommendation also included that staff be directed to issue notice of council’s intent to consider first reading of the amendment bylaw, and that staff be directed to prepare amendments to the city’s development procedures bylaw, bringing them forward to a future council meeting. The recommendations passed unanimously.

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