Town council will not to hold public hearings until further notice due to physical distancing requirements during COVID-19.
This decision was made due to legal complications regarding the ability to hold a public hearing that is legal, accessible, reasonable and fair.
“These are unprecedented times,” said Mayor Ron Oszust. “Council is taking this very seriously and we are committed to transparency as well. We have decided as a Council, to hold off on debating or making decisions on very contentious issues until we are able to include the public in the process in a more customary way.”
Typically, a public hearing is held when the Official Community Plan or the Zoning Bylaw is amended, often associated with a particular development. At a hearing, the public is to be afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard or to present written submissions.
A key part of process is the ability for people to be in the same room together to listen and respond to other positions on a topic. Prevalent legal advice holds that as a result of physical distancing requirements and closed council meetings, there are no acceptable alternative approaches to hold a public hearing at this time.
In March, following the order of the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, council closed meetings to the public for health and safety reasons.
During the provincial state of emergency, council will continue to follow its existing practice in determining whether to waive certain public hearings for zoning bylaw amendments. A public hearing can only be waived if the amendment aligns with the Official Community Plan. Moreover, when determining whether to waive a public hearing or not, council will also consider how controversial the amendment may be viewed as and to what extent the amendment application will positively affect our local economy and provide meaningful local employment.
Otherwise, council may opt to entirely delay the public hearing process until the provincial state of emergency has ended, weighing this option against the impacts it may pose to a potential development. Council and town staff continue to monitor development proposals and the COVID-19 situation and may re-evaluate this approach to the public hearing process at a later time.
Prior to the first reading of any property specific amendment, a sign is posted on a subject property, if a public hearing is waived, prior to third reading and adoption of the zoning amendment bylaw a notice will be placed in the newspaper and mailed/delivered to occupants within 100 m.
Residents can continue write to council at any time during this order on any particular issue and it will be accepted as official correspondence and considered by council through inclusion on a meeting agenda.