City of Delta edges toward elimination of public hearings on developments (meeting Dec 12)

Delta mayor George Harvie doubles as chair of Metro Vancouver

(Updated 7-Jan-2023. Minor text updates below. This zoning bylaw amendment pass on December 12. It comes back to Delta council January 9 for adoption of the minutes – see staff memo at this link. This is a game-changing issue and a significant precedent for all of Metro Vancouver, but we are not aware of any media coverage besides one article in Delta Optimist — see below — and CityHallWatch).

This is something for citizens in Metro Vancouver to be aware of and watch carefully.

Under newly elected mayor George Harvie, the City of Delta is trying to move toward the elimination of most rezoning public hearings. (Important to note, Harvie was also just recently elected chair of the board of directors of Metro Vancouver, formerly the GVRD).

For context, under former premier John Horgan, it took the provincial government just one month to go from tabling a bill in Legislature on October 26, 2021 to Royal Assent (November 25, 2021) of the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2).

It already now gives B.C. municipalities (except Vancouver) the option to decide not to hold public hearings for rezoning that are “consistent” with an “official community plan.” The legislative changes occurred in the space of just one month last year, with virtually no public discussion or consultation. Of some concern, newly appointed premier David Eby appears to support this approach to reducing public input on municipal land use decisions.

As for Vancouver, the legislative changes do not (yet) affect Vancouver as this city is governed by its own Vancouver Charter (which could probably be changed just as quickly and quietly as the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act was passed).

Everyone should be watching for signals from ABC Vancouver’s mayor Ken Sim to see if he is inclined to have public hearings eliminated in Vancouver. The first indication of this would be moves by the planning department and City Council to have the Vancouver Plan designated as the city’s official development plan.

But public hearings are already under threat in Vancouver. Councillor Christine Boyle, on December 6, is bringing back a modified version of her previously rejected motion to eliminate public hearings to rezone up to 12 storeys for certain types of housing on most of the land area in Vancouver. See Brian Palmquist’s “Will they listen no more forever?* (CC#93: The Vancouver and provincial governments take aim at their citizens’ fundamental rights to be heard.)” (Update 7-Jan-2023: This motion ended up being significantly amended by Clr Mike Klassen and adopted by Council. In effect, Boyle’s motion was significantly “de-fanged” and rolled into a more comprehensive process of policy review.)

Below are excerpts from the Delta Optimist‘s Sandor Gyarmati (1-Dec-2022) outlining Delta’s meeting on this topic, Monday, Dec. 12, 4 pm. Bold is by CityHallWatch.

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City of Delta clarifies upcoming council meeting’s venue
Proposed amendment to be discussed at council would remove the requirement to hold public hearings for development applications that are consistent with OCP [Official Community Plan]

… Following a recent announcement by the province on further measures aimed at helping municipalities streamline their housing development application processes, the City of Delta is proposing to amend the requirement to hold a public hearing when a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with an Official Community Plan.

If a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with an OCP, and the city clerk provides notice of the zoning bylaw in accordance with the Local Government Act prior to first reading, then council may adopt the zoning bylaw without holding a hearing.

Council can delegate authority to decide whether to hold a hearing to the director of community planning and development.

If the director of community planning and development decides to not hold a hearing, then council may reconsider that decision and refer the zoning bylaw to a hearing at the time of first or second reading of a proposed bylaw.

Delta’s practice had been to hold a public hearing for virtually all zoning bylaws, including zoning bylaws that are consistent with Delta’s OCP.

Council this week discussed a staff report which provides an overview of recent changes to the Local Government Act including the removal of a previous default requirement to hold public hearings for zoning bylaws that are consistent with the OCP.

The report notes there would be public engagement opportunities to occur earlier in the life of a development application, when there is more opportunity for an applicant to respond to public comments and concerns than at a public hearing.

Direct link to staff report: https://delta.civicweb.net/document/215398/

Link to full article in Delta Optimist: https://www.delta-optimist.com/local-news/city-of-delta-clarifies-upcoming-council-meetings-venue-6186181

5 thoughts on “City of Delta edges toward elimination of public hearings on developments (meeting Dec 12)

  1. So then city governments will be less than democratic….and we should still vote for people who do not believe citizens have any right to comment? Seems a very, very, slippery slope. When a politician/councilor no longer in office, then they too will be citizens with no right to voice opinions… have they not considered that.

  2. I find it utterly disgusting that elected officials have bought into the rhetoric that our citizens (i.e., the tax-paying electorate and people who built and nurtured our communities) are the problem, and that the real estate industry and self-serving advocacy groups are the only voices that matter. People fought hard to make municipal governments more accountable over 50 years ago, and we have all benefited from meaningful citizen engagement and participatory planning at the neighbourhood, community, and regional levels. The Vancouver Plan and Broadway Plan were approved by Council in 2022 after a flawed process that intentionally disengaged the public. These plans are in fact founded on the displacement of tenants, homeowners, and small businesses to open up the entire city for massive densification and real estate speculation. I lament the loss of Vancouver’s reputation as a leader in community planning and livability. What we have before us today is planning by land assembly, and block-busting policies retrieved from the dust heap of the failed urban renewal era. Do you really want to put your blind faith in your City Council and Director of Planning?

  3. George Harvie has been heading this way for some time. He made his view on density and development quite clear during the recent election. DEVELOP, DEVELOP, DEVELOP. It is quite amazing that so few people turned out for the election and that they all were quite happy to go along with his direction. What is even more amazing is that people are open to this when Tsawwassen really only has one main road in and out of town. As said above, it IS all about speculative investment in real estate and lining a specific set of pockets. Sadly it only makes for more expensive housing and does nothing to deal with the “affordability crisis” in housing. Mr. Harvie’s efforts for affordable housing are so minimal and ineffective it shows the true direction of his council.

  4. On December 12th, Delta Council approved, without discussion, two bylaws that significantly alter the public hearing process.
    The bylaw states that “The Director (of Community Planning and Development) may exercise all the powers and perform the duties of Council in deciding whether to hold a public hearing where a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with the Official Community Plan.” This puts the decision on one position at City Hall. With this in place, there is the potential for Councillors to rely on a project being studied by the Director in isolation and then accept the recommendation of the Director.

    The people of Delta elected Council to perform the duties of Council. We did not elect city officials to perform their duties. It is stated that Council may intervene, and if, for example, one Councillor decided that a public hearing is warranted, but then it would take a majority of Council to agree to make a public hearing necessary. This is another nail in the coffin of public engagement in projects that affect the residents of Delta. There are no guidelines to determine whether a public hearing would be necessary. The residents of Delta lose again to Mayor Harvie and now his newly elected “team.” Councillors must remember that they are elected by the people of Delta and are accountable only to the people of Delta. They do not work for, report to and are not accountable to the Mayor, staff or developers. Mayor and Council must listen to the people they represent.

  5. Pingback: As we begin 2023, Vancouver’s city planners have received over 100 rezoning inquiries for developments in the Broadway Plan area, in just the first few months | CityHallWatch: Tools to engage in Vancouver city decisions

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