National Truth and Reconciliation Week
This Thursday, Sept. 30th, is National Truth and Reconciliation Day, and I would like to acknowledge that I am still grateful and privileged to be able to live in Stelḵáya, on the territory of the Squamish Nation. If you would like to pick up an orange shirt to show your support, the Tems Swiya museum in Sechelt is selling orange shirts designed by local artists. Candace Campo of Talaysay tours is also selling shirts.
Two public hearings that will have to be repeated
In the last couple of months we have had two public hearings regarding possible developments in the Creek. One was for increased density at 2284 Pixton Rd, and the other a 12-lot subdivision on DL 1312 on Harman Road. I would like thank all of you who took valuable time and some emotional investment, came out and voiced their thoughts on these matters. Unfortunately, for the following reasons, both public hearings will have to be repeated.
For 2284 Pixton Rd staff made an oversight and the written responses associated with the hearing were not included in the report.
Here is the official reply to an inquiry by a member of the public:
Section 465 (5) of the LGA states:
"(5) A written report of each public hearing, containing a summary of the nature of the representations respecting the bylaw that were made at the hearing, must be prepared and maintained as a public record."
Since the written submissions were omitted from the following staff report, our carefully-considered position is that adding letters to the record after the hearing would constitute a breach of common law whereby information contained within the letters could be construed as information after the fact. In order to ensure fairness for all involved, the hearing will be repeated.
For DL1312 the matter is a little more simple. The local government act requires that a public hearing be advertised in the two preceding issues of the local newspaper. The Coast Reporter forgot to insert the second ad, and staff didn’t double-check, and therefore the public hearing was invalid.
I, and senior management, were quite upset at these incidents. Staff have been dealing with new procedures as a result of going online and other COVID precautions, and we found out the hard way that our process was not bullet-proof. As a result of these two mishaps, staff have now created a 33-step checklist to guide the public process during public hearings, and checks and balances have been inserted. I would like to ask for your understanding and forgiveness, as this is new territory for everyone. Staff have assured me that this will not happen again. The dates of the new hearings will be announced in the near future. For those of you who submitted written comments the first time, please re-submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to cc me at Andreas.email@example.com.
New information introduced late in the game
For 2284 Pixton, staff introduced an option the owner of the property would be willing to accept to approve an auxiliary dwelling with less density than in the original application. According to the local government act, that is permitted, as long as the revised option has less density than the original application. This did not make a ton of sense to me on first inspection, as someone can ask for the moon and then try to bypass the public feedback process by settling for less by only trying to sway the board with a more modest option at third reading. The key point here is that it is up to the discretion of the board to ask for another public hearing, so as long as there is some faith in the decision making ability of the board, we’re ok.
For DL1312, during the staff presentation an extra slide was introduced with a new option proposed by the developer. It showed a picture of twelve 1.75 ha lots (aka 5 acre lots), going along both sides of Porter Road, and a correspondingly smaller community contribution. While it appeared as if information was introduced by staff late in the game, as staff presented it, it was a suggested alternative by the developer that he probably should have introduced, so as to clearly delineate between the original proposal and another option that had been created as a result of some preliminary feedback. Imagine if he had, during the public hearing, said: “I’m hearing some feedback on this now and I would be willing to entertain 12 1.75 ha lots…” Staff have changed their policies on this now to avoid confusion in the future.
The Original Proposal for DL 1312
I’m not going to mince with words here. These incidents have eroded public trust in the planning department. Staff have now amended their procedures to provide better clarity, but there is a lot of work to be done to create a less adversarial relationship between the public and staff. I’m going to go into a little bit of depth on the planning process at this point to provide a bit more understanding.
The planning process
Anyone can walk into the SCRD office and apply for whatever hare-brained idea they might have. Staff will then attempt to tell them what would or could stand in the way of a successful application and that usually either deters folks from the original plan or they mould their plan to ensure the most likely success. Once this application reaches the board it has therefore already been vetted, but even if an application is unlikely to succeed, and the developer wants it before the board, it will get there.
The report may then look like it is in favour of the development just because staff has worked with the applicant to create an application worth getting to the board for their consideration, but ultimately staff has no skin in the game. They don't get paid more for successful applications, and they are paid a salary. They have more than enough work to do and do not need to create work for themselves. They are also bound by a professional code of ethics to fulfill their job.
Ultimately it is the board and only the board that will decide whether an application is in the best interest of the community. Often, especially when the board has little history (like ours), and when there are factors that have changed considerably since the OCP was adopted (like a housing crisis, or a demographic shift within our population, like now) the board will want to hear from the community to ensure that they are making the right decision.
Just because something passes through 1st and 2nd reading does not mean that the board is in favour, it simply means that the board wants to hear from the community to ensure that they are on the right track and not out on a limb. Public input will only be introduced after 2nd reading, so the board will often go through the full process. The board takes its responsibility very seriously and will err on the side of caution rather than make rash decisions. It will also make a decision only if they feel like they have enough information to make a fully informed decision. If, in the end, and only then, you are not happy with the decision of the board, then blame the board, and not staff.
In rural planning matters the five rural directors will vote on an application (Areas A,B,D,E,F), and each vote counts equally. The vote is determined by a simple majority. We have had a few contentious decisions in the past (like the Cooper’s Green Hall replacement), and the vote is not always unanimous, but that’s democracy.
Staff shortages, garbage and a housing crisis
As many of you have unfortunately noticed, our waste pickup, operated by our contractor, Waste Management, has been unreliable as of late. The reason is that they are short on staff, and have a hard time finding more, despite considerable incentives like a $2000 signing bonus. Here is a press release with more information. They are not alone. Restaurants on the Coast have been closed on days they did not want to be, and yesterday I saw a 10-20 minute lineup for the cashier in Wilson Creek IGA with only 2 tills open. This is the symptom of a larger problem. The recent housing boom, and the lack of small, affordable housing has priced out those people who traditionally occupy those entry level positions. Our demographic makeup is skewed towards old people, and a recent influx of affluent folks fleeing the city are not adding to this labour pool either while driving up housing prices. Add to that a fear of COVID, mask mandates and CERB payments, and you have a lot of people who are currently not able or interested in joining the workforce.
We as a board have few tools to turn this around quickly. We can try to incentivize the building of smaller, multi-unit buildings in the rural areas, but not without community input. That all takes time. The OCP’s in the rural areas all don’t address this issue, and a community discussion has not been had. We have many large houses on acreages here in the Creek, and many that have small units on their property have converted them to STR’s, so there simply isn’t enough housing around for those that are earning lower wages. This situation will not get better any time soon. Sechelt and Gibsons are trying to add smaller and rental housing, but maybe the rural areas should also consider adding some. I would like to have a dialogue with the community on how that could look like. The OCPC has reached out to the RCCA at this point to organize something, so stay tuned for more news.
Composter Rebate Program
The SCRD board implemented a pilot program last year to facilitate the purchasing of composters for those willing and able to do that. The program has been successful, and we have now voted to continue offering this program. I personally use a Jora composter and it works great. For more information, check here.
Donna McMahon’s newsletter
If you’ve read this far you deserve more, so here is a link to Donna’s latest newsletter, as always full of great information.
That’s it from me for now. In case you have any questions or concerns, you can always email me.