A much-delayed proposal for a rental-only building in White Rock will finally receive a public hearing – most likely in mid to late January.
The White Birch proposal for an 80-unit, six-storey apartment building at 1485 Fir St. – originally scheduled for its hearing on Nov. 23 – is the largest project among five public hearings put on hold by council on Nov. 9.
That decision came in response to provincial pandemic health orders prohibiting gatherings until further notice. (The other delayed hearings include one for a three-lot subdivision, while the remainder are for duplex approvals.
At council’s online meeting Dec. 7, council unanimously endorsed moving forward with a fully virtual format for public hearings, allowing the meetings to be rescheduled, but acknowledging a two- to three-week delay to allow for the statutory public notices to be published and distributed in mail-outs.
The previous practice, following the declaration of the COVID-19 emergency in March, was holding a semi-virtual meeting in which in-person public participation at the White Rock Community Centre was transmitted electronically to council members.
But planning and development services director Carl Isaak told council – in both written and verbal reports recommending the fully virtual format – that staff members believe they can provide sufficient opportunity for public input, which could also include phoned-in comments and written submissions.
Isaak said the only other option would be to continue to defer public hearings – which would result in a backlog. As of Dec. 4, provincial health orders preclude a return to the semi-virtual format at White Rock Community Centre, he said.
Coun. Helen Fathers moved the recommendation.
“I’m really happy to support this,” she said. “I do think we’re heading into a new and different way of doing local government, and I think this is just a first step.”
But Coun. Christopher Trevelyan said he had concerns that searches of the city’s website don’t always bring up current and upcoming public hearings.
“How will people find out about these hearings?” he asked.
Isaak said he would request that the city’s IT department look at improving search functions on the website, after Trevelyan’s comments were echoed by Coun. David Chesney.
Isaak said, however, that the city considers the best route for meeting the statutory publication requirement is through mail-outs and newspaper advertisements – and these will include links for the public hearings and addresses for mailed-in comments.