CITY of North Vancouver residents who want to have a say in development projects will find a new set of rules in place on public hearings.
Council approved the changes in a series of split votes at the Feb. 4 council meeting.
Under the new rules, anyone wishing to be on the speakers list for a public hearing must sign up in person. There will now be two signup sheets; one for people planning to speak in favour of a project and one for those opposed. Council will alternately call people from each list to prevent one side of the debate from dominating the meeting. The sign-up sheets will be available an hour and a half before the start time of every public hearing. Council also boosted the city clerk's overtime budget so staff can monitor the sign-up process on nights when large turnouts are expected.
The changes came about in the wake of controversy at the first public hearing for Onni's Safeway site proposal. The developer's staff came to municipal hall early to sign up supporters. The meeting ran more than six hours and several residents complained they could not wait around to speak. Council voted late last year to hold a second public hearing on the Onni proposal, which will likely happen in March.
The city examined the possibility of requiring speakers to give their address as a means of gauging whether they live close to a proposed project, and how much weight their concerns should be given, but Mayor Darrell Mussatto said there is no legal way to force someone to give their address.
Council narrowly rejected a motion to allow councillors to question speakers following their presentations. Those who voted against it said it would force already long, grueling public meetings to go even longer and benefit no one. "It gets stupid. It gets really stupid. If we go past midnight, we don't accomplish anything," Coun. Rod Clark said.
Coun. Don Bell pitched the idea, arguing that asking questions would result in council members being better informed before making an important vote. "It's like giving final instructions to the jury in case. To have it to be fair to both parties involved, it's essential that council have the opportunity to get fully informed. If it takes two nights to do it in the case of a big issue, than so be it," he said.
While the last Onni meeting rankled many in the community, the city usually runs public hearings smoothly and fairly, Mussatto said.