DUE to fairness concerns following Monday's marathon hearing on redevelopment bylaws for the Safeway site, Coun. Pam Bookham has called on the B.C. Ombudsperson to suspend a council vote scheduled for Nov. 26.
By stacking the speaker's list with interested employees and investors, Onni development group has interfered with the public process, according to Bookham.
In response, Onni released a statement alleging bias on Bookham's part due to her low opinion of the development.
Though the meeting extended past midnight, seniors and people with family obligations were afforded a chance to speak first by Mayor Darrell Mussatto.
Onni is proposing to build 344 condo units in two towers measuring 180 and 240 feet atop a commercial podium including a grocery store. The development's density would represent an 88 per cent increase over what is generally permitted under the official community plan. In exchange for that bump in density, Onni would contribute 12 units of non-profit housing, childcare space, and a $1-million contribution to the city's amenity fund.
Approximately 80 per cent of last Monday's 93 speakers were in favour of the project, arguing the development would help revitalize the city while providing greatly needed social benefits.
Interested parties could sign up to speak at 4: 30 p.m.
According to North Vancouver resident Gail McGuire, the first three pages of the sheet were filled by 4: 40 p.m.
"Onni's marketing manager, Dionne DeLeSalle, was signing up numerous people," McGuire wrote in a letter to the North Shore News. "These people were not present at that time."
McGuire said she spoke on the issue at approximately 10 p.m.
"If you look at the sign-up sheet you will see the same handwriting," Bookham said. "The developer in this case was extremely proactive in bringing out support for his project and he is perfectly entitled to do that, but I have real concerns about him taking charge of the sign-up sheet."
City spokeswoman Connie Rabold said she was unaware of anyone taking charge of the sign-up sheet.
Many of the speakers did not include their address, as is the norm.
"Council weighs the impact of the development on those who live in immediate proximity," Bookham said, explaining the importance of including an address.
Six proponents of the project said they were employed by, or otherwise connected to, Onni.
"We have a lot of concerns about employers putting pressure on employees," Bookham said. "They're in a position where their job may depend on their showing up and speaking in support."
The meeting stretched until well after midnight, providing a test of endurance that may have overwhelmed many concerned residents, according to Bookham. "I do not think one o'clock in the morning is the time to receive public input," she said.
"These are problems that I have never seen in all my time as a councillor."
Bookham is hopeful her letter to B.C. Ombdusperson Kim Carter will result in a reversal of the process and a second round of public discussion.
"I hope that she will advise that because of the irregularities around our public hearing, that we rescind second reading," Bookham said. "I think that would go a long way to resolving some of the problems that were evident at this public hearing."
As things stand now, councillors are not allowed to accept any comment on the issue prior to voting on the bylaws Nov. 26.
Despite misgivings about the process, Bookham said her vote on the development is still up in the air.
"There is absolute agreement that redevelopment on this site needs to take place," Bookham said. "I have not formed a final opinion on this (proposal)."