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City of North Van bans residents from speaking to council on redevelopments

Staff say comments from the public may put the city at risk of a lawsuit
City of North Vancouver residents will no longer be allowed to speak to council about most development proposals, including this 21-storey tower planned for East 14th Street in Central Lonsdale. | Three Shores Development

The City of North Vancouver will no longer allow residents to address council during the weekly public input period if they are planning to speak about a specific residential rezoning.

City staff and the mayor began enforcing the new ban at the April 22 meeting, citing a 2023 provincial law change that has prohibited municipalities from holding public hearings for rezonings when the proposals are consistent with an official community plan.

City solicitor Heidi Granger told council the change to extend the ban to the weekly public input period, which typically allows residents to sign up and speak for two minutes at the outset of a meeting, was necessary to shield the municipality from legal risk.

“A public input period may then be characterized by somebody who wants to challenge the lawful work of the city on the basis that the city did, in fact, hold a prohibited public hearing,” she said. “Our recommendation, which may be cautious but it is a recommendation based on [outside legal] advice as well, is not to receive verbal submissions.”

Going forward, if residents want council to know their thoughts on a residential rezoning, they will have to send their comments to the city in writing, not deliver them verbally in the council chamber, and no later than noon on the day that the rezoning is coming before council.

The intent of the province’s ban on public hearings was to remove a hindrance to new housing being approved but several council members said the change has become a hindrance to them doing their jobs.

“I think being able to listen, to understand the concerns of members of our community, that’s important. That’s the whole point,” said Coun. Tony Valente. “I think it’s a huge miscalculation to exclude people in the decisions on how our city grows, and it really kind of delegitimizes our role as local government.”

Controversial development

It was in the same meeting’s public input period that the first community members ran up against the new ban. A group of residents at the CentreView building in Central Lonsdale have been pushing back against a proposed 21-storey tower across the street at 120-128 East 14th St. Three Shores Development has applied to build 164 strata homes over top of commercial and office space on two relatively small lots that are currently home to an aged two-storey commercial building.

Issues raised by nearby residents included traffic would flow on the congested one-way street leading to the North Vancouver RCMP and Lions Gate Hospital buildings, disruption and access challenges through the lengthy construction period, and that the new building will block the mountain views of existing residents.

City resident Garry Nishimura had come prepared to raise those issues with council, but instead said he was disappointed that council had been cowed by city staff’s legal opinion.

“They decided that they would err on the side of discouraging or eliminating public input as opposed to as your stated goals of being open and allowing public input,” he said.

At 21 storeys, the proposal’s height is within the limits proscribed in the OCP, but the floor space ratio, which measures a development’s total floor area against the size of its lot, is more than double the density the OCP allows for the site. That should make it subject to a public hearing, the CentreView residents have argued.

But council had voted behind closed doors to transfer 8,710 square metres of buildable space from the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre lands to the Three Shores project in exchange for $18.2 million for the city.

Because density transfers only move allowable density from one site to another and don’t create net new buildable space, they do not require an amendment to the official community plan, staff asserted in response.

CentreView resident Richard Short took issue with the city’s process and lack of transparency.

“Why was the developer whose principals were significant contributors to the mayor granted an unprecedented floor space ratio in Central Lonsdale? Why have an OCP if city officials can arbitrarily decide to change plans on it via the density transfer loophole? Why was one developer’s proposal given extraordinary latitude over others?” he asked.

Mayor Linda Buchanan cut Short’s presentation off, reiterating council must now follow the province’s new rules.

“We are not choosing to use this legislation. We are prohibited under provincial legislation,” she said.

She also criticized the provincial legislation more broadly, saying she has taken the matter up directly with Premier David Eby.

“This is the largest overreach of provincial government in history, with multiple legislative changes in very short order and I’m not sure there is an understanding of how much chaos that has actually been injected into local government,” she said. “This is creating chaos at a time when we actually need to be bringing people together and understanding the significant changes that we need to be making at all levels of government, working together, and the kind of housing that we need to be delivering to support people in our community.”

The Three Shores Development on East 14th is scheduled to come to council for a vote at the May 6 meeting.