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Chilliwack council nixes hearings to comply with new B.C. housing rules

Majority voted in favour of new planning rules in first step to speed up housing, with 2 opposed
Coun. Chris Kloot tells council he will not be supporting the motion about public hearings at the Feb. 6 council meeting. (Screenshot/ City of Chilliwack)

Chilliwack council took steps this week to comply with sweeping provincial housing initiatives aimed at building more homes across B.C.

Council approved a bylaw Tuesday (Feb. 6) acknowledging the City of Chilliwack will no longer hold public hearings for any residential development rezonings consistent with height and density rules under the Official Community Plan.

But not everyone was on board.

Coun. Chris Kloot and Coun. Bud Mercer voted against the motion about public hearings at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Coun. Mercer asked about holding off on it.

“What happens if we say no?” he asked.

But the answer was that Chilliwack would be out of compliance with provincial laws related to its Homes for People strategy if it didn’t pass the bylaw amendment.

The prescriptive changes coming to the local planning framework are meant to dovetail with new requirements to allow for increased density in areas currently zoned for single-family or duplex use, especially those in close proximity to transit hubs.

“I think that getting rid of the public hearing takes the voice away from the citizens and neighbourhoods it impacts, and that’s just not right,” Coun. Kloot said, with Mayor Ken Popove chiming in his agreement.

Kloot also asked “what would happen” if council chose not to go this route of approving the bylaw, but council was informed it was already law.

Director of Planning Gillian Villeneuve explained the provincial law requiring the change to the city’s procedural bylaw guiding public hearings and public information meetings was already in effect.

“That’s just the state of the law already,” she said, adding the change under Bill 44 was the first of several procedural steps for Chilliwack to update its zoning bylaws and OCP accordingly and come into compliance.

“It’s one of the first things the province put in place.”

Coun. Kloot said “unbelievable,” in reaction, and added “but here we are,” suggesting it would be “burdensome” on the community without the necessary infrastructure and “unintended consequences” could be coming, such as more parking problems.

Mayor Ken Popove had asked if the bylaw amendment about no hearings could be held at third reading but was told Chilliwack would not be in compliance with provincial law until it passed.

Coun. Nicole Read said with the lack of transit funding from the province it “seems counterintuitive to be demanding we build residential units” in transit corridors, “but not supporting increases to our transportation infrastructure, and to busing.” She said later that the expectation is that the provincial government will “come to the table” with more transit system expansion funds down the line.

Coun. Jeff Shields said he wanted to know how efforts were going amid the “mad scramble” to hire consultants to modify Chilliwack’s OCP given how they’ll be in such “high demand” across the province.

Council was told it’s an item on the staff work plan.

The matters before council on Tuesday were just “minor” amendments intended to provide “clarity” and direction on how the city cannot hold public hearings going forward, and was for the benefit of the development community and the public, Villeneuve said.

But any amendment to the OCP itself would still require a public hearing, council was told.

By end of June 2024 council is expected to bring forth another bylaw amendment for the transit-oriented development areas and small-scale multi-unit housing, and council will also be required to amend its OCP again by the end of 2025.

The suite of provincial laws, including Bill 44, was passed last fall by the Eby government under the Homes for People plan.

The legislation aimed at building more homes faster across B.C. will also change housing needs reporting, as well as public hearing requirements like council’s motion, and require frequent updating of OCPs with pre-zoning that accommodates a 20-year housing supply.

The motion acknowledging the city can no longer hold public hearings was passed by a majority of council on Feb. 6.

Council gave first, second, and third reading to amendments to the Public Hearing/Public Information Meeting Procedural Bylaw to implement new zoning procedures.

While public hearings may no longer be held for residential development rezoning applications (including mixed use development with at least 50 per cent residential) when they are consistent with the OCP, public notice of these rezoning applications will continue, including signage on the affected property, newspaper ads, and mailed notices to neighbours within 30 metres of the subject property.

“In the past, the City of Chilliwack has received community input through public hearings and still been one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Canada, so it is difficult to understand the Province’s decision to prohibit this kind of public participation,” said Mayor Popove.

“Every community in B.C. needs more housing, but this provincial one-size-fits-all approach to public hearings is a disservice to local residents who want to be involved in their neighbourhoods.”

Under the legislation, public hearings can only be held for temporary use permits, development variance permits, and rezoning applications which do not align with the Official Community Plan. Every OCP in B.C. has to be updated by Dec.31, 2025.

READ MORE: It was expected some municipalities would not embrace housing changes

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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