Opinion: Perception and reality

Court ruling reveals the reality municipal governments must work within.

It’s unlikely Monday’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling will change many minds about the Aevitas waste recycling and transfer site.

But the court case was never about whether people liked the idea of hazardous waste that close to a river.

It was about the rezoning process and whether the City of Chilliwack followed its statutory obligations to inform the public.

And it did.

Critics argued the city failed to adequately inform the public about the plant; that the legal notices published two weeks and one week prior to the public hearing were vague and insufficient.

Justice Peter Voith disagreed.

“That this information was readily available to the public,” said Justice Voith in his ruling,  “is confirmed by the fact that the Chilliwack Progress, a local paper, had in the week prior to the public hearing published an article about the rezoning in both the print and online versions of its paper and that it fully and accurately addressed the intended use of the property after it was rezoned.”

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, critics will maintain the city could block Aevitas if it chose.

But they are wrong here, too.

The property is privately owned, and has been zoned heavy industrial since 2001 — a zoning confirmed by Chilliwack’s official community plan and reaffirmed in the 2040 OCP  update completed just this year.

Those who have fought so resolutely against Aevitas had an opportunity to raise concerns about the heavy industrial zoning during that OCP review process.

They did not.

There is a perception among some that a municipal government has unlimited powers; that it could intercede in a private property transaction in any manner it chose. They believe council has the power to block the development.

Again, the critics are wrong. If Chilliwack were to prevent the property owner from realizing the full potential of land the city has already rezoned, it would have to compensate the owner.

Some might argue that the millions of tax dollars it would cost would be justified.

But others might argue that money would be better spent enhancing services, providing better policing and fire protection, or assisting those most in need. They might argue that taxes brought by stringently regulated industrial development — and the local jobs that development creates — is where a municipal government’s priorities should be.

And they’d be right.