The Cariboo Regional District is working towards a return to in-person public hearings, after two years of holding meetings via teleconference.
Nigel Whitehead, manager of planning services for the CRD, made the recommendation at a committee of the whole meeting earlier this month, noting that the province’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions has opened up the possibility of a return to in-person meetings.
The CRD has the option to continue with electronic public hearings, revert back to in-person meetings or conduct a hybrid format, Whitehead said. With technology challenges at rural halls that would prevent both in-person and online formats, as well as staffing requirements to assist with hybrid hearings, Whitehead said going back to solely in-person meetings is the best option.
“After looking at all of this analysis, the most cost-effective and sustainable solution is to bring back in-person only hearings in the evenings at the local community hall, as close as possible to the proposal,” Whitehead said.
The CRD is mandated under the Local Government Act to hold public hearings for a variety of bylaw proposals, including certain rezoning applications and Official Community Plan amendments.
The province recently revised its legislation to make public hearings optional if the zoning amendment is in compliance with the OCP.
Whitehead said a variety of public-hearing options were explored by staff, including finding central locations in either 100 Mile House, Williams Lake or Quesnel that were equipped with the technology to host virtual and in-person meetings.
Another option would be to hold hybrid meetings during work hours to allow staff to assist at rural community halls without incurring overtime.
“That would kind of negate the point of holding a hearing during the day when many residents are in town at work,” Whitehead said.
Directors were generally supportive of the return to in-person public hearings, which Whitehead said would apply to new applications should the move be formally approved.
“My residents like to meet in person,” said Willow Macdonald, area director for Lone Butte – Interlakes. “Our halls don’t have internet and they want to meet in person every opportunity they can. Given that now we can see people and their whole faces, I think that giving them that would be good.”
The issue will go before the CRD board in mid-April, when directors will have the chance to vote on the recommendation.