The general public and delegations will be able to partake in Vancouver City Council meetings and public hearings virtually moving forward.
This is the step the City of Vancouver is taking to ensure the continuity of government and regular business during the COVID-19 epidemic, while also taking measures that allow physical distancing and self-isolation.
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For several weeks now, all city council meetings have been conducted virtually, with city councillors and key staff participating by phone, and Mayor Kennedy Stewart and a skeleton crew of procedural staff remaining in council chambers at city hall.
The public will be able to provide their input to elected officials during these meetings and public hearings with new and enhanced tools for public involvement.
Residents can still speak in-person at council chambers, with physical distancing and other health safety measures practiced. But the city will also be engaging in a pilot program for an alternative new phone-in option over the coming weeks to allow the public to continue self-isolation.
While the city will not replace the in-person option with the phone-in option, they are “strongly encouraging” everyone to submit comments through the online comment form or the phone-in option when it becomes available. Most of the comments received by city council are already made through the city’s online comment form.
The municipal government maintains that all other aspects of both processes for meetings and public hearings will continue as usual.
Public hearings, in particular, are integral to city council’s rezoning application review process. The city has indicated that reviewing these applications will allow some businesses to keep operating during the economic downturn.
“Many projects have had very robust public consultation already, and that’s what has gotten them to this point. And some of these are quite simple and there hasn’t been much public interest in commenting on them,” explained City Manager Sadhu Johnston in a city council meeting last week.
“The provincial government has been pretty clear that they want to keep the economy going as much as we can, and this is a step in that direction… These are projects individuals or developers have invested a lot of time and money into, and generally the industry is looking to us to see if we’re open for business, if things are continuing in the development sector.”
Johnston also indicated city staff would begin public hearings with less controversial, straight-forward rezoning applications, before adding proposals with more public interest to city council’s agendas.
For the time being, the provincial government is allowing construction and trades to be an essential service, as long as employers and workers conduct the proper health safety measures.
Richmond and Surrey have plans to continue their public hearings. Jurisdictions that have temporarily suspended their public hearings include Coquitlam, New Westminster, North Vancouver City, West Vancouver, and Port Moody.
Some municipal governments are still accepting various types of development applications through online in-take.