A recent Port Moody bylaw change could give developers an excuse for not having their applications reviewed, according to one committee member.
Port Moody council recently advanced an amendment that would allow projects to skirt the committee process if there are delays. Kate Zanon, the city’s general manager of community development, explained that some applications “have been trying to move forward since July.”
The bylaw amendment passed by a 5-2 vote on Nov. 22.
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However, some Port Moody committee members have rebuked the city’s characterization of their attendance record as the basis for a recent bylaw change.
Hazel Mason, an LUC member, spoke at council after the amendment passed. She said a quorum issue “did not exist.”
“An important part of the review process can now just be thrown out at council’s whim,” Mason said. “It should worry people a lot.”
The two committees are staffed by local residents and professionals to provide early input and recommendations on applications before they come before council.
Mason provided the Dispatch with the LUC’s schedule record over the past two years.
Only one meeting (Sept. 8, 2022) was cancelled due to a lack of quorum, one was cancelled (Oct. 17, 2022) due to not having a chair or vice chair, and another (Nov. 21, 2022) was cancelled due to pending council appointments. Ten were cancelled because the committee was told there were no applications to review.
Staff had previously said one project had been held up since July, but Mason said their meeting that month was cancelled due to having no applications up for review.
Earlier this month, Mayor Meghan Lahti and staff stated the land use committee (LUC) and advisory design panels’ (ADP) trouble achieving quorum were stalling development projects. Lahti explained that applicants “have a right to see due process.”
Quorum not the issue
The city responded to the Dispatch via email, stating that the application was not ready to go before the committee until August.
Patricia Mace, a member of the ADP, said a quorum issue was “totally not true.” She said over the last two years, no meetings were cancelled due to quorum, but many had been dropped due to a lack of applications.
She said she doesn’t see the necessity of “watering down” the language if quorum is not really the issue for the committees.
“It gives the developers and council an excuse for not having these applications reviewed,” Mace said.
She added the one application delayed since July is a six-storey rental building that the land use committee would likely have issues with because it conflicts with the Official Community Plan.
Couns. Haven Lurbiecki and Amy Lubik both voted against the bylaw change.
Lurbiecki said that she was “quite concerned” that the rationale for the bylaw change was not entirely accurate.
She said she’s in favour of improving the city’s committees but changing a bylaw over one stalled development application makes her “nervous.”
“The role that these two committees are serving is different from the other committees. That’s why they are in bylaws – they’re important,” Lurbiecki said. “I know we’ve said we’re going to look at (the bylaw) in a few months, but once it’s changed, it’s changed.”
There are three applications waiting to be reviewed by the committees, according to staff. They added their comments regarding quorum were only meant to refer to recent meetings, not overall attendance.
Staff apologized for any disrespect felt by committee members, but qualified that if there is no committee chair available, they still consider that a lack of quorum.
The LUC is chaired by a member of council, and the ADP is chaired by a professional architect, though the mayor can chair either committee so they can proceed.
Coun. Callan Morrison, for his part, said he has concerns about the committees being understaffed.
The LUC currently only has four out of seven positions filled, and the ADP has six of 12, requiring near perfect attendance to conduct business.
“When a maximum of 10 people will be able to give input between the two committees … the value of that information right now, I believe, is a little bit compromised,” Morrison said.
Lahti agreed, and said she doesn’t want to restructure committees based solely on the quorum question.
“Four people doesn’t really give you good community consultation,” she said, noting they may have to recruit more members.
On Nov. 15, council had unanimously approved a motion requiring applicants to make two attempts to schedule committee meetings before they can be bypassed.
Coun. Samantha Agtarap said the motion is “kind of obliterated” if there is no appointed chair and committee business cannot go forward.
Lahti responded that if there is a need to schedule a meeting she will appoint a chair, or chair the committee herself. She told the Dispatch via email that she could not chair the cancelled LUC meeting in November because a scheduling conflict.
Streamlining vs. slippery slope
Coun. Kyla Knowles said she’s in favour of “streamlining,” and the new bylaw only contains a slight language change. “It doesn’t necessarily mean applications will always skip these two committees, it just means that they may, if necessary,” she said.
Mason directly addressed Knowles’ comments during the public input period.
“That may be okay for a very small project, but it’s not okay for one with a major neighborhood impact. To me, it’s a slippery slope,” she said.
Mace admitted that Port Moody’s committees have gone through some growing pains. She said the former Community Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC) used to be a combination of LUC and ADP, but it was so large there was little time for members to speak.
“Just because a committee is small, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have valuable input,” Mace said.
She said council is entitled to change the development process, but she questions why it’s being done hastily with less than two months left in the current committee members’ terms.
“I just wish that staff would have been more upfront,” Mace said. “Why throw these two committees under the bus?”