The Rainbow Bridge project is planned to go in next to the Cortes Island Seniors Village (pictured). Photo courtesy Bill Weaver

Coalition to End Homelessness asks SRD to find a way to hold public hearings

Letter describes postponing public hearings until September as ‘unfathomable’

The Campbell River Coalition to End Homelessness is asking the Strathcona Regional District to find a way to hold public hearings so that a Cortes Island affordable housing project can move forward.

“All across the world, different sizes of groups have managed to implement technological solutions and they are available. We would just like them to direct their staff to figure it out and make it happen,” said Sue Moen, a representative from the coalition.

The Cortes Island Seniors Society is trying to build a new affordable housing complex on the island. The project requires a rezoning application, which under SRD rules must go to public hearing before it is approved. However, the regional district has postponed all public hearings until after Sept. 7. The Rainbow Ridge rezoning hearing deferral has been in the news before. The Mirror reported in early June that the project could face additional challenges if a timely public hearing process did not occur. A public hearing was originally scheduled for April 30, but that was rescheduled to June 25 due to the pandemic.

On May 1, the Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth made a ministerial order that allowed regional districts and other local governments to hold public hearings electronically, despite COVID-19 physical distancing. However, at the May 27 board meeting, the board voted to postpone all public hearings into the fall.

The SRD Board has said that they do not have the technical ability to hold electronic meetings. The board has also not held a live public meeting of any kind since March.

“I think the SRD needs to find new ways to conduct business during COVID-19, including public hearings for rezoning so that important projects such as building affordable housing can be funded as part of the economic recovery plan for the region,” said the project coordinator for the Cortes Island Seniors Society, Sandra Wood.

RELATED: Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread after SRD defers hearing

Still no public option for Strathcona Regional District meetings

“The letter that we wrote was in response to information that we received from the proponent that there were no public hearings, there had been no public hearings and there were no planned public hearings. They were very concerned,” Moen said. “There is a window with B.C. Housing around new build funding. If the public process is part of the process, and if they can’t figure out a way to do that, then the group that has been working very diligently and very hard moving this project forward could hit a significant roadblock.”

“Who knows whether there will even be a next round of funding in the same way that there has been in the last while, or when that’s going to be,” she added.

Moen explained that Cortes had been identified by the Strathcona Community Health Network as a critical area lacking in housing in the regional district. Over 30 per cent of the population on Cortes is paying over 30 per cent of their income towards housing, “which defines them as at risk for homelessness,” she said.

“Housing… right now there is such a huge focus on it. Provincial dollars are there. We have a provincial government that is making housing a priority, so for our next levels of government not to make every effort to facilitate housing being built is unfathomable,” she added.

The coalition’s letter is not the first to come to the board expressing discontent about the public hearing deferral. In June, BC Ferries also asked the board to reconsider their policy.

The regional district plans to start electronic meetings with electronic public attendance in September.

RELATED: BC Ferries asks for SRD’s reconsideration of public hearing deferral

Strathcona Regional District to allow public participation at meetings, but not until September

As for the letter itself, it was on the board’s July 22 agenda to be received as correspondence. Cortes area director Noba Anderson asked how the item could be moved forward to facilitate a public hearing at the earliest opportunity, and was directed by chair Michele Babchuk to talk to staff about the issue.

Not all directors were happy with the direction, however. Area D director Brenda Leigh told Anderson that “I don’t believe that any director should meddle in the operational issues of the staff. The board has given direction that there would be no public hearings until after Sept. 7, and there’s four or five other applicants that are also waiting for public hearings.

“I have issues too, but I’m waiting patiently for the safe go-ahead for those meetings. Safe for the public and safe for our staff and the directors,” she added.

Leigh and other directors also took issue with the fact that the letter was not signed.

“We have a policy at our board as well that we don’t receive unsigned letters, and this is not signed, We don’t know who wrote it exactly, and it’s not signed so I don’t think we should even bother to receive it,” Leigh said.

Moen and the coalition hope that the directors and staff would work together to find a way to hold public meetings as soon as possible.

“If they’re not comfortable with in-person public hearings and I understand that, the restrictions around that and the difficulty… We would just like them to direct their staff to figure it out and make it happen. None of us are total experts, but we have seen successful examples of engagement processes from different levels of government, different organizations, so it is possible,” she said.

“Our elected officials are responsible to us, and that’s the democratic process. We would hope that regardless of the extra effort they may have to expend, that they would expend that effort to include their constituents. We just want them to see this particular item as critical as we see it,” Moen added.

Six directors opposed receiving the letter, including Brad Unger, Andy Adams, Gerald Whalley, Jim Abrams, Ron Kerr and Brenda Leigh.

RELATED: Local governments need a reason to prevent public access to meetings – Ministry

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

affordable housing

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quadra Island RCMP detachment. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror.
Multiple patients involved in Quadra Island motor vehicle incident

Quadra fire, BC Ambulance and RCMP responding

Centennial Pool is one of the ‘unfortunate casualties’ of the city’s 2021 budget cuts, according to Mayor Andy Adams, but the closure does enable the city to get more work done on the facility rather than have to close it again in the future for renovations. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Centennial Pool could remain closed for 2021 due to lack of gaming revenue for City of Campbell River

Change room building likely to get major overhaul while the facility is closed anyway

B.C. Provincial Election candidates for the North Island riding. (Campbell River Mirror graphic)
Over 4,300 mail-in ballots returned so far in North Island district

Elections BC provides progress report before vote count

MMFN First Nation has said that it will restrict access to portion of Highway 28 that passes through the Nation’s land until a road use agreement is reached. (Black Press file photo)
Vancouver Island First Nation blocks highway access to logging trucks in Gold River

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation restricting access for Western Forest Products pending road deal

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Most Read