OUT ON A LIMB: Why do people never seem to know what’s coming?

Campbell River residents can’t just be passive consumers of information

Communication is a two-way street. Not only do you have to be told what’s going on. You also have to ask what’s going on.

The process of government informing people about what’s going on always interests me.

And I’m not talking about government agents spying on the populace or compiling internet activity profiles and other civil liberty violations we all know is going on, right? I’m talking on a little more realistic and practical level.

Whenever the city has a rezoning plan or a development approved nobody ever seems to have seen it coming.

“We didn’t know anything about this!” is a common refrain from Gordon Road, to the Old Island Highway and now to Peterson Road. And everywhere in between.

Nobody ever seems to know anything about these developments. Is the city so secretive that it negotiates these developments behind closed doors – the infamous in-camera meeting? Not exactly.

I’m not defending the city’s communication habits. I’d be the first to say they could connect with the community a whole lot better (if they had the money for it – a whole other discussion in this current fiscal climate).

But you have to put out some effort to get information yourself. It’s more reliable than expecting the city to do it.

It’s not just people’s overwhelming sense of entitlement these days that makes them think they have to be spoon fed information from the authorities. It’s compounded by the fact that we’re all busy making our living; the issues are complex and perhaps require an engineering degree to fully understand; and the regulatory process is knee-deep in studies, rezoning bylaws and, yes, official community plans.

The city has legal requirements to inform neighbours of pending development applications but people never seem to have received any of them if you judge by the constant parade of public hearings. Now I can’t generalize about every development permit process that’s ever been done but explanations vary. A common one recently has been people finding out about a development that conforms to a rezoning that was done a decade or so ago. New residents arriving afterwards don’t get the rezoning notice because it’s already been done.

“We were never informed!” – well, that may be because you weren’t here 12 years ago when the notice was sent out. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just pointing out what occurs and sometimes it’s just accidental.

How you defend yourself against that happening is find out all you can about the property you’re buying and the neighoubourhood around it. Heck, find out about what the zoning is for your whole community. That’s what the official community plan is about.

Now, of course, that doesn’t take into account the fact that a zoning is sometimes simply an application away from being changed. Instead of being spoon fed information, you have to seek it. The city has an obligation – a legal obligation – to inform you but you have an obligation to get the information yourself. It’s out there. Keep an eye on the papers. Use the city’s website. It’s not very good but hopefully they’re going to improve it. The city meetings are now being streamed online if you can’t get to them live.

Sure it takes time but the alternative is to sit back and be surprised when a development permit application for a teen skateboarding night club, recreation hall and rap band rehearsal space is approved for your neighbour’s property.

So, what’s been your experience with city information particularly with regards to rezonings and neighbourhood development projects? Tell me your horror story.