The Feb. 9 public hearing on the Fourth Street development drew way more people than have been seen at public hearings in many years. I usually think it’s a good thing when residents turn out to express their views, but I was troubled by what happened.
The decision we had to make was whether to approve an additional four units as bonus density. However, almost everybody spoke about it being a four-storey building. This makes it challenging for council, because (1) most people didn’t seem to understand that the land was already zoned to allow four-storeys, (2) most people didn’t say anything about what they thought about a density of 11 units vs. seven units, and (3) several people were misinformed about various matters such as thinking it was contrary to the OCP.
Only a handful actually spoke about the bonus density (all in opposition).
Obviously the majority that night were opposed to the development. But would they have been any happier if the development went ahead with seven units instead of 11? It was pretty clear that some would have been happier. They seemed to be there to oppose the development because “we have to stop council.”
I have a lot of trouble with that last one. I understand there are people who are upset with council, but is that a good reason to turn down this application? In the end, could I reasonably argue that most people were opposed to the bonus density? No. Most people didn’t even bother mentioning it. This doesn’t leave Council much option but to rely on the members’ own judgement in making the decision.
Some people will probably argue it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because council doesn’t listen.
I can assure you that council is listening. For example, Jack Barker spoke at the public hearing about how the zoning bylaw had changed and that in the past four-storey buildings were only allowed if there was underground parking. I know that the next day one of our newer councillors followed up with staff to find out more about that history — an example of someone listening.
Another example of listening was early in the process when council told the developer to reduce the density from 16 to 11 and forget the OCP amendment.
There is however a difference between simply listening and when that input also influences decisions. I firmly believe when people demonstrate they are reasonably well informed and also explain why they hold a particular opinion, it influences council decisions. Unfortunately, last Tuesday night wasn’t one of those cases.
For those who believe that getting a large number of people to show up and pressure council by telling them that they’ll get booted out at the next election if they don’t vote a particular way, Feb. 9 should demonstrate that tactic isn’t a winning formula. I don’t think anybody on council is more concerned about the next election than doing what they think is right. More to the point, if you have to resort to bullying to convince me, then it suggests you don’t think the logic supporting your point of view is very convincing. You’ll do better by dropping the intimidation and just presenting your arguments.
Another thing that particularly troubled me was the handful of people making statements like “developers can do whatever they want”, “staff ignore the OCP”, “council is in the developers’ pocket”, “the PNR is in council’s pocket.” I know there are some rumours circulating like this. But, this is absolute garbage. If you ask for specific details or any evidence you’ll either be told: “I got this from an anonymous source who’s clearly in the know” or “nobody is willing to go on record because they’ll get in trouble for it.”
Seriously? If you got an anonymous email from somebody “in the know” advising you about a great investment, you’d believe it? And, you’d be willing to stand up in a public meeting and tell everyone else to believe it?
I can understand how rumours like this might appeal because some people are unhappy and willing to believe the worst. However, this isn’t fair and it needs to stop. If you have any actual evidence to support such allegations — great, bring it forward. I assure you that appropriate action will be taken. But, if you don’t have any evidence, then what in the world gives you the right to repeat allegations like that … particularly in a public meeting?
In closing I’d like to emphasize that we (Town staff and council) are quite willing to answer questions, explain why our opinions might differ from yours, etc.
But, a public hearing is not a venue for doing this and it would be nice if the conversation was civil.
Peter Wainwright, Sidney
(Editor’s Note: Peter Wainwright is a Town of Sidney municipal councillor)