Once or twice a year, City council sits through a large public hearing where hundreds of people show up. More often than not, public hearings are much smaller, where perhaps the applicant and one or two supporters or opponents show up and speak for or against a proposed change.
Large public hearings typically make the front page of the newspaper, but every two weeks a public hearing occurs and typically just a handful of people attend.
Last week, council requested a public hearing on proposed changes to I-2 "General Industrial" and I-3 "Heavy Industrial" to allow medical marijuana growing facilities to occur in lands with these zones. Based on experience, I have no doubt this will be a large public hearing.
Whether one person shows up or hundreds, the purpose of a public hearing is the same: to allow the public to give input that will assist council in making a decision. And whether one person speaks at a public hearing or hundreds speak, their input does have an impact on the decision.
Public hearings are required when changing land use. For example, a public hearing is required if a landowner wants to change the zoning of an individual house from RS-1 "Single Family Residential," a zone for a detached house, to RS-1S "Single Family Residential - Suite," which is a zone for a detached house with a secondary suite, such as a basement suite.
One of the most frequent comments I've heard at the start of a public hearing (typically from someone opposed to a rezoning), is that there is no point speaking at a public hearing, because
council has already made its decision. This belief is false.
I have sat through public hearings during which just one or two people spoke against a rezoning and the rezoning was denied by council. On the other hand, I have seen rezonings approved by council with similar small numbers of public speaking for or against.
Public hearings are not about counting the number in favour or against, but weighing the information brought forward. Therefore, one person speaking in favour or in opposition to a rezoning application can change the decision of council.
Large public hearings often occur when there are many direct neighbours affected or where there is an issue of broad public interest. For example, the recent public hearing for a rezoning application of a property on Van Horne Drive from church to multi-family attracted a large number of adjacent neighbours. During the first public hearing, council rejected the developer's plan based on input from the public. The developer went away and made changes. During the second public hearing, there were still some who spoke in opposition. However, council approved the rezoning based on the developer addressing sufficient numbers of the neighbours' concerns.
Public hearings are held in public to ensure accountability and integrity of council's decisions. Whether large or small, public hearings are an important part of decision-making at a local level.
One final note: if you cannot attend a public hearing but want to give input, you can also write a letter that will be presented to council during the public hearing. Send it to Mayor and Council, City of Kamloops, 7 Victoria St. West, Kamloops, B.C. V2C 1A2. You may also fax your letter to 250-828-3578 or email
Nancy Bepple is a councillor with the City of Kamloops.
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