What should have been a straightforward and simple special meeting of Smithers council on Wednesday night, turned into a marathon session after a technical problem was discovered by a former councillor while a public hearing was being conducted.
Council had scheduled a meeting to hear from the public about the Official Community Plan (OCP) and Zoning Bylaw Update which were both on the special meeting agenda for after the public hearing for third readings.
However, the meeting was advertised to run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and when no one came up to speak at the public hearing when Mayor Gladys Atrill called it shortly after the meeting started at 5, she closed it.
A couple of minutes later, former councillor Phil Brienesse came into the meeting room with the intention of speaking to the community plan and was confused as to why it was closed.
He interrupted the council meeting and stated he should be allowed to still speak to it because the hearing was advertised to run until 8 p.m. and he thought he had until then to do so.
Council held a small recess to discuss the matter with town staff and they came back to re-open the public hearing and hear from Brienesse. They decided to keep the hearing open until 8 p.m. in case anyone else wanted to come in. No one did.
After waiting until the public hearing was closed that evening, council ended up deciding to redo the public hearing at the next meeting of council, which will be held on Sept. 27.
The bylaws can then be given third reading and adopted on Oct.11, before the Oct. 15 municipal election.
Atrill said someone had also posted on social media, unsure of when the hearing was actually slated to close, so council thought the best course of action would be to just redo the whole thing and err on the side of caution.
At the heart of this drama is a document that has been in the works for more than a year.
At the start of the meeting on Wednesday, the team that helped create it gave a presentation on the changes made to the draft OCP and Zoning Bylaws as a result of a council meeting in August.
The OCP is a general statement of the broad objectives and policies of the local government respecting the character of existing and proposed land use and servicing requirements in the area covered by the Plan. It serves as the foundation for all policies, regulations, and decisions pertaining to land use and development in a municipality. It has been 12 years since Smithers updated it.
The zoning bylaws were also updated in the document. Zoning is a set of rules and regulations for what can and cannot be done on a piece of land. The intent of zoning is to separate incompatible uses, protect community health and safety and protect land values.
One of the biggest changes to the OCP is a new overlay zone in the downtown area. The team that created the OCP heard from residents that more flexibility was needed in the zoning bylaw such as integrating studio art space, carriage houses and suites and niche businesses.
People also wanted to see multi-residential housing forms with commercial uses and were wary of commercial taxes for residential purposes.
The overlay zone will create a greater range of residential uses on existing individual residential lots, more flexibility for infill residential development and easier administration while also removing needs for covenants and could create more creative redevelopment according to the creators of the plan.