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City examines role of environmental committee

Finding ways to benefit from the expertise of the city’s environmental advisory committee without slowing down development applications is a juggling act city staff have been exploring.

The question of how to put the ‘advisory’ back in the environmental advisory committee (EAC) came into focus when committee member Tim Dunne addressed council in February, explaining that over the past year the committee has had no formal requests for input from council. Then, if it comes up with its own topics, council has not supported its recommendations.

In response, council asked staff for a report outlining the best way to channel development proposals to the EAC so it can provide timely feedback.

At the city’s March 17 planning committee meeting, Kevin Pearson, the city’s director of development services, said staff don’t recommend the committee take part in a formal technical review of permits and applications. However, he said, planning meeting agendas and accompanying staff reports are available a week prior to the meetings and could be sent to a committee member.

Depending on agenda items, EAC members could decide to meet on their own and create a written response to council. Or they could possibly speak at the planning meeting or at the hearing held at a subsequent council meeting.

Potential projects listed that the committee could provide input into include: hillside development guidelines; the tree preservation/removal bylaw; the floodplain hazard assessment; and the green development permit area guidelines.

“Any preliminary background research, analysis and reporting undertaken by the EAC could help the city,” stated the staff report.

It noted that the proposal wouldn’t require more staff time, but would mean the members would have to initiate activities outside of formal committee meetings.

Coun. Debbie Cannon expressed concern with bureaucracy.

“If we had the environmental advisory committee have a bigger role, it would get bogged down,” she said, noting the EAC members are volunteers and there are provincial regulations governing the environment.

“I don’t know where I see the environmental committee having more input… Any of these committees, obviously you want to be involved and have more say, other than tying it up. That’s how I feel about a lot of the committees and think we have to re-look at a lot of them.”

Coun. Ken Jamieson said he thinks council needs to find more and better ways of involving more people in the community and, rather than just doing things more quickly, aim to do them more thoroughly and thoughtfully.

“I think there is expertise in committees sometimes lacking on council,” Jamieson said.

Coun. Chad Eliason said the EAC would have to meet more often in order to review the agendas.

“It means more commitment, but if they’re fine with it, I’m fine with it,” he said, noting the positive impact the city’s design review panel and the Shuswap Community Foundation have had on council’s job.

Coun. Marg Kentel, the council rep on the EAC, said she knows from listening to committee members that they simply want more input.

“It makes for a more united community. If they have all the information, they’ll know, just like us, why we’re voting the way we are.”

Cannon asked Pearson if the design review panel holds up applications. He said their review adds about three weeks to a month to a timeline.

“Another committee is involved before it goes to council, and that’s this committee,” Pearson added. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I know I’m hearing it from developers. ‘Why is it a month before it even goes to council?’”

Cannon said she is all for volunteers who are willing to put in extra time.

“I’m willing to see how this works.”

Coun. Denise Reimer said she’d also like to see the proposals for the EAC move forward.

“This is an opportunity for us.”

Mayor Nancy Cooper stepped out during discussions due to an emergency call and Coun. Alan Harrison was absent.

 

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