Prince Rupert City Council passed the third reading of a property rezoning bylaw application on Oct. 4, making the proposed Lax Kw’alaams WAAP Housing Society development on 11th Avenue a step closer to having shovels in the ground.
In an emotionally charged meeting, held after a second public hearing earlier in the evening, the six members of the council all voted in favour of rezoning the property, which will move the project closer to construction of 70 affordable housing units.
Councillors said they felt ‘insulted’ and ‘upset’ by insinuations expressed at the public hearing that the rezoning decision had been made prior to the public hearing or council meeting where councillors discuss the issues presented by the public, that some actions of the proponent were ‘stupid’, proposed traffic solutions were ‘a dumb answer to a ridiculous question’, and council members body language displayed at the public hearing showed they were not listening to the public’s concerns.
Councillor Reid Skelton-Morven addressed the disrespect by community members he said was displayed at the public hearing. He said as a politician, disrespect comes with the territory, and he is used to it.
“I don’t have thin skin. This is what I signed up for. I will accept the commentary and the disrespect and the anger and the outrage. What I will not accept is that they will speak to the staff, the proponents, and the working members of the staff and also the ultimate disrespect towards Lax Kw’alaams Band and their governing council.
“Just for me, to call folks ridiculous and to be calling folks stupid, and names and different things like that … I just want to express my disappointment on that.”
“I think the one that struck me the most was … you never know who a renter is going to be and who your neighbours are going to be … while still complaining about the fact that [the project] is exclusively indigenous housing … So for me, the lines, lenses and undertones that you hear in those pieces extremely upset me,” Skelton-Morven said.
Councillor Blair Mirau addressed some public concern over the project being for Lax Kw’alaams members only.
“There is a race-based issue baked into this, whether you want to be uncomfortable enough to acknowledge that or not. There is a long-standing and well-documented gap in well-being between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, British Columbians and even Rupertites,” Mirau said. “… Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in homeless shelters and almost two times more likely to be in what’s called core housing need.
” … what matters to me most, not just as a Northerner or as a Rupertite, but just as a human being, is I just want to make sure all of my fellow creatures have a safe place to lay their heads when the wind picks up, and the rain comes. I want to make sure that we can live in this very unique coastal rainforest climate by densifying within our existing footprint. And I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to find housing that’s appropriate for them,” Mirau said.
Mayor Lee Brain explained to the meeting attendees the approval was not the final reading as there were further necessary steps before the end decision could be made on the project.
The approved bylaw needs to be sent to the Ministry of Transportation for their approval, and also a covenant with the proponent needs to be finalized regarding traffic safety measures. Once these two actions occur, the issue will be brought back before the council for adoption.
“So, there will be a delay now, between then and now, ” Brain said. “Just so the community residents understand, now that the public hearing is over, [under the] law council cannot engage with residents around this topic anymore, until such time as this bylaw is passed as final. So if you come up to us and try to have a chat with us, we’ll have to tell you that we can’t talk to you about it.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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