Written by Derek Koel
Despite the light agenda’s over the last month or so, Port McNeill’s March 28 council meeting still stirred up quite a bit of good information, debate and delays, on several key issues.
Port McNeill RCMP Sgt. Curtis Davis was on hand for an annual check in, asking what council’s top three priorities are for the RCMP budget year. Last year’s council had picked drug enforcement, youth engagement, and outreach.
Davis reported the top three calls in Port McNeill were for checks on well-being, mental health, and missing persons.
Coun. Shelley Downey asked, “What are your priorities?”
Davis replied “community engagement, that’s a big one for me.” He also added “traffic enforcement” and that “all my guys are radar trained.”
The other hot topic from the March 28 agenda was a Development Variance Permit request for 309 Cedar Street, (formally the CLN machine shop).
The plan is to allow for an office and two ground floor accessory dwellings in the M1 zoned industrial property, contrary to the current zoning.
The staff report on the subject states the (unnamed) owners and staff would like to renovate the existing industrial building to accommodate an office, storage and two ground floor dwellings, to “support their parks maintenance business” but to also allow short term rentals of the dwellings “during slow periods.”
Port McNeill’s bylaws forbid short term rentals, aka Air BnB, but allows for home-based Bed and Breakfast operations in residential areas, certainly not on the ground floor in industrial zoned areas. The previous council had neglected to tackle the thorny issue of short-term vacation rentals during last year’s zoning rewrite.
Nevertheless, after much discussion, which included the town’s contract planner, it was decided to send it to the Advisory Planning Commission and that notices to neighboring residents would be sent out, within 100 meters of the premises, an upgrade to the prerequisite 50 meters the statute requires.
Council’s April 4 Committee of the Whole meeting hit on three items, Council Code of Conduct, skateboarding, and dogs.
A new legislative requirement came into force on June 13, 2022, requiring BC council’s to have a code of conduct, so a policy was presented by staff. Curiously, the previous town council rejected similar code of conduct measures, but this time it passed smoothly and unanimously.
Having previously received a report and presentation from the local skateboard committee, council decided to discuss their proposal. Mayor James Furney led a lengthy discussion about the possibility of a skateboard park for Port McNeill with the suggestion that $5,000 be put forth to give the skateboard committee “wind under their wings” to help with their grant writing and to keep the ball rolling.
Despite the mayor’s joking quip that council needs to support his motion “unless you hate children,” his council questioned the timing and preparation of the skateboard group thus far and no recommendations were made.
After council had previously made a motion to fence in a dog park, council was happy to hear from the town’s new Parks and Recreation Committee on the topic. However, despite the committee offering up four site options, rationales, and quotations for the options, council couldn’t make up its mind.
Eluding to no master plan for parks, Downey suggested a portion of Robison Park, also known as Dinosaur Park, could be fenced in for a dog park or “should Robinson be pulled out and made into residential lots?”
Council waffled on the issue, and by the end of the meeting, no decision was made.
Concern was expressed, as with the skateboard park preliminary plan, that the town has no overall parks master plan, nor a budget or plan to do one.
After the dog park fence and skateboard plan deferral, Furney expressed his frustration with delays, “I hearken to Oct. 15 (Election Day), the ideas from this room, the right vision from this room … We’re six months into this.”
Fast forward to the regular council meeting, April 11, what seemed like a relatively mundane agenda turned spicy when the topic of Rogers request for a communications tower resurfaced. The proposal has been lingering since 2022, denied by the last council and deferred several times by this council, for “more information.”
Rogers explained the proposed tower, to be located downtown, would be “vitally important to economic development,” and it would enhance data uploads and downloads in the downtown core for businesses, residents, and visitors alike.
Coun. Michelle Carson asked for reassurances that “nobody is going to die from cancer due to the pole.”
Rogers responded that they can’t speak to health concerns, they follow all the rules and guidelines and one should “refer to the policy makers at Health Canada” if they are concerned.
Downey pointed out “had we changed the zoning (from Industrial to Commercial as proposed in 2022) we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Rogers had specifically chose the site because it is zoned M1 Industrial.
At the end of the day, council’s sticking point seemed to be, who was this tower going to benefit? They requested yet more information from Rogers, this time, coverage maps.
After multiple visits to council, including a 45 minute discussion with them this round, the Roger’s representative was visibly frustrated and verbally frank.
Displeased with the situation, he suggested the requested maps had already been provided early on in the process, but they would supply them again.
When further pressed by Rogers on the issue, staff ended up cutti ng off the Rogers representative’s video feed and that was the end of that discussion, with the meeting ending shortly afterwards to go in-camera.
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