Naomi Larsen, Chetwynd Echo Editor
CHETWYND – With a raise of their hands, more than 35 Peace River Regional District (PRRD) residents voted to demand the repeal of Bylaw 1996, 2011 Tuesday evening at a PRRD Community Conversations meeting held at Cottonwood Hall.
Bylaw No. 1996, 2011 establishes the requirement for all building to have a permit, with the exception of farm buildings.
The changes to the bylaw were meant “to ensure fair application of building code permits,” according to the PRRD. It has also garnered much opposition.
“How many times have we (the public) made the proposal,” one resident said. “We’ve stuck up our hands and said get rid of the bloody bylaw. We’ve made that proposal a dozen times. How many more times do we have to make the same proposal before you do anything? Instead of just meeting after meeting that just accomplishes sweet-F-A.”
“Instead of flogging a dead horse here, why don’t we just have a show of hands and you can count and you can see who wants it and who wants it thrown out,” said another. “We’ll save ourselves a bunch of time…So get counting.”
“This is democracy,” another shouted.
Despite their unanimous vote, the controversial bylaw remains in place until all 19 Community Conversation meetings have taken place and the PRRD board makes the final decision following a review of all the information gathered at the meetings. Chetwynd’s meeting was number 11.
In an interview with the Alaska Highway News last month, board chair Karen Goodings said that the meetings are not an attempt to convince members of the public about the bylaw’s merits.
“We can gather information and listen to people,” she said.
The meetings are also aimed at helping determine “what’s actually causing the angst” among rural residents about the laws, and see what appropriate changes could be made to make it more palatable.
Goodings did say that some changes related to enforcing new provincial regulations, such as the B.C. Building Code and Home Owner Protection Act, were “some things we can’t change.”
While residents say they are thankful for the chance to have their say during these sessions, they also feel the meetings should have been held before the bylaw was brought into play. However Bruce Simard, the PRRD’s general manager of development reiterated public consultation meetings were not necessary for the implementation of the bylaw.
“The Local Government Act doesn’t require it as a regulatory bylaw,” Simard said.
Moberly Lake resident Elmer Kabush said he’s not happy with the way the bylaw is being “jammed down resident’s throats.”
“If you’re small home owner you should be able to do things on your own,” he said. “This should be suspended.”
Jim Ross, a rural resident of Area E said it’s pretty plain to see that the people don’t want the bylaw.
“No matter where you go people don’t want it,” he said. “I don’t think we need to have a whole bunch of meetings to discuss it. We’ve already said it. Throw it out.”
Chetwynd rural resident Charlie Lasser, who headed up a local grassroots group who presented the district with a lengthy position paper, believes it’s no use to simply say they don’t like the bylaw or they don’t want the bylaw.
“We went through it word by word and picked out what we didn’t like about the bylaw and that’s what we presented to the regional district.”
Lasser also admitted the bylaw “doesn’t make a bit of difference” to himself since he has farm exemption.
“But I didn’t like the way it was put through,” he said. “There was no consultation to the public and that is bad. Especially in Chetwynd. You can’t ram things down our throats and get away with it.”
Joe Breti a resident of Farmington who has attended several meetings so far said there’s a lot more things to worry about before another bylaw.
Breti read out a list of suggestions to the bylaw however he stated he would not be giving a copy of his notes to the regional district.
“Hell no,” he said, when asked. “And why? I will tell you….It’s too bloody easy for you guys to slip that under the chair. I don’t give nothing to the regional district… I don’t trust you.”
Another rural resident questioned when the board plans to make their decision.
“Regional so far has not said we’re going to give a long hard look at this and come back to you with something that is workable,” he said.
Area E Director Jerrilyn Schembri said once the meetings are over, a summary report will be made to the board of the 19 meetings and the board will determine the next step from there. Until then the bylaw is being held in abeyance until the meetings are completed.
“Obviously the bylaw put in place is not acceptable to the people so now we’re coming back to ask what is it that you want,” she said. “And we’re listening to them.”
Schembri explained to meeting attendees the board has four regional directors that represent rural areas and then representatives from each of the communities.
“And all are there to listen to what the people have to say,” she said. “Everybody has one vote… my vote is to represent you. I’m here to listen to you.”
Schembri also gave the local grassroots group kudos for their work they did on the bylaw stating they “set the bar high” with the position paper they presented to the PRRD earlier this summer.
“You did an amazing job,” she said. “You have gone through the bylaw and taken things apart bit by bit and you have been proactive – not to tell us what the problems are but where you see the solution.”
The first seven “Community Conversations” have been completed. Summaries of the meetings will be available online on the Peace River Regional District website http://prrd.bc.ca/board/community_conversations.