The City of Vancouver is considering hosting virtual hearings to deal with rezoning applications for housing projects, as a growing list of public events are cancelled in response to the health threat posed by COVID-19.
Inspections and enforcement, such as fire, development, buildings and licensing, are continuing, but in keeping with directives from the provincial health officer, the city is cancelling or postponing all in-person community engagement activities, including open houses, between now and May 30. It’s also implementing appointment-based services for development permit applications, as well as working to implement digital solutions such as video conferencing for applicants to meet with staff.
“We are deciding whether or not to carry on virtual public hearings, so we can continue to approve rezonings and those types of things... those decisions are being made,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart also explained at a noon press conference March 18.
Deputy city manager Paul Mochrie added that even though the city is closing its service counters at the development services centre and the engineering services centre, staff understand the economic impact associated with the development industry.
“Our staff are doing everything that they can to keep the approval processes going, including looking at our inspections, where we can conduct inspections in a manner that maintains appropriate social distancing,” he said.
“It's an evolving situation but, again, we are doing what we can to maintain the city part of the approvals process.”
Council already plans to hold a virtual meeting Thursday morning (March 19) when council will vote on the declaration of a local state of emergency, the implementation of emergency powers and amending the 2020 community service grants approvals to encompass COVID-19 response.
Stewart said the city is working to help Vancouver’s most vulnerable populations, and trying to keep the virus out of those communities.
Meanwhile, he’s calling on the province to ban evictions and help people pay rent if needed. He said the Vancouver Rent Bank has been overwhelmed with requests and the city needs provincial help.
“And, finally, if you're a worker who happens to own your home, I want to make sure that the province expands the residential tax deferment program to cover more households, young seniors and families with children. Let me reiterate this, no one should lose their home or become homeless as a result of this pandemic,” he said Wednesday, adding he also wants help mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on the local economy, especially small businesses.
“The federal government has already announced some measures of support, like lines of credit, but we need more. That's why I'm calling on the provincial government to expand the property tax deferral program to provide relief for small businesses and nonprofits. This is a quick first step we can take now as we continue to explore all options to support our local economy in the months ahead.”
On Wednesday, the B.C. provincial government also declared a state of emergency to help with the response to coronavirus on the recommendation of health and emergency management officials.