Local government public hearings

Public hearings allow affected citizens to provide their views to their elected representatives on planning and land use bylaws.

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Public hearing requirements

Local government elected officials have the authority to make decisions about how land will be used in their communities. These decisions can affect long-term plans for the entire community as well as neighbourhoods and individual properties. In order to balance their broad powers, elected officials are required to provide the opportunity for residents and other interested parties to share their views on planning and land use bylaws through a statutory public hearing process.

The Local Government Act legislates the specific provisions and requirements for local government public hearings for:

  • Official community plan bylaws
  • Zoning bylaws
  • Certain bylaws authorizing temporary use permits
  • Phased development agreement bylaws
  • Bylaws for the early termination of land use contracts
  • Bylaws for heritage revitalization agreements and designation of heritage properties

Public hearing legislation:

When a local government is creating or amending a bylaw for an official community plan, zoning, or any of the other bylaws listed above, a public hearing must be held after first reading of the bylaw and before third reading.

Public hearings may be conducted by means of electronic or other communication facilities. The facilities must enable the public hearing’s participant to hear, or watch and hear, each other. Local governments may choose to hold public hearings in-person, electronically, or a combination of both.

At the public hearing, all persons who believe that their interest in property is affected by the proposed bylaw must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard. This involves an opportunity to make a speech or presentation to the elected officials or to present a written submission. In many cases, notices about the public hearing may also indicate a time and location to submit comments prior to the public hearing.

Delegation of public hearing

It's not necessary for all members of a municipal council or regional district board to attend the public hearing. A local government may delegate the holding of a hearing (by resolution or bylaw) to one or more councilors or board members.

Notice is required for the delegation, and prior to adoption of the bylaw, a written or oral report of the views expressed at the hearing must be provided by the delegate to the council or board.

Notice of public hearing

Notice must be given in the newspaper prior to the hearing. The notice must be in at least two consecutive issues of the newspaper, the last publication to appear not less than three days and not more than 10 days before the public hearing. The notice must state:

  • The time and date of the hearing
  • The place of the hearing, if applicable
    • If the hearing is conducted by means of electronic or other communication facilities, the way in which the hearing is to be conducted by those means
  • In general terms, the purpose of the bylaw
  • The land or lands that are the subject of the bylaw
  • The place, time and dates where the bylaw and related materials may be viewed (often the municipal hall or regional district office)

If the bylaw alters the permitted use or density of any area then the notice must be mailed or otherwise delivered to owners and tenants within a distance that is specified in local government bylaw. The requirement for individual mail outs does not apply if the alteration affects 10 or more parcels of land owned by 10 or more persons.

The requirements for notice and public hearings related to land use contracts may be different depending on which type of amendment or termination option is being used. The requirements for notice related to temporary use permits may be different depending on which type of permit or bylaw option is being used. Please consult your local government and review relevant sections of the Local Government Act.

The obligation to deliver a notice for use or density changes and for notice of termination of a land use contract is satisfied if a reasonable effort was made to mail or otherwise deliver the notice.

In some circumstances, local governments may create bylaws that require signage to be posted on the property and many local governments post information about public hearings on their websites.

Public hearing procedures

Procedural rules may be established by the chair at a public hearing. For example, the chair may determine how long someone may speak or what process is to be followed if someone wishes to speak twice.

More than one bylaw may be considered at a public hearing and more than one bylaw may be included in the public hearing notice.

A summary report of the representations made at the public hearing must be prepared for each bylaw and maintained as a public record. This report must be certified as fair and accurate by the person preparing it and, if applicable, by the person to whom the hearing was delegated.

Adjourning a public hearing

Sometimes more people want to speak than time allows. In that case, the public hearing can be adjourned and resumed at a later date. No further notice of the resumed hearing is required if an announcement is made at the public hearing about: 

  • Time and date for the resumption of the hearing
  • Place of the resumed hearing, if applicable
  • Way in which the hearing is to be conducted by means of electronic or other communication facilities, if applicable

Procedures after the public hearing

After the close of the public hearing (either the same day or at a later meeting), the council or board may do one of the following:

  • Adopt or defeat the bylaw
  • Alter and then adopt the bylaw (as long as the changes don't alter use, or increase density or decrease density without the consent of the landowner)

Council and board member decisions

Each of the individual municipal council or regional district board members must decide how they wish to vote on the bylaw. They may consider a broad range of input including information and views from the public, staff reports, financial implications, agency comments and other information.

If all members were not present at the public hearing, they must not vote on the adoption of the bylaw until they have been presented with a report that contains the views expressed at the public hearing.

Waiving a public hearing

A public hearing can be waived for certain zoning bylaws. For example, a hearing can be waived where an official community plan has been adopted and a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with the official community plan.

Notice is required in the newspaper and it may be mailed or delivered to owners and tenants depending on the number of parcels or persons affected.

Other forms of public engagement

Many local governments have found that it is helpful to use other forms of public engagement. Contact your local government for details.