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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The public hearing process : public participation in municipal planning : a case study of the Terra Nova lands decision, Richmond, B.C. Callow, Kathleen Ann


This thesis is a case study of the Terra Nova lands decision in the Township of Richmond, B.C. which analyses the use of public hearings as a means of public participation in the municipal rezoning aspect of the planning process. A literature review of democratic theories indicated that there is no single accepted theory of democracy or the role of public participation within a democratic society. Classical democratic theory, likened to participatory democracy, outlines the need for widespread public participation in the decision-making process while contemporary democratic theorists critize this as unrealistic in a modern society. Instead, contemporary theorists stress that the role of the public is to create an elected representative government that will decide issues on their behalf. Representative democracy is described according to four principles including: popular control, political equality, effective choice, and majority rule. Public participation in the planning process represents a movement along the democratic continuum from participatory to representative democracy towards a more participatory form of governing. Although the public hearing process has traditionally been viewed as a legitimate means to involve the public in the planning process, it is increasingly being questionned as appropriate. The Terra Nova rezoning public hearings were analysed using the evaluative framework of Glasser, Manty, and Nehman based on six communication characteristics and six participation objectives. The data was collected from the results of interviews with twelve key participants using a pre-designed questionnaire. It was concluded that the Terra Nova public hearing process was inherently flawed in its attempt to provide meaningful public participation in the municipal planning process and also that preceptual differences among the participants accounted for their dissatisfaction with the public hearing process. It was also concluded that the Terra Nova public hearings must be viewed in an historical and political context which indicated that the decision to develop the Terra Nova lands had been made prior to the rezoning hearings with the adoption of the Official Community Plan and that the municipal council members were firmly split along political lines in favour of and opposed to development on the Terra Nova lands. The analysis, however, did not provide a conclusive answer regarding the appropriateness of the public hearings as a means for public participation in the planning process. The answer to this question rests on an individual's position on the continuum of democracy between representation and participation. Nevertheless, recommendations can be made to enhance or supplement the public hearing process to overcome the inherent flaws and perceptual differences thus moving public participation in the municipal planning process closer to participatory democracy. These suggestions include local area planning initiatives and the use of an independent, non-political, rezoning commission.

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