Port Moody councillor accuses developers of infiltrating OCP engagement

Should developers be allowed to participate in neighbourhood engagement meetings helping guide Port Moody’s revisions of its official community plan (OCP)?

Following staff’s presentation on Oct. 17 on the engagement results of a Seaview Neighbourhood Workshop, concerns were raised by one Port Moody councillor.

The biggest issue for Coun. Haven Lurbiecki is the lack of restrictions on who can attend these in-person dialogues as well as the fact that developer input is not separated from public input.

“This isn’t a slight on developers, they have a perspective, and we should want to know what it is in the appropriate venue,” Lurbiecki said. “But the objectives of developers should not be treated the same, in my opinion, as the objectives of residents.”

In preparation for its upcoming draft of the OCP, staff and consultants have been conducting public engagement sessions on general themes pulled out of online surveys.

Four such sessions (thee in-person and one online) were held in February, 2023, and were attended by 243 people discussing proposed key directions for OCP update.

Another stand-alone session was was held in March, specifically focused on the Seaview neighbourhood, was attended by 67 people.

The format of the conversations had residents form small groups, agreeing on a topic for discussion, before breaking into new groups and repeating the process over multiple rounds.

Seaview’s engagement results specifically called for higher-density housing options from infill to apartment buildings.

But Lurbiecki said she couldn’t trust the validity of the engagement sessions because there’s no data showing how many developers attended, nor which input those developers provided.

She said she received multiple complaints from residents, which included a first-hand account she quoted from.

The correspondence claimed developers were an “uncomfortable looming presence which made it intimidating to state views in opposition to their interests.”

According to the participant, the same developers showed up to most or all of the sessions and actively participated in debates, presenting themselves as the “better informed experts at the table.”

“Basically, we got pitched on why high-density development was the right vision.”

Lurbiecki described it as an “infiltration” of the engagement process.

Other members of council, while not totally dismissing the concern, did not see developer involvement in engagement sessions as altogether negative.

Mayor Meghan Lahti noted that Port Moody is home to many developers, and they are allowed to voice their opinions.

However, she said developers attending and participating from outside the city was “something we need to take into consideration.”

Lahti said council will be able to see if there are any discrepancies between the in-person engagements and the larger consultations that will take place during the OCP.

“I think, on the whole, we’re probably looking at some fairly realistic neighborhood perspectives,” she said.

Coun. Kyla Knowles said she read every single response from the engagement sessions, and did not see anything similar to the private correspondence Lurbiecki referenced.

She said developers observing the meetings and listening to what residents want for their neighbourhood is a positive thing, although she acknowledged direct participation is “a little bit different.”

Coun. Callan Morrison said it is possible some developers participated in the sessions because they care about the community’s future and hearing local opinions.

He added that developers are significant landowners in the community and should be allowed to provide input.

Port Moody’s manager of policy planning, Mary De Paoli, said staff are “pretty much aware” of who the developers are in the room, adding in the one session she had participated in, developers either just observed or clearly identified themselves.

Coun. Samantha Agtarap said it would be simple to cross reference attendees with residents who give a clearer idea of how many non-residents had participated in the meeting.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch