A person who lived in the area of a rezoned property was surprised to learn that the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) ordered the rezoning following an appeal to it by the developer. Confused and frustrated, the resident reached out to IRAC with questions.
In an appeal hearing, IRAC substituted its decision for that of the municipal council. In responses to questions about whether the public was permitted to participate in the appeal hearing, IRAC explained that anyone could have requested to take part. IRAC had posted notice of the appeal and live-streamed the hearing on its website. Believing it was unfair to expect impacted residents to check IRAC’s website to learn about an important hearing process, the resident contacted us.
A central purpose of PEI’s Planning Act, is “to provide the opportunity for public participation in the planning process.” The Planning Act requires that municipal councils publish a notice in a newspaper alerting residents of their ability to participate when the municipality’s official plan or bylaw is being reviewed. In practice, municipalities often adopt bylaws requiring public notice through residential mailing and posting signage on subject properties. It was unclear to us whether similar obligations were binding on IRAC when hearing Planning Act appeals through what the courts term a hearing “de novo,” or new hearing. We therefore reached out to IRAC to help us better understand its process.
In response to our questions, IRAC pointed out that the Planning Act does not require IRAC to post public notice, but that the Commission does post notice of appeal hearings on its website and in the newspaper. IRAC explained that it is a longstanding practice to post notices of Planning Act appeal hearings to a newspaper but that an apparent oversight occurred in this particular case.
Recognizing the fairness concerns raised through the complaint, IRAC amended its Rules of Practice & Procedure to include its practice of posting notice of Planning Act appeal hearings in a newspaper, thereby codifying the practice which was overlooked in this instance. While this did not impact the rezoning of the subject property, it will, we believe, ensure that IRAC continues to post public notices of Planning Act appeal hearings in a meaningful way. Going forward, IRAC will also use its social media to ensure that matters of public interest, such as public notice hearings, reach a broader audience.
While the complainant was not happy with the rezoning decision itself, they were appreciative of the fact that IRAC acknowledged their concerns and took steps to prevent others from facing the same surprise, confusion and frustration that they felt.