A heated public meeting at White Rock City Hall took a tense turn Monday evening, when RCMP officers were called to council chambers and asked to remove a resident, who ultimately was allowed to stay.
The meeting was in regards to a property at 13690 Marine Dr., where the owner was seeking approval for a height variance on the home from 7.7 metres to 9.95 metres, to minimize the impact on trees on the property, specifically a large western red cedar.
Resident Margaret Woods, who spoke twice at the meeting, questioned the proponent’s reasoning for asking for additional height, saying she believed he was not really concerned about the welfare of the tree.
“The proponent is disingenuously appealing to your heart strings when he says he wants to protect this giant red cedar,” Woods said, noting there was no guarantee the tree would survive once construction began.
After her initial five-minute allotment was up – and after several other speakers both for and against the variance permit – Woods spoke for a second time, again questioning the proponent’s motives.
“Does the proponent think he’s somehow more deserving than the rest of us?” Woods asked. “How dare he ask for a variance so outrageous as this?”
Coun. Lynne Sinclair interrupted Woods, calling on Mayor Wayne Baldwin to restore order.
“I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with the tone and accusatory comments that are being made,” Sinclair said.
“I don’t think it’s respectful, and I would ask that you restore proper tone for this hearing.”
After a few more speakers, property owner Harp Hoonjan addressed council, saying he was shocked at what he was hearing and that it was “absolutely ridiculous” that his credibility was being questioned.
“I’m really astonished at some of the comments that have been personally made at me tonight,” Hoonjan, a longtime Peninsula resident and board member of the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation.
“I’ve never seen this kind of behaviour before.”
Hoonjan went on to explain that the only people directly affected by the proposed development – which was later unanimously approved by council – are the adjacent neighbours, who he said have had no concerns.
Before Hoonjan returned to the gallery, Baldwin apologized.
“I’m sorry that you were submitted to that – it’s not acceptable,” Baldwin said.
Woods – a former councillor who served a tumultuous term from 2003-’05 when Baldwin was city manager, and who ran for council last November – attempted to comment from the gallery but was cut off by the mayor.
“No, Ms. Woods, I think you’ve had enough to say tonight, we don’t want to hear you anymore,” Baldwin said.
“This is a public hearing,” Woods responded. “Is this how you run a meeting?”
“Yes it is,” Baldwin answered.
When Woods continued to make remarks directed at the mayor and council, Baldwin adjourned the meeting and asked her to leave. She refused.
The mayor instructed the city clerk to call the RCMP. Two officers arrived 15 minutes later, and Baldwin gave Woods an ultimatum – to apologize to the proponent, city staff and residents for “such offensive language in this chamber,” or to be escorted out by the police.
“I do not feel that I have anything to apologize for,” Woods said, prompting applause from a handful of spectators. “I will not be apologizing to you, the council, the public or the citizens of White Rock.”
Baldwin and the city clerk then spent several minutes conferring with the officers in the foyer.
The officers did not remove Woods, and the meeting proceeded after a 30-minute delay.
The officers would not explain on scene why they did not remove Woods, referring inquiries to the RCMP media liaison, who did not respond to a request for comment by Peace Arch News’ deadline Tuesday morning.
Monday marked the second time in as many weeks there has been police presence at city hall; an RCMP officer was on hand Sept. 14, when residents rallied on the lawn prior to the council meeting and called for Baldwin to resign after a letter he wrote to PAN stated the city was legally obligated to meet growth targets laid out in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy.