How Charlottetown will hold in-person public meetings under COVID-19 restrictions

Charlottetown city council held its first in-person public meeting under the Province's new Phase 4 guidelines Tuesday. It was the first time in months members of the public had been in the same room as members of council.

Public meetings that might draw larger crowds on hold for the time being

The June 30 meeting was the first one held under the new public health measures. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

The city of Charlottetown has returned to hosting public meetings, but many changes have been made to adhere to the public health restrictions due to COVID-19. 

Hosted at the Rodd Royalty in Charlottetown, Charlottetown City Council held it's first public meeting in months Tuesday. The meeting was to discuss the rezoning of land on Sherwood Road and proposed amendments to the zoning and development by-law. 

It's the city's first meeting under Phase 4 in the province, where 50 people are allowed to be at organized gatherings, so long as social distancing is adhered to.

"Returning back to a sense of normalcy, certainly, it feels good," said Greg Rivard, chair of planning and heritage with the City of Charlottetown. 

"It's one thing to hear someone's voice but sometimes you know it's good to see facial expressions, it's just good to see people," he said.

The city did hold a public meeting in regards to the University of P.E.I. residence on April 28, but Tuesday's meeting was the first time Islanders physically attended the meeting. 

To comply with public health measures, only 50 people were permitted in the meeting at one time. An overflow room was set up in case more wished to attend. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Chairs at the meeting were spaced six feet apart, councillors sat far apart from each other and lots of hand sanitizer was available. Only 50 people were allowed in the room for the meeting. 

"We had an overflow room downstairs for another 25 to 50 people so again we were prepared," said Rivard. 

And as for whether that model sticks around for future meetings, depends on what the future looks like, said Rivard.

"If we remain with a 50 person limit then we will continue to do this. If the numbers rise and we're allowed to have a hundred, to a hundred plus then we may shift our thoughts on the overflow room," he said. 

Greg Rivard says until the limits on gatherings change, bigger public meetings that may attract more people are on hold. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

The 50 person limit on organized gatherings that currently exists in the province means that some of the larger public meetings will have to wait for the time being, he said. 

"For some of the bigger items such as the short term rental topic you know we're in a wait on that until we're allowed to have a very large number of people in the room because, again, sensitive topic and we want to make sure that that as many people can be in the room as possible," he said. 

"So again moving forward on those bigger larger ones. We'll wait to see what phase five, six, seven look like," he said. 

New normal

Over the past months, Charlottetown Council has been streaming meetings and inviting members of the public to participate via other methods like videoconferencing. Members of the public who wanted to participate on Tuesday could still use that technology, and Rivard said he thinks the technology is here to stay. 

"I think it's going to become part of the new norm. I think you know for councillors who may not be able to attend for whatever reasons … they can now take part," he said. 

And he thinks it presents more opportunity for the public to be included in the process going forward as well. 

"For those who can't make it here or are uncomfortable coming, you know, because of COVID, or uncomfortable speaking in front of public, now they can participate." 

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