North Cowichan council rejects motion to hold off on residential development

North Cowichan council has rejected a controversial bid by one of its councillors to discourage residential development in a large portion of the municipality until a new official community plan has been completed.

Citizens packed council chambers, spilling out its doors, at Monday’s meeting where Coun. Christopher Justice presented his motion. Dozens of trucks sounding air horns drove around city hall prior to the meeting.

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Proponents saw the proposal as protecting certain lands from suburban sprawl and development pressure. Critics said it would send the message that the municipality was closed for business and would open the door to expensive legal challenges.

Mayor Al Siebring and councillors Tek Manhas, Kate Marsh, Rosalie Sawrie and Debra Toporowski were opposed. Councillors Justice and Rob Douglas were in favour.

Dave Messier, speaking for Cowichan Works, a group of developers, small businesses and tradespeople, described the motion as confusing, open to interpretation and developed without public input, and said passing it would send the message that “doing business in North Cowichan is risky.”

Messier, a Maple Bay businessman who sits on North Cowichan’s official community plan advisory committee, accused proponents of showing little understanding of the economic impact it would have on the community.

“These are our families that are going to suffer.”

Jennifer Woike, also of Cowichan Works, urged council to defeat the motion, saying it should “focus on making North Cowichan economically viable for the future.”

Loud applause and cheers followed Messier and Woike’s comments, but Siebring asked the audience not to applaud, saying: “We don’t want people to be intimidated one way or another,” sparking another round of yelling.

Justice’s motion was aimed at halting development in certain areas of the municipality, largely within its urban containment boundary, until the latest official community plan is finished, which is expected to be by mid-2021.

The goal was to curb suburban sprawl by concentrating denser development in North Cowichan’s community hubs, such as Maple Bay, Chemainus and Crofton, and encouraging walkable, compact and energy-efficient communities, Justice said.

Justice wanted to see subdivision applications put on hold, including lands that are now under development pressure.

If the motion had passed, council’s position on restricting new subdivisions would have been one factor that the municipal subdivision approving officer would take into account when deciding on a project. That officer is independent from council.

Critics, however, said the motion would have sent the message that North Cowichan was a poor choice for investment.

After hearing from speakers at the meeting, Justice made a new motion to refer his proposal to the official community plan advisory committee for comments. That motion was defeated.

Siebring said public engagement is one of the pillars of the official community plan. “This motion does an end-run around that principle.”

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