Your Support Needed: North Cowichan’s new Official Community Plan

A visionary plan for a just, sustainable future for the Municipality of North Cowichan needs your support.

It’s taken a while for our local governments to move from discussion and debate to response on the climate crisis. That’s why it’s so exciting to see the Municipality of North Cowichan’s (MNC’s) new draft Official Community Plan (OCP) going forward to public hearings this coming week on July 18th (online) and July 19th (in-person).

The hearing is the final opportunity for public input on the OCP, and written comments will only be accepted until 9:00 a.m. on this Friday, July 15, 2022.

Two years ago, 55 local groups – including non-profits, churches, farmers, businesses, and unions – together wrote to all five local governments in the Cowichan Valley asking them to act to address climate change. In 2019, at the urging of these same groups, all five local governments - Duncan, North Cowichan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan - acknowledged that we are in a climate emergency. 

MNC’s new OCP is a visionary plan, much more robust in its ability to guide our community’s growth decisions into the future to address the challenges we face. The plan offers a sound framework for providing affordable housing, greater housing diversity in walkable, liveable neighbourhoods and communities, supporting and expanding local economic development, safeguarding sensitive environmental areas, conserving agricultural land, improving our food security, and moderating and adapting to the challenges of climate change, while also taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect our communities and our children’s future. 

But the plan is facing push-back from those who want to continue with “business as usual." 

This plan needs our support.

We’re asking you to include your voice in support of the new draft Official Community Plan by sending an email this week and attending the upcoming public hearing on Monday or Tuesday.

Those who participate in the public hearing will play a major role in determining whether Council adopts the new OCP, which in turn will chart the course for North Cowichan and the larger Cowichan region for the next 20 years and beyond.

How you can support real action on the climate crisis:

Please show Council that you support the new OCP in its current form by sending them an email and (if you can) by attending the public hearing, either in person or online.

1) Write an Email. Written comments will be accepted until 9:00 a.m. on July 15 and can be emailed to [email protected] or dropped off at Municipal Hall. Please reference “OCP Bylaw 3900”. Rather than providing a form letter, it would be most powerful if you can write a few lines in your own words. Below are bullet points summarizing some good things about the new OCP that you may find helpful. At a minimum, we ask that you send an email saying, “I am in support of the draft 2022 OCP as presented”

2) Attend the Public Hearing this coming Monday, July 18 and Tuesday, July 19 where the public can provide comments verbally. The hearing will be conducted in two parts. The first part on July 18 will be a virtual, online meeting. The second part will be an in-person meeting on July 19 at Mellor Hall, Cowichan Exhibition Park, 7380 Trans-Canada Highway. Both parts of the hearing will begin at 2:00 p.m. and will run to at least 6:00 p.m. Please consider attending in person, even if you aren’t prepared to speak.

3) Tell a Friend. Please consider sending this request to three of your friends, especially if they live, work or own a business in the Municipality of North Cowichan to increase the number of voices in support of the draft OCP.

Where to Find More Information:

More information on the new OCP and the upcoming public hearing can be found here on the North Cowichan website. At this link, there is a 12-minute informational video about the OCP. A link to the full version of the OCP document is here: Official Community Plan (OCP)

Why the OCP is Important:

The current development model based on the 2011 OCP was not ratified into a zoning bylaw at that time. Zoning bylaws in use today in MNC are from 1997. Much has changed since then. More robust zoning bylaws are needed to guide our community’s growth decisions into the future – whether providing affordable housing, greater housing diversity, supporting and expanding local economic development, safeguarding sensitive environmental areas, moderating and adapting to climate change or improving our food security.

The draft OCP is based on extensive public engagement over the past three years, including broad surveys, online webinars and input from a citizen advisory committee and neighbourhood ambassador teams, with more than 1,200 residents and organizations participating. That public feedback helped the Municipality establish a common vision and goals, determine a growth management strategy, and obtain a broad range of input to create the draft of the OCP.

Some of the good things about the new (draft) OCP

    • The values, vision and policies of the new (draft) Official Community Plan (OCP) are grounded in over 3 years of public engagement with the broader community, stakeholders, experts and others.
    • At its heart, the new OCP is focused on our relationship to the land - land use and development policies that will lead to a well-planned built environment; with places and spaces that cultivate belonging, inclusion, connectedness and engagement, where all citizens, at all stages of life, can thrive, both now and into the future.
    • The new OCP builds upon the 2011 OCP by incorporating new state-of-the-art planning principles and by prioritizing the community's desire for: putting greater emphasis on sustainability, becoming more resilient to the challenges we are facing, working to protect and regenerate stressed ecosystems, and responding effectively to the climate crisis.
    • Compared to the 2011 OCP, the new OCP more directly tackles the many challenges and crises of our times - such as housing affordability, growing inequity and homelessness, biodiversity loss, and climate change - by adopting a policy framework (Doughnut Economics) that guides us to find those policy sweet-spots where no one is left wanting for life's essentials, but without exceeding local ecological limits or planetary boundaries.
    • The new OCP’s land use policies and land designations will strengthen our existing communities; helping build them into more vibrant, economically viable, compact, walkable, bikeable and climate-friendly centres that offer affordable and attainable housing options and preserve surrounding natural and rural areas by avoiding sprawl. 
    • The new OCP’s policies will encourage a more diverse range of residential development, both for purchase and rental, that should be more accessible and affordable to current residents and their families (e.g. multi-family, laneway, row houses, carriage houses)
    • The new OCP refines the Urban Containment Boundary in select areas to address environmental and social concerns. For example, portions of the west end of Quamichan Lake are excluded from urban development to protect wildlife corridors, remnant rare Garry Oak ecosystems, farmable land, and rural character - and to create a protective envelope around the lake to improve lake health and water quality
    • Generally, the new OCP provides stronger policy and action opportunities for protecting and regenerating North Cowichan's natural environment, watersheds and biodiversity which are under significant stress from urban development, land use change, recreation, and climate change.
    • Recognising North Cowichan's long tradition of farming, the need for enhanced food security - and the importance of a thriving local food system in our community’s social well-being, culture, economy, and environment - the new OCP establishes clear priorities and high-level policies to strengthen local food and agriculture systems beyond farmland protection to include a broader spectrum of agricultural activities (including urban agriculture), and support regenerative farming techniques that minimize soil disturbance and restore soil health and its ability to lock in carbon.
    • The new OCP supports economic development policies and actions that will help North Cowichan grow into a thriving, regenerative and distributive local economy, making it possible for all residents to enjoy a decent standard of living, and that are fair, more resilient to challenges, and have fewer negative impacts on the climate and environment. 
    • The new OCP recognises that North Cowichan is a community of communities, each with its own history and character, that need policies that encourage communities to shape growth and change in a way that creates more place-specific, well-designed and livable neighbourhoods respectful of local identity.
    • The new OCP explicitly recognizes the important role of relationships and interdependencies between the municipality, neighbouring First Nations, and other levels of government in achieving community goals with Reconciliation as a fundamental plan principle. 

Thank you.