Will North Cowichan allow more spawl?

This spring North Cowichan solicited community input on three growth scenarios, which included a proposed Bell McKinnon development that would make the area a major growth centre around the new Cowichan District Hospital.

Out of the three scenarios, 48% of local responded supported Scenario 2 (Focused Growth): which described denser growth in smaller core areas of North Cowichan with existing services as consistent with previous OCP recommendations. This scenario will enable the protection of many rural and natural lands from development, protecting the community’s food security and allowing greater protection and regeneration of forests and other natural ecosystems, and carbon sequestration, throughout the municipality in and beyond the municipality’s forest reserves.

Scenario 2 also focuses on and supports more walkable, bikeable and transit-accessible communities and less reliance on GHG-producing transportation. Another 27% of respondents supported Scenario 3 (Multi-Centre Growth) which also contained development, but to a lesser extent. Together this means that 75% of survey respondents wanted to move away from Scenario 1, which described what is essentially the status quo of primarily uncontained growth for the municipality.

This coming Tuesday evening at 6pm North Cowichan Council is under pressure to approve a return to the status quo proposal for more spread out and less-controlled growth as was initially proposed for the Bell McKinnon development. Based on an local area plan developed earlier, this status quo would allow for the development of 8,000 to 10,000 residential lots, and the many more asphalt surfaces that go with that development, spreading out from the new hospital site. The development would housing approximately 22,000 people in another largely car-dependant community, rather than providing housing in the smaller and more compact developments near existing services, as reflected in the survey results preferred by the community in scenario 2 and to some extent 3.

This more contained development would protect local agricultural and forest lands and better support ground water recharge and the health of local watersheds and wetlands, including the critical wetlands of the Somenos Marsh and Watershed. Much of the pressure to overturn what the majority of the broader community is asking for comes from property-owners and developers who say they’ve invested in land in the Bell McKinnon area on the assumption that the earlier development plan would be approved, seemingly without acknowledging that their investment prior to a final approved plan was a speculative risk, and that the land still has value, if less potential for windfall profit.

It’s time to take a deep breath and think of the broader and longer-term wellbeing of the community. We need to consider the rapidly changing world our communities are part of. The needs of the under-housed and precariously employed, the need for affordable housing and food security, are all real and urgent. At the same time, the dual crises of biodiversity loss and the climate emergency are equally urgent. A healthy environment is essential to our children’s and our community’s wellbeing, now and into the future. We have a responsibility to plan the development of our human communities in ways that protect our farmland, our forests, our watersheds, and other ecologically sensitive areas. These lands and waters ensure the future of our food, clean water and breathable air - the basics necessary to the wellbeing of all of us.

You can write North Cowichan Council at [email protected] in advance of their 6pm meeting on Tuesday. Sept 7, and ask them to respect the community’s input from their Spring Growth Management Survey by supporting compact and contained development in the Bell McKinnon area.