A 20 percent solution coming for Echo Heights

North Cowichan: council considering a proposal that will see development limited to a fifth of Chemainus forest

The camas flower thrives in the Echo Heights forest and has become something of a symbol for those looking to protect the publicly owned land from development.

Twenty per cent of Echo Heights forest could be developed for housing, pending more input to council, North Cowichan’s mayor says.

Jon Lefebure explained if council eventually passes the proposed 20% option — after a staff report, plus committee and public advice — the rest of Chemainus’ 54-acre site would be saved as parkland.

He and four councillors approved staff’s option among three Wednesday, sparking study and discussion about the 20% option.

Councillors Al Siebring and John Koury voted against that motion.

“The motion council passed was based on a staff report recommending a balanced option — 20-, 30- or 40% be developed, and the remainder left as parkland,” said Lefebure.

Council also backed staff’s motion to rescind its earlier, controversial plan to develop 40% of Echo Heights. That plan had second reading but remained in limbo for about two years.

Lefebure knows some Chemaniacs — including himself — want all of taxpayer-owned Echo Heights set aside.

“I’d be pleased to see the whole area preserved, but I respect the other opinions that envision some part of it being developed.”

The 20% would fill an area cleared by council in the ’90s for development “but lot prices were low, so that didn’t happen, and scrub took over.”

“Now we’re looking to see what the 20% option looks like on the ground, how much forest will be affected, and how close it comes to the (80%) ecological area.

“There’s not just one option for Echo Heights, as evidenced by (June 19) voting around the table. The most important thing we can do is resolve this issue once and for all.

“Some people have suffered a great deal of anxiety over Echo Heights.”

Council’s worries about funds for various projects could be eased by roughly $3 million from selling Heights’ lots.

“Sale of lots does provide capital for some of the ambitious plans to improve our community.”

Heights housing would basically complement the neighbourhood’s singe-family residences.

But earlier Heights discussions included green-housing, showcasing innovations such as solar and geo-thermal heating, and more.

Lefebure agreed eco-thinking would twin council’s climate-action plan.

“That type of (design) discussion will happen at the committee level, and in the community exercise.

“The big decision is if there should be any development. If development happens, we should do the best we can with it.”

Staff’s Heights report, due by fall, will also go to Chemainus’ advisory committee, the community planning advisory committee, and council’s climate-change action committee for feedback.

After public consultation, a staff recommendation would return to council.

“If all goes smoothly, by early 2014 council could consider a new set of bylaws,” Lefebure said.