Spectre of sprawl concerns Area H residents

Residents of North Oyster and the Diamond are worried about a potential land transfer between Ladysmith and Couverdon.

Ongoing negotiations between Couverdon — TimberWest’s real estate business — and the Town of Ladysmith over the incorporation of 700-plus acres of forested Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) land has residents of North Oyster and the Diamond in a huff.

North Oyster resident Chris Gerrand and Diamond resident Doug Copp voiced several complaints relating to both the negotiating process currently underway and the potential impact of a land transfer on residents of both districts of Area H.

The land deal Gerrand and Copp are referencing is a proposed boundary expansion on the northwest outskirts of Ladysmith involving 700-plus acres of TimberWest land zoned primarily as forestry land. Couverdon and Ladysmith are brokering a deal whereby Ladysmith would expand city limits to include a 710-acre (287-hectare) parcel of land west of the Diamond — stretching from north of Grouhel Road to Malone road — in exchange for Ladysmith gaining title to TimberWest land adjacent to Stocking and Holland lakes.

CVRD Area G Director Mel Dorey told the Saltair District Ratepayers Association at its April 4 annual meeting that a 140-acre (57-hectare) portion of the land in question is located within Electoral Area G; the remainder is located within Area H.

Gerrand and Copp said the majority of Area H residents are unaware of what’s happening, and those who are familiar with the proposal are opposed to it.

“We feel that it’s not in our interests,” Gerrand added. “We like a quiet lifestyle and we’d like to see the town stay within their own boundaries.”

Ladysmith has incorporated land from Area H on multiple occasions over the last 15 years, Gerrand said, adding that they’ve “had enough” of what he referred to as “land grabs.”

If TimberWest land is incorporated by the city and developed as planned, Copp fears it will “inevitably” lead to Ladysmith incorporating the Diamond as well — a move that would lead to “at least double the taxes” for Diamond residents, he said.

The resulting urban encroachment “will change our way of life out there considerably,” Gerrand added.

The sale of forestry land for development purposes should be subject to a referendum, Gerrand said, and he’d ideally like to see it slowed down.

Copp and Gerrand added a lack of openness to their list of concerns.

Discussions between city hall and Couverdon have been conducted primarily “in camera,” Copp said, meaning the process lacks both transparency and courtesy.

“If you’re my neighbour and I want to change the fence, I think it’d be best if I went and talked to you first before I knocked the goddamn thing down,” Copp said, adding that he wouldn’t rule out a future legal challenge to the proposed expansion.

Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins, meanwhile, referred to an alleged lack of public consultation as “totally false.”

The proposal was introduced to the public at a town hall meeting in June of 2008, Hutchins said, and Couverdon has hosted “one if not two” open houses since that time.

Hutchins said the Town’s entertaining the proposal as a means of becoming the third jurisdiction in British Columbia to hold title to the lands surrounding its water supply.

Saltair, CVRD and Ladysmith currently own 450 acres of the 750-acre Stocking Lake watershed, Hutchins said, alongside the majority of the Holland Lake watershed. TimberWest owns the remainder of both.

Ladysmith will consider an extension to its city limits if TimberWest grants it title to 250 acres of land adjacent to Holland Lake and an additional 225 acres of land adjacent to Stocking Lake, Hutchins said.

Ownership of the watersheds will allow Ladysmith to join the ranks of the Capital Regional District and the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Both districts own the land surrounding their drinking water reservoirs and have closed them to the public as a means of protecting their drinking water.

Hutchins said only 350 acres of the Couverdon expansion would be developed, while the remainder would be left in its natural state to serve as protection for riparian areas.

According to the current Official Community Plan (OCP), Ladysmith has the potential to expand its population from 8,300 to upwards of 18,000 with land contained within current city limits, Hutchins said.

Holland and Stocking lakes collect and store enough water to meet the city’s future needs, Hutchins said, but delivery is an issue; linking Holland Lake with Stocking Lake via a pipeline would remove the delivery bottleneck.

City manager Ruth Malli said the “build-out” on the proposed Couverdon expansion has the potential to add 2,500 people to the city’s population.

The process of incorporating TimberWest land will “move as fast as they move,” Malli added, referencing studies commissioned by Couverdon on changes to traffic flows and the expansion’s water and sewer infrastructure needs.

The proposed boundary expansion will be discussed at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 23 at the Diamond Hall.