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Echo Heights

Chemainus Residents Association upset at North Cowichan council's decision to dismantle and develop part of Echo Heights

Chemainus Residents Association is upset at a decision made by North Cowichan council that will see part of Echo Heights forest dismantled and developed upon.

At a regular meeting back in November, council decided to develop 20% of the Echo Heights land against the wishes of many Chemainiacs.

The Residents Association is now saying council has failed to "keep faith with the residents of our community."

"We've been telling council for eight years that we don't want to see development on the forest," said Bernie Jones, chair of the association. "We've submitted petitions with over 1,600 names on them, we conducted an analysis where 92% of correspondence over a three said to save it all. We've told them repeatedly in documents and PowerPoint presentations that we want it saved. This doesn't make sense."

Echo Heights sees a rare species of tree grow and according to Jones, is all the more reason for the forest to be preserved in its entirety.

"It's a very special area. It sees Coastal Douglas fir trees grow and they only grow on B.C.'s coast. There's only a small number of areas that have them now and they need to be protected so we don't lose them. Biologists say the more you take away from a forest like this, the harder it is for the remainder of it to survive."

Part of Echo Heights was previously disturbed back in the early 90's but in the end little came of that projected development.

North Cowichan now wish to develop on that part of the forest that was disturbed, as well as a little more.

"The reality is that yes it was disturbed, but that part is now growing back very nicely," said Jones who confirmed that actual development and building is still a long way off.

"It'll be a long time before we see shovels in the ground. Council has directed staff to prepare a plan and that has to come back. We might see a refinement of the plan but if development was to go ahead that would mean a re-zoning process and that requires a public hearing and further community consultation."

Although originally against the idea, North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure is hoping for the move to turn out to be a positive thing for all.

"We've told staff we want to see something innovative and not just your business as usual subdivision," he said. "Staff will bring back there proposed plan to council and we will either adopt it, ask for more work to be done, or reject it. If it's accepted, we will see bylaws proposed for re-zoning as that area is R-1 right now.

"Re-zoning would see a public process and we would likely have an information meeting first. Then we'll have a formal public hearing before council decides and people will have the opportunity to put their comments on record."

Lefubure, a Chemainus resident, did confirm he was against development on the 20% of the forest from the get-go, alongside colleague Coun. Kate Marsh, but the two were outvoted.

"I was not interested in the 20% and subdivision model but I was still willing to talk about developing the 15% of the forest that was previously disturbed. However, council has made its decision so now my job is to make it the best we can make it," said the mayor.

In a letter to The Chronicle, Jones also suspects financial gain may have influenced council's decision way back when.

"We cannot understand how council can continue to ignore the wishes of such a large part of the community regarding this important issue. In recent weeks we have been told that, if these lands are not developed at a profit to the municipality, then promised improvements to Chemainus might not be forthcoming. The current plans have been under discussion for more than two years and yet it is only in the past month or two that the suggestion has been made that there might be a direct link between the two. If this is indeed the case we cannot help wondering why these plans and proposals, both here in Chemainus and elsewhere in North Cowichan, were made in the first place if financing for them depended on such tenuous and unacceptable terms," wrote Jones.

Lefebure chose to look on the bright side stating that more money acquired from land sales means the greater possibility of more community development at a quicker pace.

"The reality is we pay for community development projects via a variety of sources," said Lefebure. That can be through grants, taxes or municiplaity-owned land. If there's more money from generating the sale of land then there's more money for projects, but council still has the ultimate decision. You can't draw a direct line as there will always be a council decision to be made."

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