The development of Echo Heights is inching ahead.
North Cowichan councillors voted Wednesday in favour of drafting a bylaw to create a comprehensive development plan for a portion of the 54-acre property.
That development would see about 40 per cent of the North Cowichan-owned land turned into residential properties.
The remainder would be preserved as parkland.
Mayor Tom Walker stressed during Wednesday’s meeting that council has not yet approved the development.
Once drafted, the bylaw still requires first reading from councillors — and then it would go to a public hearing.
“So it has a long way to go,” Walker said.
“We are moving forward with the development of Echo Heights in a responsible way, taking into consideration all of the environmental factors any advisors (provide) us in the process,” added Councillor Dave Haywood. “It’s time to see what that looks like in bylaw form — and that will come back to this council.”
Councillor John Koury emphasized that drafting a bylaw will provide the community an opportunity to offer opinions about the project in an official capacity.
And those opinions, he pointed out, range from those adamantly against the development, those adamantly for the development, and those who couldn’t care less.
“What I like about moving ahead with the bylaw is that it will open up a public process and give opportunity for everyone to express their views, notwithstanding there’s work to do in terms of what the final plan will look like,” he said.
“What’s more important to me is that it will initiate a public process that will allow wholesome perspective from the community on what Echo Heights may or may not be some time in the future.”
But not all councillors approved moving forward with the controversial bylaw.
Councillors George Seymour and Garrett Elliott voted against it.
“Now I know there are some views here, especially within council, that this is really just a modest forested area of second-growth,” Seymour said.
“I’m thinking of future generations. The potential for this area to be a unique laboratory preserved for research and interest and study … does exist.”
Seymour, chair of North Cowichan’s planning committee, explained he had tried in vain to find a compromise that would satisfy both pro- and anti-development advocates, and suggested holding a referendum during the next election.
Chemainus resident Mary Dolan, one of many Echo Heights advocates in the public gallery Wednesday, said the community has made its wishes very clear to council.
“What is the message we give our children: make money at any cost? Or that there’s more to life than money, and we must look after the gifts that we’ve been given?” Dolan asked.
“I would love council to just to be able to say the community has done it’s homework, they’ve talked to the experts, and develop housing in the other areas that have already been discussed, like the one near Hermit’s Park, and carry on with in-filling,” she added.
“But leave Echo Heights, and give the community peace. Let us work together as a community on the things that need to be done, and leave alone the things that give us solace.”