Couverdon boundary expansion rejected

The boundary expansion proposal by Couverdon Real Estate will not be moving forward at this time

The boundary expansion proposal by Couverdon Real Estate will not be moving forward at this time.

During a special council meeting Oct. 1 at Aggie Hall, Ladysmith council voted 5-2 against supporting the proposal to bring 273 hectares of TimberWest land into the Ladysmith boundaries while transferring 202 hectares within community watersheds to the Town.

Mayor Rob Hutchins and Couns. Glenda Patterson, Steve Arnett, Gord Horth and Jill Dashwood did not support the proposal by Couverdon, the real estate arm of TimberWest, while Couns. Duck Paterson and Bill Drysdale voted to support the boundary expansion. Because the proposal did not get council’s support, it will not be considered as a referendum at this time.

“I am disappointed it’s not going to referendum,” Couverdon zoning and planning director Frank Limshue said following the meeting. “I think the biggest thing is just for us to take a breath and think of what the next steps will be, re-assess the process that we’ve gone through and try to understand what we could do differently or better.”

In a presentation to the roughly 200 people at the meeting Hutchins noted that Couverdon approached the Town in April 2008 and said they would like to consider a boundary expansion.

At a town hall meeting in June 2008, council said they wanted to press the pause button, and they set a series of workshops on sustainable communities, explained Hutchins.

Council looked at the proposal again in June 2011, and Couverdon held an open house, and Hutchins says that by the middle of 2011, it became apparent that residents of the Diamond were learning of this proposal for the first time.

Hutchins went on to show a history of boundary expansions and alternative approval process (AAP) results in Ladysmith. Numerous AAPs over the years have passed with zero responses from residents, but when the Couverdon AAP took place this spring, the Town received 1,601 responses against the proposal.

In April, council resolved not to consider this further until it had received a water study with climate change modeling. That study came forward in September.

Following Hutchins’ presentation, Limshue and James Miner of Sasaki Associates in Boston reviewed the proposal, which Miner explained is likely a 30- to 50-year vision.

Greg Roberts asked why nobody on council has taken the concerns of the  people who signed the AAP response forms seriously.

“We’ve had public meetings, but I feel like we’re being lectured at,” he said.

Brian Trueman asked if the Town could still purchase the watershed lands around Stocking and Holland lakes from TimberWest if council didn’t go ahead with the proposal, and Limshue said no.

“The lands that are in discussion are part and parcel of the proposal we put forward to the Town,” he said.

Limshue explained that transferring the watershed land to the Town of Ladysmith is all subject to a successful rezoning of the boundary area.

“As part of the discussion between ourselves and the Town, those lands will make up part of the amenity package,” he said, adding that between the land and the timer on the property, the value of the watershed lands in question is $5 million. “We would be looking at the transfer of these lands to the Town for a nominal fee of $5, $10, but it’s all predicated on successful rezoning.”

City manager Ruth Malli explained that as the development proceeded, if it was in phases, the watershed land would be brought into the Town in phases — for example, if one-third of the development was re-zoned successfully, one-third of the watershed land would be transferred.

Carol Henderson told council she feels this proposal doesn’t fit with the Town’s own visioning statement.

“I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I love Ladysmith because of all the land development and subdivision and the dirt that goes with them,’” she said. “It just doesn’t jive.”

“It just occurred to me this is a bit like a new mother buying size 20 clothes for her newborn just in case he needs it,” she added. “We are entering a period of lackluster growth. Why are we buying size 20 clothes when the child is growing very slowly and fashions will change?”

At the council table, the fact that there are still many unanswered questions was brought up numerous times.

“There are too many unanswered questions, too many concerns, too many doubts, too many fears,” said Hutchins. “We have a lot of vacant land already in our boundaries. I am concerned that the new proposed growth area will take away from our efforts to attract people to the downtown core. I do not believe at this time, there is a social license, community acceptance, to proceed. In my mind, not a lot has changed since the AAP in April. I have talked to too many residents, especially long-term residents of our town, who fear what we value in our community will be lost in this development.”

He also noted that council only received the water study in mid-September, and councillors, staff and the community have not had time to really digest that information.

Coun. Gord Horth felt council didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.

“I think it’s a very divisive issue … to put a pretty big question to the public without all the answers, half the people are going to be disappointed with a referendum and half aren’t,” he added. “I don’t think that’s a good thing for our community. Right now, the timing is wrong; the information is not there.”

Arnett noted he is passionate about watershed protection and has run on that platform in the last two municipal elections, but he couldn’t support the boundary expansion proposal until he had heard from all the town’s residents through a referendum.