Echo Heights hearing postponed

The endless debate about the future of Echo Heights was expected to finally end tomorrow. That’s not going to happen.

Renowned artist Robert Bateman is one of many who has spoken out against a North Cowichan proposal to develop Echo Heights Forest on the edge of Chemainus.

Renowned artist Robert Bateman is one of many who has spoken out against a North Cowichan proposal to develop Echo Heights Forest on the edge of Chemainus.

The endless debate about the future of Echo Heights was expected to finally end tomorrow.

That’s not going to happen.

Shortly after noon Tuesday, North Cowichan cancelled the scheduled Echo Heights public hearing.

According North Cowichan Deputy Clerk Mary Beth MacKenzie, the statutory notice for the hearing contained a minor error in wording. North Cowichan councillors cancelled the hearing after lawyers informed them the error could render it void.

MacKenzie said the hearing will be rescheduled at a yet-to-be-determined date.

Public hearings on three unrelated bylaws scheduled for tomorrow’s meeting will proceed as planned.

Prior to this development, North Cowichan had been preparing for a full evening of discussion on the Echo Heights Comprehensive Development plan Thursday at 7 p.m.

When rescheduled, the hearing will be the last opportunity for members of the public to have their say on the project.

“It’s coming to the end of the process,” Mayor Tom Walker said. “This is the formal public hearing — we have input that night and then we cannot have any further input.”

The development plan outlines a phased approach to developing approximately 200 to 250 dwelling units on 11 hectares of the Echo Heights property while still preserving another 12 hectares of park space. The plan received second reading at council’s regular meeting July 6.

Walker said he and his fellow council members will be listening very closely to what residents both for and against the project have to say.

“The important thing is for myself and council to keep an open mind and listen to the input,” he said. “We can’t make any assumptions at all.”

The Chemainus Residents Association has long been opposed to the development of Echo Heights, arguing any development would not only destroy the unique bio-diversity of the area but also compete with existing local developments such as Artisan Gardens and Artisan Village. Members of the association have said they would prefer to see the municipality concentrate its efforts on the revitalization of the downtown Chemainus core.

“We believe the municipality has not made the case that this land is needed for residential development,” said Bernie Jones, the association’s vice chair.  “It’s not like there are developers knocking at the door of the municipality saying ‘we want to develop but we have no land’.”

Jones said it is hard to know at this point how many residents will attend the hearing but speculates it could be a full house.

“This meeting on the 21st is super crucial because it’s determining the fate of the area,” he said. “We’re making a very determined effort to get a lot of people there, so that the municipality understands that it’s a wide-spread sentiment of saving Echo Heights as a forest.”

“Maybe we’ll have up to the 300 that the resident’s association was getting when it first started this battle five or six years ago.”

“Our intention would be to make sure that council understands that the desire to save Echo Heights is widespread, and that they understand all the different reasons we put forward for that.” Jones said.

“All of the votes on council have been 5 to 2 for moving ahead with the development of Echo Heights so we would have to be changing some minds and whether that will happen, I can’t say.”