Some Chemainus residents have made it abundantly clear that they want the community to be involved in the Echo Heights consultation process.
The Echo Heights Comprehensive Development plan bylaw was given its first reading at the Municipality of North Cowichan’s regular council meeting on June 15 in front of a crowd of at least a dozen people, who urged the municipality to thoroughly promote upcoming meetings on the subject.
“I have raised this issue of promotion of important meetings before and often been assured that there would be proper notification… and in just about every case, the municipality has done nothing more than post the normal routine legal notices in the newspaper. I would sincerely hope that council will do more than that with respect to this issue which is of great interest… to people in Chemainus,” said resident Tom Masters.
Audience members made suggestions such as posting meeting notices on bulletin boards around the community, such as the high school or firehall. The group also suggested that the public hearing be held in Chemainus.
“We’ll give that consideration, but we do our business at city hall,” responded Mayor Tom Walker. “But we will be going the extra mile.”
According to Scott Mack, director of planning and development, council has directed staff to proceed with a mail-out notice of the public hearing and said something will be co-ordinated at the end of June.
The 17-page comprehensive development plan outlines the entire project, which would see the development of a 22-hectare parcel in Echo Heights.
Approximately 11 of those hectares will be set aside to meet the principles of protecting sensitive environmental areas and preserving the existing trail networks, while the remaining 11 hectares would be developed into a variety of housing units. The first reading of the bylaw passed with councillors Ruth Hartmann, John Koury, Dave Haywood and Al Siebring voting in favor, and councillors Garrett Elliott and George Seymour opposed.
The project has received much opposition from the public over the past five years. Those against the plan say the development would not only destroy the bio-diversity of the parklands there, but also goes against the work already put into the Chemainus Downtown Revitalization project.
“In the case of the development on River Road, they have got infrastructure in and now the municipality is, with the backing of taxpayers’ money, proposing to create this development that is in direct competition with all these developers who have already done the groundwork for their developments,” said Kathy Wachs, Chemainus Residents Association secretary.
For Mark Kiemele, chair of the Chemainus Residents Association, the comprehensive development plan is the ‘same old, same old’ and hasn’t changed since originally proposed in 2006.
“The comprehensive development plan, if you look closely at it, it’s nothing new and the reasons we have for opposing haven’t changed, except there’s some new financial wrinkles,” he said. “It’s like the municipality is getting into the speculative housing market which it has no business being in.”
“We think they should be concentrating all their efforts on downtown businesses that are suffering and getting more people to live downtown instead of creating more urban sprawl by building on this parkland.”
Following a number of public information sessions, a public hearing will take place tentatively on July 21. Open house sessions will be hosted at the Municipal Hall on Wednesday, June 22 and Wednesday, June 29 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Initial consultation on the plan will be summarized for council’s next meeting on July 6, at which time they could amend or give second reading to the bylaw.
Wachs says she is hopeful that both local developers and residents who have educated themselves on the issue will come out to share their views at the public sessions.
“I also hope the people who are in favour of the development come out because I’m quite curious to hear what they have to say, because I don’t see any advantage at all to Chemainus,” she said. “Places like Echo Heights forest are the reason people move to Chemainus.”
Wachs also hopes council will continue to improve the lines of communication to the public.
“Until there’s an issue that people feel passionate about that comes to their attention, they don’t read the notices,” she said. “We need our councillors to understand that this kind of bio-diversity doesn’t happen other places in North Cowichan, this really is a special place, and people need to have their say.”
“I’m fascinated to see how things are going to go.”
For more information on upcoming meetings, contact the Municipality of North Cowichan or visit their website at www.northcowichan.bc.ca/siteengine/activepage.asp
“We really hope that council will keep an open mind, I seriously doubt they will because they’ve been trying to ram this through for five years, but if they keep an open mind and truly listen to the community… then I think they’ll reject this comprehensive development plan,” Kiemele said.
More than 30 people showed up for the first open house on the development, held at the Legion on June 16.
“They did a very good job. It was professionally done, but they’re kind of missing the point in terms of some of the people that live here, especially the people who live backing on the forest and the people that are outdoors oriented,” said Therese Neufeld, a four-year Echo Heights resident. “We’re thinking it doesn’t make much sense because there’s no urgent need for more housing.”
Neufeld said living in the City of Vancouver left her with an appreciation for all things green.
“It’s a backwards way of thinking to think that progress is always developing more,” she said.
“We have to start thinking about preserving our green spaces.”