Robert BarronBlack Press
The Municipality of North Cowichan has met the deadline for having three properties on Bell McKinnon Road rezoned for a new hospital, but with some misgivings.
North Cowichan has been moving quickly forward with the rezoning to meet a request from the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District to have the rezoning process completed before July 31.
That’s the deadline for the hospital district’s final decision on whether it will purchase the properties on which a new hospital would be built. Council unanimously gave the fourth and final reading to the rezoning on July 20.
But concerns were raised because the CVRHD wouldn’t agree to an “open-ended” restrictive covenant on the properties, which would have included a commitment to pay for yet-to-be determined infrastructure upgrades in the Bell McKinnon area, both on and off the properties.
However, the hospital district did agree to pass a motion against any development of the properties until North Cowichan develops a long-anticipated, comprehensive local area plan for the neighbourhood.
The local area plan, which could take up to two years to develop, is intended as the basis for determining specific on- and off-site improvements required to develop the properties and the surrounding neighbourhood.
As part of the hospital project, the municipality expects the CVRHD to be responsible for a number of infrastructure requirements for the mostly rural area.
But in a letter to the Municipality of North Cowichan, CVRHD chairman Jon Lefebure, who is also the mayor of North Cowichan, said the type of “open-ended” agreement some councillors wanted was “simply unacceptable” to the hospital district.
He said it would commit the CVRHD to improvements and upgrades that have not been properly considered by the district or the local neighbourhood.
The covenant would also require the CVRHD to essentially agree in advance to an indeterminate expenditure for undetermined improvements before any work has been done to determine what these might be, he said.
However, Lefebure said the hospital district’s motion is an effort to respect the intent of the municipality.
The motion passed by the CVRHD states simply that the hospital district will prohibit construction of any building on the properties until a comprehensive local area plan is completed.
In response to questions from council regarding the municipality’s request for the restrictive covenant before specific plans for infrastructure are in place for the area, North Cowichan’s CAO Dave Devana said requesting such a covenant is “common practice”.
But he said “nothing is normal” about this rezoning as it’s being rushed to meet the needs of the hospital district before the specific plans for infrastructure have been finalized.
“If we had perfect timelines, we might not agree to move forward like this, but staff decided we are comfortable enough to skip a few steps and recommend that we give fourth reading because we feel that what the CVRHD agreed to has enough teeth in it for us for now,” Devana said.