Residents from the Diamond, North Oyster and Saltair packed into the Diamond Community Hall Thursday May 23 to discuss what they see as a potential threat to their current way of life.
Looming large on the horizon is a proposed boundary expansion on the western outskirts of Ladysmith that would see 700-plus acres of private property zoned primarily as forestry land incorporated into the city for future residential development.
The land in question is owned by TimberWest, a privately held forestry company which is owned, in turn, by British Columbia Investment Management Corporation and PSP Investments, an Ottawa-based Crown Corporation that invests funds for RCMP, Canadian Forces and Public Service pension plans.
Couverdon — TimberWest’s real-estate business — is currently brokering a deal with Ladysmith that would see Ladysmith expand its city limits to include a 710-acre (287-hectare) parcel of land west of Ladysmith and the Diamond in exchange for Ladysmith gaining title to TimberWest land adjacent to Stocking and Holland lakes.
The lands in question are located within CVRD Electoral Areas H (North Oyster-Diamond) and G (Saltair-Gulf Islands).
Bob Smits, chair of the North Oyster-Diamond Ratepayers Association presided over a meeting that saw North Oyster resident Chris Gerrand revisit concerns over Couverdon and Ladysmith failing to consult residents from surrounding communities over the proposed development.
Area H Director Mary Marcotte followed with a status update on Couverdon’s application.
“The director of planning for the Town of Ladysmith has informed us that no application has been received for taking [TimberWest’s] property into town boundaries at this time,” Marcotte said.
Couverdon was required to amalgamate several parcels of land into the single property in question prior to submitting an application for incorporation to Ladysmith, Marcotte said, and that amalgamation is currently under provincial review.
Marcotte proceeded to explain the complex rules governing boundary expansions to the crowd and possible alternative strategies for ensuring the lands surrounding Ladysmith drinking water reservoirs receive protection.
The floor was then opened up for a question-and-answer period that produced more questions than answers and a host of comments.
One Diamond resident with multi-generational ties to the community summed up the sentiment shared by the majority of those present when he said: “I subdivided my land, but into one- or two-acre lots. And that’s acceptable [here.] What we don’t want, I think, is 100- by 60-foot lots. I don’t agree with urban sprawl. I don’t agree with small lots. But I do agree with one-acre or two-acre lots. It keeps it beautiful.”
He went on to explain how many Diamond and North Oyster residents were drawn to the area by the space afforded by acre-plus lots for hobby orchards and workshops and the safe, friendly atmosphere that exists within the community.
“I brought my family up here,” he added, “and it’s a lifestyle that I cherish.”
Concerns that the high-density residential development proposed for Couverdon’s expansion will eventually spill over into the Diamond and North Oyster lie at the heart of their misgivings, but many questions have yet to be answered.
Smits summed it up by saying that residents of Area H are “opposed to having something dumped on them without enough information to make a decision one way or the other.”
“It’s going to affect our tax base. It’s going to affect our rural character, especially if we go to small lot sizes. It’s going to increase the traffic on our roads, maybe to a dangerous level. All of those concerns don’t get dealt with because there’s no process [through which the concerns of the municipality giving up the land are addressed.”
The public discussion process will continue this week when Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins addresses residents of Saltair at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, at Mt. Brenton School.