New Cowichan hospital site gets rezoning OK

The Municipality of North Cowichan has met the deadline for having three properties on Bell McKinnon Road rezoned for a new hospital

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 by some councillors around the fact that the CVRHD wouldn’t agree to an “open-ended” restrictive covenant on the properties.

That 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 is expecting that the CVRHD would be responsible for a number of infrastructure requirements for the area, which is currently mostly rural with some residential, including the costs of road upgrades and the extension of sewer and water services.

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 by the local neighbourhood.

“It would also commit the CVRHD to spend public taxpayer money on projects that its principal funding partner, Island Health, had not yet approved,” Lefebure said.

“[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, and what they might cost.”

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 the construction of any building on the properties until a comprehensive local area plan has been 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 Devana said “nothing is normal” about this rezoning process as it’s being rushed to meet the needs of the hospital district before the specific plans for infrastructure in the neighbourhood 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.

“Council has the option to either deny the rezoning, in which the hospital district would miss their deadline on July 30, or we can accept their offer and allow the rezoning,” he said.

Coun. Kate Marsh said the community should be celebrating the fact the properties have been rezoned for the new hospital, and not caught up in a last-minute debate over the restrictive covenant.

“This is a sad conversation we’re having when the public should be excited about this,” Marsh said.

“I understand the concerns of the hospital district, and I hope we can move forward and be leaders of this community,” she said.