Skip to content

North Cowichan turns down major development near new hospital

WestVista project denied in 3-3 vote
North Cowichan turned down a proposal for a major residential/commercial development close to the new hospital that is under construction in the Bell McKinnon area in a 3-3 vote. (Submitted photo)

Plans for a comprehensive development project that would have included up to 850 new homes and a commercial area near the new $1.44-billion Cowichan District Hospital were nixed in a 3-3 tie vote at North Cowichan’s council table at its meeting on March 6.

Mill Bay-based WestVista development company proposed to build the development on a 31-acre property located north of Herd Road, which is outside North Cowichan’s urban containment boundary and is in a designated future-growth area in the municipality’s newly adopted official community plan.

According to the OCP, which was updated in 2022, the area is not to be developed until after all other areas zoned for development in the area have been built out.


WestVista, which claimed the development would yield more than $60 million in property taxes by year 25 of the project, had requested that North Cowichan take its land out of the future-growth area and allow development to soon begin there.

But a staff report recommended that council deny the application because the proposal represents a significant departure from the growth-management section of the OCP, which is one of its core components.

The report concluded that the stated condition for consideration of development in the area had not been met.

“The existing Bell McKinnon Growth Centre can likely accommodate 6,000 units, which may be sufficient to accommodate more than 20 years of housing growth,” the report said.

“Expanding the urban-containment boundary before additional land is required may diffuse development over a larger area and lead to more fragmented growth. More compact growth will reduce the length of time that early residents of the new developments feel that they are living in an area that is under construction, and will support the efficient use of infrastructure.”


The proposed project, located just 500 feet from the new hospital site, would have included hundreds of new housing units that were planned to be a combination of affordable housing, high-density and multi-family residential housing, and also would have included a hotel, and a light industrial/commercial area.

WestVista, which is owned by Mill Bay’s Elaine and John Lichtenwald, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Duncan-based Indigenous company, RavenStone Construction, to be the main sub-trade contractor for the project if it moved forward, and Jodee Dick, CEO of Khowutzun Development Corporation, Cowichan Tribes’ economic arm, had sent a letter of support for the project to North Cowichan.

But three council members voted against the development moving forward, which sunk the application as tie votes on a motion leads to its defeat.

Coun. Debra Toporowski recused herself from the discussion and vote on the issue as she is a member of Cowichan Tribes and at the time was running for a councillor position for the First Nation (she has since been elected), so she concluded that participating in the issue could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Coun. Christopher Justice said staff had recommended denying the application for very sound reasons, including that North Cowichan doesn’t need to open up any new lands for development at this time.

He said the municipality has ample land within its existing growth boundaries to accommodate population growth in the Bell McKinnon area for decades to come.


“Expanding the UCB prematurely before these conditions are met would lead to fragmented growth, and extend periods in which people will feel they are living in a construction zone,” Justice said.

“Also, approving this development will likely trigger many more such applications on the boundary of the UCB and leave staff with no clear indication of how to deal with these things.”

Coun. Tek Manhas said the project would be a walkable community where people could get to work without cars, which would go a long way to reduce green-house gas emissions, and also includes a much-needed hotel.

“We also don’t know the future of the Crofton mill, but this project would be more than enough to offset the possible loss of taxes from the mill in future years,” he said.

Coun. Mike Caljouw also said the project makes sense, and would provide much needed middle-class housing and a new hotel.

He said the OCP states North Cowichan needs 1,208 units of one and two-bedroom housing, and WestVista would help fill some of the needs for accommodation for doctors, nurses and construction workers.

“All these units will be a five to 10 minute walk to the hospital site, and the sewer and water services will soon extend to the north side of Herd Road,” Caljouw said.

“And with the fact that RavenStone Construction is partnering with WestVista on the project, it just makes sense.”

Coun. Chris Istace pointed out that North Cowichan already has 20 years of residential build-out on the south side of Herd Road, and there’s no guarantees that the developer will have housing available anytime soon, as is being claimed.

He also said the municipality already has a backlog of projects to keep up with its infrastructure requirements, including water, sewer, sidewalks and roads.

“The thought that new development will set us on the course of being financially secure is ill conceived and not fully thought out,” Istace said.

“The best way to ensure we’re making the best use of public tax funds is investing in the infrastructure we already have.”


Coun. Bruce Findlay said the application for the development was submitted to North Cowichan before the OCP was completed and the future-growth area was established, and should have been grandfathered into the process as inside the UCB.

He said the development offers most of what is needed in the Bell McKinnon area in terms of housing, employment, medical offices, commercial units and a hotel in the area where the new hospital is being constructed.

“This is needed now, not 20 or 40 years down the road,” Findlay said.

“We’re servicing the Bell McKinnon area now, so it makes sense to add this to the process for cost savings.”

Mayor Rob Douglas said allowing the project to move forward would be totally inconsistent with the vision and policies in the new OCP.

He said that, after four years of hard work by council, staff and residents, the lands along the Bell McKinnon corridor north of Herd Road are now designated in the OCP as a future-growth area for future growth only if and when all other significant growth areas have been fully built out.

“Our OCP also states that the municipality will only support significant alterations to the UCB boundaries as part of a comprehensive OCP review, or the implementation of a secondary local area or neighbourhood planning process,” Douglas said.

“The application before us is clearly at odds with these policies regarding future growth in the Bell McKinnon area and with the growth-management section of the OCP.”

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
Read more