Affordable housing gets green light in North Cowichan

Two affordable-housing projects in the Cowichan Valley have been given the green light to proceed.

Two affordable-housing projects in the Cowichan Valley have been given the green light to proceed.

The Municipality of North Cowichan gave the final readings to the bylaws that will see the developments constructed by the Community Land Trust Foundation of BC after a lengthy and packed public hearing on Feb. 21 that left standing room only.

North Cowichan will now work to reach an agreement with the CLTF, a non-profit society serving as the development arm of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, on a 99-year lease on the properties and the construction of the developments.

There were few concerns raised at the hearing over the one planned for 9800 Willow St. in Chemainus, which received a unanimous vote from council, but the project planned for 3191 Sherman Rd. was a cause of concern for many from the public who spoke to the issue.

That was one was passed in a 5-1 vote, with Coun. Joyce Behnsen voting against it. Coun. Tom Walker was absent at the public hearing.

Many of those who spoke against the Sherman Road project said they aren’t against affordable housing, just the proposed location for this project.

Most of those concerns centred around parking and traffic issues in the area, the density and heights of the proposed new buildings and the project’s possible impacts on the local sports facilities, including the nearby Glen Harper Curling Centre.

Along with many at the public hearing, Colin Benson suggested that a nearby 20-acre municipally owned gravel pit near Sherman Road would be a better location.

“We do need affordable housing in the community, but let’s make sure we do it right,” he said.

“We should make these projects something that we can all be proud of.”

But Arlene Robinson said the construction of both projects won’t cost municipal taxpayers a cent and should be approved as is.

“When it comes down to local priorities, this is right up there,” she said.

“Let’s not make parking a priority over people.”

Approximately 64 affordable housing units in a number of three and four-storey buildings are planned for Sherman Road, with 12 of the units to be designated as supportive transitional housing for the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society.

The project planned for Chemainus includes the construction of a mixed-use building with commercial units and community space on the first floor, and approximately 18 units of affordable housing for seniors in its upper floors.

The projects were decided upon after North Cowichan entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the CLTF in August to explore affordable-housing options on the two properties.

Coun. Rob Douglas said it would be unwise for North Cowichan to not move forward with the projects at this time.

“This is the first time the province has put forward any money for affordable housing since 2001, so we can’t miss this opportunity,” he said.

“Private developers are not responsible to build affordable housing. This is one window of opportunity that has come along and we should move it forward.”

Coun. Al Siebring said he recently attended a funeral for a young woman from the area who died of an overdose.

He said the young woman slid back into addiction after two years of being clean during a time she was having trouble finding housing locally and ended up having to move to Nanaimo.

He said he wonders if the housing challenges she faced in the area contributed to her early death.

“I’m not saying that were these projects here, they could have helped save her life, but it shows the need we have for affordable housing here,” Siebring said.

“The bottom line for me is that if folks want to go curling, then they can walk a few blocks. We have social priorities here that we have to deal with.”

Coun. Joyce Behnsen said there’s not enough physical space in the neighbourhood for the project on Sherman Road to proceed.

She said she can’t see telling people to walk to the curling centre.

“Parking is very important to support any facility,” she said.

“I will support the Chemainus project, but not the one on Sherman Road because it will be just too high density for that neighbourhood. I don’t see it as a lost opportunity if we choose not to proceed. I have faith in our government and don’t believe that this is a one-shot deal.”