Artisan Village project plans getting new life

After several years on the shelf, plans to develop 13.5 hectares of land in Chemainus known as the Artisan Village have reemerged.

After several years on the shelf, plans to develop 13.5 hectares of land in Chemainus known as the Artisan Village have reemerged.

Developer Chris Clement put the project on hold in 2012 but a new comprehensive development plan is in the works and while still in the early stages, a public open house was held this week to reveal preliminary plans and to gauge public support.

“It was well attended,” North Cowichan development services director Scott Mack said. “There was a significant turnout. Overall, I think it was well received.”

The new Artisan Village incarnation aims to “create a unique mixed-use predominately residential neighbourhood utilizing open space, quality architecture, and the site’s natural beauty,” according the plan.

The pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods located on either side of Hermit Park and Askew Creek would also offer a small commercial component aimed at complementing what the town of Chemainus already has to offer. The potential for assisted living and community care facilities and various other permitted uses also exists, in addition to a multitude of housing options including the likes of duplexes, townhouses and more.

Unlike the last plan, however, this one includes single-family homes.

“What Chris has applied for effectively broadens the range of potential uses and densities by introducing an area of single family residential lots/homes in the first phase. The [original] plan suggests that the entire project would be multi-family oriented,” Mack explained. “Staff are in support of the proposed amendments on the basis of the increased mix and type of housing that the developer will be able to provide.”

The overall plan remains in the spirit of the original Artisan Village development vision.

Decades ago, when times were tough and economic times were uncertain, the people of Chemainus began to look for ways to expand their economic base.

The emergence of the world-famous Chemainus murals and construction of the Chemainus Theatre Festival kicked off a wave of economic development and with it, a desire emerged to promote local artists. It was then that the original Artisan Village concept was born.

“It was planned as an international campus intended to accommodate artists and artisans from around the Pacific Rim with studio and workspace and a venue to market art,” said the comprehensive development plan. “The concept is to continue to recognize the artistic side of Chemainus while at the same time providing a mix of housing.”

But construction based on the primary plans never happened as the economy and markets fluctuated. To this day, the original metal gates and sculpture are the only physical reminders of those plans. The features would remain if the new project proceeds.

Thus far, community engagement on Clement’s new plan has generally been positive. There’s still a ways to go — including more public consultation.

“Staff only got to speak to a certain number of people but the general feeling seemed to be positive in terms of the proposed changes,” Mack said of the open house. “I think a lot of people saw the merits of the expansion of uses and a broader mix of commercial and residential uses within the subject property.”

The next step in the public process, Mack noted, will be for council to hold a public hearing at the next council meeting on Oct. 7. There the general public will have the opportunity to provide feedback and input regarding the proposed changes.