Berkey’s Corner open house draws crowd

Al Guenther is skeptical about plans for a neighbourhood commercial centre at Berkey’s Corner.

  • Mar. 4, 2016 7:00 p.m.

ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN

Al Guenther is skeptical about plans for a neighbourhood commercial centre at Berkey’s Corner.

Guenther lives just across the street from the site where the proposed 62,000 square-foot development would be constructed if the project gets a green light to proceed from the Municipality of North Cowichan.

“I don’t want to be able to order a coffee and donut from my bathroom window,” said Guenther, who attended a busy public information session on the project Tuesday.

“I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for 14 years and I was told when I moved here that the area was zoned for residential use only. I think it would be an abomination.”

The proposed development site lies southwest of the Berkey’s Corner roundabout, which is the intersection of Sherman, Somenos and Cowichan Lake roads.

The Vancouver-based development company Hall Pacific is proposing a development that would be anchored by a number of national chain stores, including grocery and drug stores, as well as a number of smaller, more local tenants.

Ultimately, the project is proposing to have a large grocery store, gas station, drive-through restaurant, liquor store and more.

Spokesman Fraser Hall said discussions are already underway with a number of potential tenants, and they will be announced at a later date if the project proceeds.

“Rezoning for the project has already received the first and second readings from the municipality, and we’re hoping it will move forward for the third reading later this month,” Hall said.

“The Official Community Plan for this area includes a commercial centre that would service a large and growing community. If we can proceed, we’re looking at beginning construction in July, and hope to have it completed by December, 2017.”

Dave Devana, the CAO of the Municipality of North Cowichan, told council in January that the area is already densely populated and growing steadily, and this type of development was what the municipality was considering when it developed its OCP.

Devana told councillors that he hoped to see the development kickstart economic development in the municipality, and, by providing about $200,000 in municipal taxes, would, in one development, be the equivalent to one year’s growth for North Cowichan.

But many other people who attended the public information meeting also had concerns with the project.

The proposed development site is situated adjacent to a commercial operation that is already home to a laundromat, gas station and restaurant, so Darrin Manns wondered if the area needs more retail.

“There’s empty retail storefront all over this area already,” he said.

“The little grocery stores and others already here won’t be able to compete as the big corporations push out the little guys. I think it’s all about making money and we’ll see our property taxes go up.”

But Brock McLeod said he’s “open to the idea” of the new development.

“It certainly has potential and I think a mix of different businesses at that site would benefit the area,” he said. “But it would be nice to know who the tenants are before construction begins.”