North Cowichan councillors are allowing plans for a neighbourhood commercial centre at Berkey’s Corner to go ahead to the next phase.
It took them a lot of debate to even take that first step, and they didn’t do that without reworking the ideas recommended by their staff but they decided that now it’s time to hear what the public has to say.
So, with first and second readings of a zoning amendment bylaw under their belts, the developers, Hall Pacific, will now be able to present their ideas at a public hearing.
The 62,000 square foot development site lies southwest of the Berkey’s Corner roundabout (the intersection of Sherman, Somenos and Cowichan Lake roads) and is situated around and behind a commercial operation that is already home to a laundromat, gas station and restaurant.
It might include a grocery store, gas station, drive-through restaurant, liquor store, and more.
North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana backed the proposal saying, “this is what we thought of when we developed the Official Community Plan.”
He pointed out that the area is already densely populated and is growing steadily while also serving a great many residents as a recreation centre, with soccer fields across the street and the Duncan curling rink nearby.
Devana told councillors that he hoped to see it 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.
“It would be the equivalent to 136 residential homes,” he said. “It will provide a major catalyst to drive residential growth in that area.”
Coun. Tom Walker, attending the meeting by phone, said he liked the plan.
“A neighbourhood commercial centre is a much needed amenity for Berkey’s Corner. I’ll vote in favour,” he said.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said she’s spoken to businesses and residents in that area and they are very concerned, first about traffic and then about the effect on businesses already located there.
She suggested that saying a gas station and a restaurant are needed seemed odd since there are already a gas station and two restaurants at Berkey’s Corner.
“The traffic in that area is horrendous. We’ve had to put in a pedestrian light already. I think this development is too high density and too competitive. I’d like to see this revisited.”
Coun. Rob Douglas said he was excited when he first heard of the idea but became disappointed as he read further.
“There’s a lot of green space there. We’d lose that to a large parking lot and commercial centre. I’m also concerned about the possibility of drive-throughs and the idling that would occur.”
Douglas also thought that people using the Trans Canada Trail for recreation wouldn’t want to see “the backside of a shopping centre.”
He expressed concern that the new development suggested including a liquor store, pointing out there was already one right near Berkey’s Corner.
“Could it be too close? Do we really need two in this neighbourhood?” he asked.
Coun. Al Siebring was enthusiastic.
“This is the fastest growing part of the municipality. We envisioned this in our OCP. It’s a perfect fit with what’s happening there and what’s to come. I’m ecstatic,” he said.
Walker broke in, warning his nit-picking colleagues, “If it has enough merit we shouldn’t be killing it in first and second reading. I’d like to hear what our good citizens and businesses think. These things don’t come along every day.”
Mayor Jon Lefebure reminded his colleagues that they were looking only at a land-use decision.
“Our OCP does consider this fits. I think it fits very well. It’s logical,” he said.
Coun. Maeve Maguire was uncomfortable that the process didn’t seem to be flexible enough or give enough time for councillors to really think things through.
She, too, was worried about drive-through businesses, and asked Hall Pacific’s representative, Mike Spall, if a drive-through restaurant was necessary for the development to proceed.
Spall replied that, “a drive-through tenant has approached us. We’d like to have the option to proceed with that tenant.”
Coun. Kate Marsh was also struggling with drive-throughs and concerns about traffic in an area already prone to congestion.
“This doesn’t sound like neighbourhood development if it has drive-throughs. It sounds like urban core to me.”
North Cowichan’s Scott Mack said that municipal staff were trying to balance economic values against environmental concerns, reminding her that many parts of the municipality were auto-centred and that the site should be viewed in a suburban context.
Maguire agreed with Marsh.
“I’m finding a drive-through restaurant very hard to accept. It’s a neighbourhood and I’m really protective of what we put in there. It’s proven you don’t need a drive-through to be successful.”
Finally, councillors decided that the idea go forward but not without adding drive-throughs to the list of prohibited uses on the property.
Now, area residents will get to say what they think.