Council ponders 91% park

Despite finally gaining the support of several Chemainus groups and the Penelakut Tribe for a possible speedy end to the long-running Echo Heights dispute, North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure could not get enough of his colleagues to back an idea that calls for 91 per cent of the site to become parkland.

Using the analogy of a baseball player who hit more successfully when he relaxed his grip, Lefebure asked both council and the community to loosen their hold on former ideas and embrace a plan that would see only nine per cent of the controversial piece of municipal land used for housing, and using R2 zoning to cover it.

His idea was that council could give a new park dedication bylaw first, second and third reading at that meeting, and then follow a public-approval process.

"The community has relaxed its stand; they’ve said if you can come this far, we can support you," he said.

Lefebure confessed that he, too, had held a rigid position for too long, looking for innovation and ways to maximize the return for the municipality.

"The lots created now will be top-value and will not compete with other developments," he said. "No one can say we have not examined this and it’s where all sides of the issue meet," he concluded.

Bernie Jones of the Chemainus Residents Association stood up at the meeting and urged council to support the proposal.

Creegan Drive resident Doug Freeburg said, "I see it as a reasonable balance."

The idea offers less density at a lower cost to the municipality, is more likely to happen

quickly and is also a greener solution, he added.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana told councillors that the municipality was giving up about $1.5 million in possible sales. However, "this proposal will still make $2 million and at significantly less risk. There is a simple road network and the services are already there."

Coun. Barb Lines said that she was happy to see this movement on the issue.

"The relationship between communities and council is important," she said.

"This is a plan that brings unity. I think it’s a powerful opportunity for some healing," Coun. Kate Marsh agreed.

However, all the goodwill evaporated when it became clear that Lefebure could not get the two-thirds majority of council needed to go to a quicker public approval process.

Coun. John Koury wanted that extra $1.5 million.

Coun. Al Siebring said that, as far as he was concerned, "Echo Heights has never been all about the money but we have to maximize the return." Coun. Jennifer Woike also voted against the 91-9 split.

Marsh asked Koury if he would reconsider his decision to oppose Lefebure’s proposal so that council could take advantage of the good will generated and reduce possible public misunderstanding but his response was "No," concluding, "I don’t care how confusing it is."

The result was that council was only able to give first reading to the 91 per cent park dedication bylaw. It must now await second and third reading and that possibly could take two more council meetings, pushing the decision date into June.