ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN
The short amount of time being given to develop a neighbourhood plan for the Bell McKinnon Road area is raising concerns among councillors in the Municipality of North Cowichan.
Staff in North Cowichan were directed by council in March to prepare a neighbourhood plan for the mainly rural-residential area by July.
That’s because three properties on Bell McKinnon Road were selected by the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District last August to potentially house the new, approximately $350-million Cowichan District Hospital.
So staff had been instructed to develop the neighbourhood plan in conjunction with the rezoning application for the potential new hospital site to determine the implications of the project, including the need for new sewer and water lines, in the area.
But Coun. Al Siebring said last week that it took two years to develop a neighbourhood plan for Crofton and a year-and-a-half to develop one for Chemainus.
“Now we’re trying to cram this into four-and-a-half months,” he said.
“This hospital rezoning is driving the bus on this neighbourhood plan and I’m afraid that we’re compressing this thing a little too much for the folks in the neighbourhood to have a say. The plan should be a priority, but it needs to be done right.”
Coun. Maeve Maguire said she also has concerns around making a decision on the neighbourhood plan based on the timelines given to prepare it.
“I’m just not comfortable with that,” she said.
CAO Dave Devana said council had been told in the past that the municipality is “committed to a high-level local area plan” for the neighbourhood.
“If you want to dive in deeper after the high-level plan is presented, council can do that,” he said.
“At this point, we’re just trying to get a reasonable amount of comfort that a hospital can fit into a long-term plan for that area. I believe we can do that by July.”
Jon Lefebure, mayor of the municipality, said in a previous interview that construction of a new hospital is still likely five or 10 years from beginning, but the goal of local governments, and the CVRHD, is to be prepared with a site and money in the bank should Island Health declare Cowichan next in line for a new hospital.