Have a say as Crofton sets future blueprint

Crofton residents can speak their piece on such contentious subjects as overheight waterfront property developments, the future of the old elementary school site and what to do about a variety of issues at an upcoming meeting about their proposed Local Area Plan.

A public open house will be held Tuesday, June 9 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Crofton Community Centre.

It’s best to do it now, rather than waiting, according to planning manager Brian Green.

There’s no point in holding it in July and August, said Green, with so many people away. The plan has been two years in the making and, when council gave it first reading May 20, Green said he didn’t want to see a public session put off until September.

Municipal officials, councillors and an advisory working group (AWG) of local folks have wrestled over the plan in its current state.

It’s been an adventure to get to this point, said North Cowichan Coun. Kate Marsh, who praised the amount of public input and hours of staff effort that went into the preparation of this plan. She said the working group had met 14 times and although discussion "felt pretty sticky and messy" at times, that overall the result is "pretty good".

Green said there were several sticking points that both sides wrestled over before reaching consensus.

These included great local concern about a possible four-story building

on the waterfront in Crofton, how the old Crofton Elementary School property should be subdivided and how best to both diversify and increase the community’s inventory of various types of housing by infilling around Robert Street.

Green said that although the

municipal staff said no to four-storey buildings along Joan Avenue, they thought three storeys was "totally appropriate given the context, what the OCP is saying, what our climate action energy plan is saying."

Looking at the elementary school site involved talks about its future and the Crofton AWG and municipal staff finally agreed to present the idea that 75 per cent of that old elementary school be made available for residential development.

"We think that former elementary school site is currently derelict but it’s a great sustainable site for new infill residential development. That would see the remaining 25 per cent be an OCP amendment as park and community facilities," Green said.

On Robert Street, the plan significantly reduces the scale and size of the mixed use commercial core area.

"What we’ve said is that we want some broader housing types, we want some diversity in Crofton, which is currently so lacking. We think it’s totally appropriate from a planning and sustainability perspective to propose to allocate some infill housing around the Robert Street area," Green said.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen was worried about the future of the old school property.

"With the community centre next door and the skate park, its recreational potential as well as the old gym should be considered. I think 75 per cent residential will be considered a really high percentage in that specific location," she said.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana agreed that there’s interest in saving what appears to be a functional gym.

Getting the plan on the table means the public can now speak up, he said.

"But in the end, what I was trying to emphasize to [the AWG] is you must make sure to come up with $400,000 to $500,000 to take down the old school. The only way to get that money, other than asking the taxpayers to pay for it, is to develop the site. Otherwise they’re going to be coming back to us.

The school district isn’t going to take down the school because their budgets are also tight, he said.

Behnsen asked if the province was a part owner of that land but Devana said it was split between the school district and the municipality.

"I do know the district has deemed [theirs] to be surplus so they are in position to offer it to us. But personally I wouldn’t personally be recommending assuming that liability unless there’s some development potential on the property," he said.

Coun. Al Siebring said that when he’d attended a couple of the sessions, "the height restriction issue on the waterfront, particularly on the Twin Gables property, was a major bone of contention."

Green said that even if the plan eventually passes, an applicant could still submit a development variance permit for consideration but it would require a strong design rationale and would still have to eventually hit the council table.

Devana agreed. "It’s not about increasing density. It’s about a strong design rationale that would change the look of the building. The AWG agreed to this, too," he said.