The Town of Lake Cowichan’s chief administrative officer has assured mayor and council that a precedent will not be set by council opting to go against staff’s recommendation and grant a significant development variance to a local practitioner looking to bring more health services to the area.
Lake Cowichan resident Stacey Blanchet hopes to build a new physiotherapy clinic for her growing business at 88 Lake Cowichan Rd.
Originally from the area, she and her husband had been at the lake visiting family a few years back when they noticed there was “a significant gap in healthcare services here in Lake Cowichan,” she said.
The duo packed up and moved here to set up the practice and to raise their young family.
“It’s now come to the point where the demand is greater than what one person can meet,” she explained of the desire to construct a new building. Her waiting list is sometimes three or four months long, which she notes is not ideal for those requiring health services. Blanchet needed a space that could host more than one practitioner and she and her husband quickly realized if they were going to expand, they’d have to build their own space.
Through her developer, Island West Coast Developments and their spokesperson Jessica Kologie, council learned the Blanchets were more than willing to comply with most of the development regulations but wouldn’t build a second storey on the new building, as preferred by the town. Because of this, town staff recommended against a variance to that effect.
“The applicant has refused to consider a second storey or raised building height,” said the staff report to council. “Staff does not support the following request; however, this is a matter of council discretion.”
The staff report noted up-sides of requiring two floors are two-fold: “aesthetic benefits of a pleasant ‘street wall’” and the opportunity for affordable or rental housing on the second storey.
“Obviously we know that the city is trying to go for multi-storey buildings along the streetscape so we wanted to contribute to the height. We’re 16 feet tall which is not that much shorter than a two storey building but most of that is the…facade to create the height the city is looking for there,” Kologie told council at their April 26 Zoom council meeting.
Blanchet later said when they bought the property, they initially considered doing a second level. Two things ultimately quashed that idea, however.
“Absolutely money is a factor,” she said. “Ultimately it came down to our business model. We aren’t developers, we are clinicians and being residential landlords doesn’t fit with the business model.”
At the meeting, Councillor Lorna Vomacka noted that it’s a primarily a one-storey neighbourhood in that part of town.
“I know we’re trying to build residential but it fits in with what’s there commercially so I have no objections, myself, with there not being a second storey for residential.”
Councillor Kristine Sandhu wondered about setting the stage for future variance requests.
“If we approve this one storey, not two, is that setting a precedent?” she asked Fernandez.
“No,” replied Fernandez. “The development variances are individually based. It’s not setting any precedent.”
In the end, council approved the variance, paving the way for Lake Cowichan Physiotherapy’s expansion.
Blanchet hopes to be working out of her new space and offering much-needed health services to the community by early next year, though she knows construction timelines often fluctuate.
“We hope over time to have registered massage therapy, kinesiology and more,” she added. “There’ll be plenty of room to evolve into a more multidisciplinary practice.”