The highway corridor through North Cowichan and Duncan will be targeted in new efforts to make it easier for businesses on that stretch of busy roadway to operate after crime and other social issues were identified as major issues there.
The Municipality of North Cowichan voted to spend up to $10,000 from its budget for 2019 at the council meeting on Feb. 6 to develop a Safer Community Plan, which is intended to initiate partnerships between local governments, the police, social and health agencies and the business community to better address issues of crime and public disorder on the highway corridor.
The City of Duncan also agreed to participate in developing the plan at a council meeting last week and will also spend up to $10,000 on the project from its 2019 budget.
A staff report written by Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning, said a recently completed study by Community Futures Cowichan on the issue determined that the primary issues for business owners in the corridor area are social issues and safety and security.
Conway said the study cites a current level of “public disorder” as a shared concern among business owners and identifies a high level of frustration regarding the lack of assistance and response businesses receive from law enforcement authorities, government agencies and local government.
“Recent meetings involving elected officials, senior municipal staff and local business owners highlighted problems associated with homelessness, opioid use and other social issues impacting business owners and the public in the ‘Duncan Strip’,” he said.
“Although it is recognized by most that the underlying issues are complex and do not have easy solutions, it is apparent that businesses and property owners within the Duncan/North Cowichan highway corridor are desperate for some assistance and relief from the ongoing social problems and crime they are experiencing.”
Conway said that in an effort to provide assistance to those impacted, the concept of a Safer Community Plan has been explored with Randy Churchill, an enforcement and security professional who is an ex-RCMP officer and the former manager of bylaws with the City of Nanaimo.
“Although a Safer Community Plan for the Duncan/North Cowichan highway corridor has not been identified to date as a priority project for the 2019 work plan, the rapidly developing social problems in the highway corridor area are significantly impacting safety and security in the area and is negatively impacting communities in this area in many ways,” he said.
“The SCP will help identify some immediate actions that can be taken to address pubic disorder issues in the area and provide some relief to business owners and the public until longer-term solutions can be found.”
North Cowichan’s CAO Ted Swabey told council that when Churchill was working for the City of Nanaimo, he developed a safety plan for the area of downtown where the city’s conference centre was proposed to be built at the time.
“It was a pretty messy place so Mr. Churchill engaged local businesses, the RCMP, bylaw officers and other stakeholders and came up with a successful strategy to deal with the area’s issues,” Swabey said.
“If approved, work would start immediately to bring everyone together in the highway corridor to become one voice and develop a strategy.”
Mayor Al Siebring said some businesses on the highway corridor are already independently spending thousands of dollars a month on security, and coordinating a common strategy with other businesses and stakeholders could see those expenses go down.
Coun. Tek Manhas said he knows of one business on the corridor that has spent $25,000 on a security system.
“I also know that some of the businesses are putting plans for their business on hold due to the issues in the area,” he said.
Coun. Kate Marsh said that she hopes the development of a strategy to deal with security and crime issues on the corridor will help raise awareness about those who are living on the streets.
“They are often homeless due to traumatic instances they have experienced,” she said. “I hope we can use this initiative as an educational piece for our community.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie added that she has also heard that some businesses in the corridor are considering closing their doors due to the issues they face there.
“This is not a problem that any one group can solve on its own,” she said. “That’s why I think this is an important initiative that we should support.”
The motion was passed unanimously.