The possibility of a new hospital being built in the Bell McKinnon Road area took a big leap forward last week.
Councillors in the Municipality of North Cowichan unanimously voted to give third reading to a bylaw to allow rezoning for three lots that could be used to construct the new $340-million hospital following a public hearing on the issue Wednesday, June 29.
The new facility would replace the more than 40-year-old hospital on Gibbins Road.
While the vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd at the public hearing were in favour of the new hospital being built in the area, some neighbours expressed concerns about increased traffic and noise and other changes to their quiet and rural lifestyles.
Bart and Jen Walter told council they are not in favour of the proposed hospital proceeding before a local area plan for the neighbourhood is complete.
“The construction of a hospital shouldn’t direct the neighbourhood plan,” Jen Walter said.
“The neighbourhood is a peaceful and quiet place now, but we’re afraid it won’t stay that way with a new hospital.”
Tom Anderson, the special projects manager for the new hospital for the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District, said the old hospital needs to be replaced to increase capacity and to allow for much-needed upgrades to local medical facilities.
“The eight-acre site the hospital currently is on is just too small for our needs,” Anderson said.
“This is Island Health’s number-one priority on Vancouver Island right now and, hopefully, that will help us get the province on board with this project.”
Neighbour Dean Bell said he’s concerned about the length of time it would take the hospital to be built if the decision is finally made to place it in the Bell McKinnon neighbourhood.
“I’ll be 65 years old in eight years, so this process seems slow to me,” he said.
“The old hospital no longer works and we’re dragging our feet on getting a new one built. We need to move on this, and move quickly.”
As part of preparations for the possible construction of the hospital, during the last five months the municipality has been developing a basic neighbourhood plan for the Bell McKinnon Road.
The neighbourhood is currently a mainly rural-residential area, and many of the residences do not have sewer, water and other services from the municipality.
The municipality’s objective is to complete as much of this work as possible before July 31, the deadline for the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District’s final decision on whether it will purchase the three properties on which the hospital would be built.
However, during public discussions on the issue, it has become clear to the municipality that many people in the Bell McKinnon neighbourhood want to see the development of a more comprehensive and detailed plan for the area than the basic plan that had been devised to deal with the hospital project.
In response, council gave the green light for staff to develop a more detailed neighbourhood plan, and for funding to be set aside in the municipality’s budget for 2017.
It’s expected the process will take up to two years to complete.
Coun. Rob Douglas said the site is good for the hospital in a number of ways, but it’s still not perfect.
“We’re considering turning a rural neighbourhood into what could be a high density, commercial development,” he said.
“But I will support this. There is no perfect location, and I doubt we’ll find a better one.”