ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN
Work on a thorough neighbourhood plan for the Bell McKinnon Road area will soon begin.
Councillors in the Municipality of North Cowichan agreed last week that work on the much-anticipated neighbourhood plan, which could expedite the installation of sewer and other municipal services, will start immediately after rezoning for a new hospital in the area is complete.
Coun. Joyce Behnson said she has heard many residents in the Bell McKinnon area express “complete frustration” over the lack of many services for years.
She said many have told her that if the possible construction of a new hospital in their neighbourhood will see them receive services for the first time, they are all for it.
“These people have been paying high taxes with no sewer services for a long time,” Behnsen said.
“Many of them are excited about the possibility of a new hospital guaranteeing that they will soon get that service.”
Coun. Maeve Maguire made a notice of motion at the last regular council meeting on April 20 that staff begin the process for a local area plan for the neighbourhood immediately after the hospital rezoning process is finished.
Many councillors, including Maguire, expressed concerns around the short amount of time — just five months — given to develop a basic neighbourhood plan for the Bell McKinnon Road area.
That decision was made after the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District selected a site in the neighbourhood as a possible location for a new $350-million hospital last August.
North Cowichan staff had been directed by council in March to prepare a neighbourhood plan for the mainly rural-residential area by July.
CAO Dave Devana said at the meeting on April 20 that in developing a plan in five months, staff are “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,” he said.
“If you want to dive in deeper after the high-level plan is presented, council can do that.”
Coun. Al Siebring said dealing with the sewer issues in the Bell McKinnon area should be a priority, whether a hospital is built in the neighbourhood or not.
“It’s been asked that this be on our priority list during our budget process each year since 2009,” he said.
“I want to get to this now. If the possibility that a hospital is to be built there drives that, then so be it.”