A motion for North Cowichan’s council to protect sensitive ecosystems in the Quamichan watershed area by limiting development there has been deferred until staff has completed a report on the issue.
Coun. Christopher Justice, who proposed the motion, said the municipality’s official community plan already calls for the reduction of urban sprawl and the mitigation of climate change and his motion just restates policy goals.
He said some of the areas currently in the municipality’s designated growth areas, including some within the Quamichan watershed, should not be geared towards development and growth.
Justice said that sensitive ecosystems were not considered when North Cowichan developed the boundaries for its urban containment boundaries.
“The Quamichan watershed is one area we may want to take out [of the designated growth areas],” he said.
“The area is currently facing development pressures, and that is expected to increase over the next year and a half that we’ll be conducting the review of the official community plan. There is already enough pre-approved land in other areas of the municipality ready to go for development to last for many years.”
But Coun. Tek Manhas said council should not move forward with the motion without first consulting with residents and property owners in the Quamichan Lake watershed area.
He said he would rather the review of the OCP run its course before development decisions are made in regards to areas around Quamichan Lake.
“We can’t deny anyone from handing in a development application,” Manhas said.
“The word is already out there that North Cowichan is closed for business. Do we want to deal with the legal challenges to this motion if we were to pass it?”
Coun. Debra Toporowski said the motion is meant to be an interim measure that would be put in place until the OCP review is complete.
“Nothing is written in stone and we are still going to the public for input into the review so people will still have a chance to have their say,” she said.
“Business is not closed here.”
Coun. Rob Douglas said one of the big challenges in the municipality is dealing with urban sprawl and related climate change issues.
He said that, when considering these challenges, passing the motion would give council some space to determine where it wants the urban containment boundaries to be during the review of the OCP.
“Asking the community for input of what they want to see in that area while development takes place makes no sense,” Douglas said.
“Are we open for business? There have been many sites that are not green space that have been rezoned for development in the last five years, including the Kingsview development project that will see hundreds of new homes built.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said development is a privilege, not a right and if the municipality knew then what it knows now, many properties in the Quamichan Lake area would never have been developed.
“But where I live within the urban containment boundary, dozens of houses have been built,” she said.
“We have to do what’s in the greater public interest, and we continue to have full public discussions on this issue through the OCP review process.”
Mayor Al Siebring said there will be full public discussions on the issue during the OCP review, and placing a moratorium on development in the Quamichan watershed area without public input might not be a good idea.
“That area includes all kinds of lands,” he said.
“These kind of decisions might have unintended consequences, so we need a report from staff before we can decide on this motion.”
Staff are expected to have staff report on the issue prepared for a council meeting in January.