Plans for development of a village area around the intersection of Bell McKinnon and Herd roads, where the new hospital will be located, are moving ahead.
The Municipality of North Cowichan gave the first three readings to a bylaw amendment at its meeting on July 18 that would see a new core-village area earmarked for 1.51 hectares of land situated to the northwest corner of Bell McKinnon and Herd roads.
A vote on the fourth and final reading of the bylaw amendment is expected at the next council meeting on Aug. 15.
The area currently is mainly rural-residential.
In a report to council, Chris Hutton, North Cowichan’s community planning coordinator, said the option of keeping the core village area to 1.5 hectares, rather than larger or smaller, would provide greater flexibility for commercial development while keeping the commercial floor space close to other amenities in that area.
“The development of a core village that strongly meets the vision, goals and principles outlined in the Bell McKinnon local area plan is essential to the success of the plan,” Hutton said.
“An important way that this will be achieved is the efficient use of land by ensuring that the intended density of employment and population is achieved. One major risk to the development is the oversupply of land for a given land use. This is especially true in the case of commercial land.”
Hutton said the goal of the core-village designation is to combine some anticipated commercial and professional services demand from the hospital with a modest-sized neighbourhood, but not create a full-blown downtown core or regional shopping centre.
“It’s hoped that the relatively constrained area and land-area plan policies will deter large commercial blocks, which would result in a non-walkable neighbourhood node,” he said.
“There is a risk that if the core-village area is too large, the result would be oversized commercial units, like big-box stores, which don’t meet the vision, goals and principles of the local area plan.”
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said the plan is not set in stone.
“What’s being provided is a concept for development in that area,” he said.
“If it’s determined that we need more commercial land in the core-village area in the future, we can consider that then.”
North Cowichan began work on the Bell McKinnon local area plan in 2016 after the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District selected a site in the neighbourhood as a possible location for a new state-of-the-art hospital to replace the aging Cowichan District Hospital.
It’s expected the municipality will soon begin work on plans for the installation of sewer and other municipal services in that area to accommodate the new hospital and the community that is expected to grow around it now that the government has said they want the new health facility opened by 2024.
Hutton also said that during the extensive public consultations that took place in the development of the local area plan, there was a great deal of focus on the perception that the new hospital is being built away from the community on undeveloped land in a largely agricultural area.
“There is a concern that access will be challenging, specifically for those with financial and medical-mobility limitations,” Hutton said.
“It’s true that, today, the only infrastructure that exists for access is vehicular and no bus routes go to the site. The development of a compact, complete community that demands high-access options by all forms of movement, including transit and active transportation access to the site, is imperative to addressing this valid concern.”