Onerous or not? North Cowichan council debates plant responsibility

A meandering discussion that started off with water conservation and ended up talking about the cost of developing property led North Cowichan council to ask for a report on the municipality’s landscaping requirements.

It didn’t take Coun. Joyce Behnsen long to get to the money angle, although her notice of motion started with asking how decorative landscaping worked with water restrictions.

Landscaping requirements for developers seem to be "onerous and expensive," she said. In drives around North Cowichan, Behnsen said she has seen "a lot of dead plants" alongside various developments and was concerned that plans behind these gardens had not been well thought out.

She said she was also concerned about developers being required to pay for the services of a landscape architect and the cost of irrigation systems.

Scott Mack, director of development services, said the municipality did have guidelines around water conservation, and the best kinds of local and low maintenance plants to use.

It’s all about minimizing the need for water, he said, agreeing that while a landscape architect could be expensive, hiring one was a double edged sword because that person would know more about which plants would succeed in various locations.

Mack also pointed out that landscaping ties in stormwater management, which is an important "integrated approach" that can have several benefits.

Coun. Al Siebring, however, was with Behnsen.

"We don’t want to write policy on anecdotal evidence," he said, "but I’ve visited several sites and seen dead plants."

He suggested North Cowichan might want to take another look at its policy.

Mayor Jon Lefebure reacted quickly.

"If I owned a commercial property, I’d consider myself responsible to see the plants didn’t die. I wouldn’t expect the municipality to do it," he said.

Siebring immediately said that had not been his intention, either. But he did know of a case where someone spent $8,000 on recommended plants that were dead within a year.

Lefebure said it was still the responsibility of landowners.

"I’m aware of some situations where our staff struggled with developers. It was their failure to do it properly; the developer was not committed to watering," he said.

Coun. Kate Marsh said that she wanted more than hearsay evidence, urging anyone with specific concerns to write to council so all councillors could look at what was being said.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana said that the municipality had revamped its development permit guidelines in 2011.