Parkland swap in Lakes Road area going to alternative approval

North Cowichan residents will be asked whether or not they approve of exchanging municipally owned park land with a private landowner in the area between Lakes Road and Regina Drive.

The private property in question is owned by Greg and Judith Adams.

In September 2014, North Cowichan received a proposal from them to give a piece of land they own on Lakes Road to the municipality in exchange for a piece of park land, and would also see the landowner constructing a trail from the end of Regina Drive to Lakes Road.

North Cowichan staff have been working since October on the paperwork necessary for council to consider the proposal, according to North Cowichan’s corporate services director Mark Ruttan.

Council agreed May 19 to let a proposed bylaw go to the alternative approval process rather than go to an expensive referendum.

It means that if 2,166 North Cowichan residents don’t agree, the idea stops dead right there. A lesser number doesn’t mean it moves forward, though. Council can still decide against doing anything with it.

And they wanted information. Ruttan told them that this initial step is part of a long, involved process to amend the official community plan, which might also see the idea stopped dead.

A public meeting or open house will be held in June so that interested residents can get the information they need before the deadline for the completion of the alternative approval process, which is set as July 6 at 4 p.m. Ruttan said that moving ahead with a bylaw about the Regina Drive Park exchange brings the subject clearly and immediately to the public’s attention. It has been written to follow the example of a similar one in Nanaimo, and has been reviewed by North Cowichan’s lawyer, he said.

Chief Administrative Officer Dave Devana also reminded council that they could not adopt the park exchange bylaw until they change the OCP.

Coun. Al Siebring still didn’t like the way it was moving.

"Do we have any leeway to set the number of voters? It’s a small neighbourhood," he said.

Ruttan told him, "You have no leeway. This is an asset that belongs to the corporation of North Cowichan."

Both he and Devana pointed out that council in the past has not necessarily been bound by the result of an AAP.

"It seems ridiculous to have a small neighbourhood have to come up with 10 per cent of an electorate that doesn’t even vote," said Coun. Maeve Maguire.

She asked if there were some way to tweak the number to lower it.

Ruttan said he was bound to present a number that was a reasonable estimate of 10 per cent of North Cowichan’s eligible voters. "When it comes to a push, [the park] doesn’t just belong to a neighbourhood, it belongs to the whole municipality. We can’t just pick a number."

Coun. Kate Marsh said she shared a feeling of frustration but also wanted to see the process at least move to the next step.

Coun. Tom Walker agreed, adding that he was interested in learning more about the possibility of gaining a hiking trail to Lakes Road. A group of property owners attended the meeting and said they didn’t know much yet about what was happening and were concerned about what might occur in the future if the official community plan is changed now.

Maguire said to them, "I hope the message is out to the neighbourhood that we don’t need 2,200 signatures to hear you."

Councillors gave first reading to an amendment in the official community plan and first, second and third reading to the Regina Drive Park Exchange Bylaw, which will now start its journey towards a final discussion at the council table once the alternative approval process is completed in July.