Facing the possibility of the planned women’s residential therapeutic community at the former St. Joseph’s School site in Chemainus not going ahead, the Municipality of North Cowichan has decided to have its planning department give it the highest priority to speed up the bureaucratic processes.
The decision, made at the council meeting on April 20, came after the municipality received a letter from the Cowichan Valley Intentional Recovery Community Society, a registered charity that plans to establish the program — designed to help women in recovery from alcohol and drug addictions through education in social skills, vocational training and connection with the community — at the school site.
The letter said the society has faced long delays of more than a year in dealing with North Cowichan’s planning staff to have its development plans processed, and now the society is facing a deadline of June 15, 2022 to have the process completed in order to meet the conditions laid out in the purchase agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria when the society bought the property last year.
But staff have told the society not to expect the development plans to be completely processed until at least Sept. 30.
“We are aware that staffing levels are an issue and that there are many applications to process, however, we believe this one is of highest urgency,” the letter said.
“Our community has expressed passion and much support for this recovery centre, and for it to be lost because of administrative backlog would surely create much disappointment. It would be an incredibly short-sighted disservice to our community.”
At the council meeting, Coun. Kate Marsh made the motion, which was passed unanimously, that council direct staff to assign the highest priority to the society’s development file.
“Staff are doing the best they can to get this done on time, but I understand they need direction [from council] to make it a priority because staff are required to work on a first-come, first-served basis,” she said.
“I think, given that this could mean that if [North Cowichan doesn’t complete this process by June 15] we don’t get this centre, it warrants staff to rearrange a little bit and move something off for just a little longer. I know this means other projects may not happen as quickly as possible, but I’d hate to lose this opportunity.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he’s also concerned about the possibility of the centre not opening.
“This, to me, is one of the most important things we do,” he said.
“Staff have been working on this, but they are busy with other development applications as well as the official community plan. This motion means it goes to the top of the list because it’s important socially and for a whole bunch of other reasons. It also aligns with council’s plans and we want to see it built.”
Coun. Tek Manhas agreed that this is an important project and he will vote for the motion, but he pointed out other development applications have been in process for more than a year, and the applicants are getting increasingly frustrated.
“This project is needed, but we’re setting the wrong precedent by making this a priority over other projects,” he said.