Strong support at N. Cowichan council for affordable housing

Plans for two new affordable-housing projects in North Cowichan are moving forward, despite concerns around parking.

The proposed site of new affordable housing.

The proposed site of new affordable housing.

Plans for two new affordable-housing projects in North Cowichan are moving forward, despite concerns around parking.

Councillors in North Cowichan gave the first two readings on Jan. 18 to rezone two properties owned by the municipality, located at 9800 Willow St. in Chemainus and at 3191 Sherman Rd., to allow for affordable housing and other uses.

The municipality entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Land Trust Foundation in July to explore affordable housing options on the two properties.

Plans for Willow Street include the construction of a mixed-use building with commercial units and community space on the first floor, and approximately 18 units of affordable housing for seniors in its upper floors.

Approximately 64 affordable housing units are planned for Sherman Road, with 12 of the units to be designated as supportive transitional housing for the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society.

Under the cooperative model established by the municipality and the CLTF, North Cowichan will lease the properties to the Land Trust at nominal costs, and the CLTF will assume the financing and construction costs of the developments.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen acknowledged that affordable housing is needed in the region, but said she has concerns around the plan for the Sherman Road location.

She said that with a curling club, soccer field and Sikh temple nearby, parking problems would result once a comprehensive affordable housing project is added to the mix in the neighbourhood.

“I love the idea, but not at this location,” Behnsen said. “I just don’t think it fits there.”

But a staff report indicated that North Cowichan officials have met with the operators of the facilities in question and it’s believed that the development of the property will not have any “quantifiable negative impact on existing parking issues.”

Coun. Kate Marsh said she’s “astounded” that anyone could question such a beneficial project that will have no cost to taxpayers. “People in those units will have housing they can afford, and they will be close to amenities and transit routes,” she said. “I believe we’ll be commended across the country with this project.”

Mayor Jon Lefebure asked if council’s goal is to defer to parking concerns over building affordable housing in the municipality. “We are building a community for people, not for cars,” he said.

Coun. Tom Walker said he feels the project has enough merit to proceed to the next step in the rezoning process.

“This is probably one of the greatest causes this council can see accomplished during its four-year term,” he said.

“If we defeat the projects at this stage, it’s over.”

North Cowichan is now planning public information meetings on the two projects in advance of the mandatory public hearing.