Crematorium decision sets worrying precedent

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has every right to be surprised – and concerned.

Every other municipal government in the province should be concerned, too.

A precedent-setting decision by the BC Court of Appeal that will allow the crematorium in Sahtlam to operate as a commercial business flies directly in the face of the P-1 (Parks and Institutional) zoning.

The court essentially decided that the crematorium is an institution, whether it is run for profit or not.

Therefore, it can operate commercially on the site.

We have to wonder if the appeal judges considered what this truly means.

Institutional zoning was designed as separate from commercial zoning.

This ruling threatens to make the two one and the same.

Technically, any business could argue that it is providing a service to the community. That’s why they are in business. People will pay them for what they offer.

But creating a new class of commercial zone was never the intention of municipalities when designating land institutional.

The for-profit facilities allowed on institutionally zoned land are very specific and spelled out in area bylaws. These include private schools, seniors homes, and airports. This court ruling arbitrarily adds to this list.

It takes the decision out of the hands of the community it will affect. Our local governments, elected by us to serve our interests, should be the ones making such land-use decisions.

It’s not that the crematorium is not an important facility.

The CVRD has long recognized and allowed its use for ceremonial purposes. The allowance for a “religious facility” is specifically spelled out in the P-1 zoning bylaw for Area E. The new facility built a few years ago is inarguably environmentally superior to the old one. Perhaps there is even a need for a commercial cremation facility in the Cowichan Valley.

But where it could go should have been a decision made by the community with everybody’s eyes wide open.

All municipal eyes in the province will now likely be on what happens next.

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