Bylaws for the Town of Lake Cowichan require new buildings downtown be at least two storeys, so that there is space for people to live right in town. (Gazette file)

Bylaws for the Town of Lake Cowichan require new buildings downtown be at least two storeys, so that there is space for people to live right in town. (Gazette file)

Editorial: Bigger community vision must stay front and centre

It’s about making sure the community becomes what we want it to be in the future

There’s always going to be a good reason to provide an exemption. But the reason not to is more important.

The Town of Lake Cowichan has been really forward-thinking in their zoning bylaws for the heart of their community, requiring that new buildings be at least two storeys in height.

This encourages the building of a mixed-use community, with shops and services running out of the bottom floor and the ability for people to live right in town on higher floors. This is optimal when it comes to community development, providing plenty of commercial space, but also encouraging a vibrant, walkable town that isn’t dead after hours. Most communities that care about the quality of life of their citizens are moving in this direction. Many of the most desirable neighbourhoods in towns and cities across Canada and around the world are built in this fashion.

It’s a lot harder to do after the fact (see parts of Lake Cowichan, Chemainus, and Duncan), which is why it makes sense to require at least a second storey in new downtown builds. Look at Willow Street in Chemainus, where almost the entire street is made up only of facades that imply a second floor, rather than anything with real utility. Duncan has made a lot of recent progress on this front with new buildings incorporating upper floors of condos with commercial space on the ground floor. We’re not talking skyscrapers, but it is absolutely key, especially in the housing crisis we are in, to give people the chance to live in the heart of our communities.

Which is why it was so disappointing to hear Lake Cowichan council’s decision to provide a zoning variance for a new business looking to build in town. The business sounds like it will be an amazing amenity to the community. But council should have stuck to its own zoning bylaw and required a second storey be built.

The proponent cited both costs and the lack of a desire to be landlords in requesting they be able to build just a single storey. These are both good and understandable reasons. However, they don’t trump the importance of the overall vision for the community’s future, which dovetails so nicely with addressing the desperate need for more housing. It’s not about calling out any particular business or builder, it’s about making sure the community becomes what we want it to be in the future.

One councillor argued that because other buildings in the area are single storey, one more won’t hurt. But it will hurt. If you never make that first step and build that first multi-storey building, you will never begin the process of changing the neighbourhood into what you want it to be.

We give the new business nothing but our best wishes, but we hope that council will have more determination going forward to look to the bigger picture, and not just stick with the same old, same old.

Editorials