North Cowichan reneging on promise to new hospital community
What would you do if you were living happily in your forever home beside properties that had majestic cedar and fir trees and were home to bears, deer, owls, red tail hawks, eagles and other special critters — then the province and North Cowichan announce plans to build a 496,000 square foot mega-project with 800 parking spots that will become a perpetually humming 24-hour mini-city with over 1,000 people on site? You know this mega-project will destroy the entire neighbourhood so you try to stop it — but the proponents insist it’s the only place in the Cowichan Valley that meets all their location criteria. You realize the mega-project is beneficial for the valley but you are still reluctant to give up your peace and forever home.
To convince you to agree, the municipality promises to create a local plan around the mega-project. They acknowledge the mega-project will destroy your neighbourhood but promise the plan will allow you and your neighbours to develop your lands (or sell them as developable) in exchange for giving up the peace and enjoyment of your forever home. You are sad for the loss of your home and especially for the natural beauty of the adjacent property but the municipality convinces you of their sincerity by attaching a restrictive covenant that “prohibits construction of any building on or use of the properties until a comprehensive local area plan has been completed and adopted by North Cowichan”. You withhold your acceptance and watch council closely. Debate at the council table makes it clear that the community plan is the mechanism to secure the support of the neighbourhood before proceeding with the mega-project; the plan is the social contract with the neighbourhood that allows the mega-project to proceed. No plan = no project.
At this point you still feel council can be trusted and agree to participate in an extensive engagement process to develop the plan that acknowledges the impact on the neighbourhood. You and your neighbours spend countless hours in good faith filling out questionnaires and surveys, attending planning sessions, reviewing drafts, attending meetings and answering questions to create a collective vision for your neighbourhood around the mega-project. The result is a plan that is unanimously accepted by the neighbourhood and by council and even goes on to win a provincial award for “excellence in planning”. Not a single councillor votes against the plan and there is not even a whisper from environmental groups about the forest, the animals and the ecosystem. Not a whisper. At this point you feel that the future of your neighbourhood is clear and the community’s plan is cast into North Cowichan’s policy through a municipal bylaw, so you and your neighbours accept the mega-project.
Fast forward 28 months. A new municipal council, (including two councillors who just voted for the plan), suddenly indicate their intent to reject the plan but allow the mega-project to proceed. Councillors are intent on rejecting the social contract required by the restrictive covenant, and the only thing they say to justify their rejection is, we can do what we want. You remind them the mega-project will destroy your neighbourhood — they say ‘so what’. You remind them they themselves recently approved the plan — they say ‘so what’. You remind them the plan won an award for excellence — they say ‘so what’. You remind them that rejecting the plan delegitimizes all planning processes in North Cowichan — they say ‘so what’. Nothing seems to work; the councillors have already made up their minds.
To make matters worse, it gets even more personal. The council’s team of loyal followers begin criticizing you and your neighbours’ actions through letters and in-council committee proceedings. Some councillors even take the time to personally telephone your neighbours and discredit your actions you have taken on behalf of the neighbourhood. It seems clear to you now that the impossible may happen — the new council may actually renege on the social contract with you and your neighbours. You now realize it is possible the mega project will go ahead and the neighbourhood will be changed forever — but you and your neighbours are stuck. You now know you’ve been lied to and manipulated just so the mega-project can proceed. You might feel incredulous at first, but this soon gives way to anger.
Your neighbours are really upset — like yours, their lives have been on hold for five years. You lay awake every night, thinking how sad it is to lose the trees and the owls, but now you are also angry that a new municipal council can turn its back on their promise and on the residents of your neighbourhood who have only acted in good faith.
Can you and your neighbours accept this injustice and allow council to build the largest project in the history of the Cowichan Valley a couple hundred feet from your door? Perhaps it is time for you and your neighbours to consider all your options — perhaps you might hire a lawyer and get a court injunction to uphold the original restrictive covenant on the properties to stop the mega-project. You begin to think: NO PLAN? = NO PROJECT!