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Courtenay council unanimously approves hospital location

The Comox Valley hospital project received the official go-ahead from Courtenay council Monday.

Council unanimously voted in favour applications to amend Courtenay's Official Community Plan and rezone the land slated for the new Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) hospital at Ryan and Lerwick roads.

Mayor Larry Jangula said he appreciated concerns brought up at the public hearing last week, and the City will do its best to address those concerns, such as traffic. But he also said some people would likely be unhappy about any location chosen for the new hospital.

"I firmly know that there will be no perfect location without somebody being concerned about it and somebody not wanting it in their area," said Jangula. "I think that it's also very clear in listening to the public that the community wants and needs a hospital, and we can probably argue forever whether this is the best location, whether it's the best model, whether we should have one hospital or two."

The land slated for the new hospital includes a 2.37-acre playing field site owned by the City facing Lerwick Road and an 11.17-acre portion of the North Island College campus.

The land sales are expected to go through now that the applications have been approved, and the money from the City-owned playing field will be dedicated towards new or improved playing field space somewhere else in the Valley.

The 153-bed facility is expected to cost about $334 million — with the Province chipping in 60 per cent and the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District covering 40 per cent. The NIC land is set to be cleared early next year with an estimated move-in date of 2017.

Coun. Jon Ambler said his wife works at St. Joseph's General Hospital, and while she is not a VIHA employee, he did not want even a "perceived" conflict of interest so he left council chambers.

Coun. Starr Winchester noted 79 people attended the public hearing and 26 people spoke. She pointed out the concerns from the surrounding neighbourhood in particular, like noise, traffic, safety and parking, and said she's assured they will be dealt with.

"I think that's our main responsibility as mayor and council to ensure that these people's concerns, that we hear them, and that we deal with them respectfully, and I'm confident that will happen and I'm confident that we can work together with VIHA to do that," she said, adding she wants to start pushing for the completion of the north connector to the Inland Island Highway as soon as possible to help alleviate potential traffic issues.

Coun. Manno Theos said there would be some issues at any location and "there's not going to be a perfect location." He added VIHA says the site is a "good solid location for many reasons" and he sees the area's growth potential as a big plus.

"It's a magnet now for a lot of activity that's going to help our community, and it's going to be services we really, really desperately need in this community," said Theos.

Coun. Doug Hillian said he's a long-standing member of the soccer community and he hasn't heard much opposition to the loss of the playing field for the purpose of a new hospital. He also said he considers the debate over one or two hospitals for here and Campbell River settled.

"There's no guarantee that if we turn this proposal down that we're going back on that issue," he said. "The message that I've heard from people in the community is to move forward on this."

Coun. Bill Anglin said the community seemed well-informed on the project and VIHA brought a "very solid project to the table." He added all the information provided in the studies shows the site is "the right site for them."

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard pointed out a big feature of the one-hospital model proposed years ago was its ability to attract specialists with a state-of-the-art facility.

"However, we must remember that every hospital probably began as a state-of-the-art facility and what is exciting about this subject location is being on the cutting edge will be an ongoing state, not just when the building is new," she said. "VIHA has recognized that having a connection with continuing education will provide a synergy both for health care as well as for education and research."

She also said change is a necessity in any community, noting when she moved here 22 years ago, NIC was based out of retail space on Fifth Street, and Muir Road was gravel with one farmhouse on it, thus the houses near the chosen hospital location were not there.

"One of the hardest things I think that people have is accepting change. People are comfortable with what they know but we have to recognize that change is happening everyday," she said. "I want to suggest that the hospital at this location will be a positive change for the community."

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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