Despite snow flurries and freezing temperatures, a crowd of more than 125 determined local residents crammed into Highland Secondary’s Multi-purpose Room on Wednesday evening last week for an information session on the Northeast Woods in Comox.
The large wooded area, also known as District Lot 194 and bounded by Guthrie, Pritchard and Cambridge Roads, was the centre of discussion over the Town’s proposal to develop about six hectares, or one-third of the area, as affordable housing.
The event, hosted by the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy (CVCS), a fast-growing coalition of 18 local environment and residents’ organizations, celebrated the beauty and biodiversity of the area and discussed options for its future. The group is urging the Town to preserve the area as Public Open Space for parkland and community recreation.
The evening included a panel of speakers, including Mayor Paul Ives, MLA Don McRae, geomorphologist Dr. Will Marsh, Bill Halliday of the Friends of Comox Lazo Forest Reserve Society, Jack Minard, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, and CVCS education co-ordinator Kerry Dawson.
Musical guests Anela Kahiamoe, Amy Cunningham and Paul Rodgers inspired the crowd with their original songs. In addition, Colleen Sawyer, branch manager for the Ryan Road Branch of the Royal Bank, presented the Comox Valley Land Trust with a cheque for $5,000 from the RBC Bluewater Fund toward CVCS work in protecting local sensitive ecosystems.
Aspiring reporter and Grade 10 Vanier Secondary school student Alyssa Crowder was on hand during the evening to interview the mayor, several of the speakers and attendees.
“I’m in those woods every day … It’s a great spot,” enthused Ives. “I think we can preserve as much of it as we can.
“The area in question for some people is the so-called gravel pit area. We’ve applied to the Crown for some affordable housing in there …
“If we can acquire almost 12 hectares of land for green space and just under six hectares for affordable housing, I think we’ve done a lot of good for the community in accommodating growth and at the same time preserving green space.”
Dawson feels too many of the region’s natural and sensitive ecosystems have already been lost.
“We need to protect these remaining intact natural areas while we still can,” she said. “Science has demonstrated that small patches of green space amid sprawling development do little to retain biodiversity.”
Bill Halliday of the Friends of Comox Lazo Forest Reserve Society is concerned that the Town’s plan for the area includes developing the narrow finger of undeveloped forest fronting Eton Road.
“That patch shouldn’t be touched,” he stated. “It is a critical wildlife corridor linking continuous green space from Balmoral Beach and the Courtenay River estuary, through Lazo Wildlife Management Area and Marsh to the green spaces to the west and north of the Town.”
If the gravel pit area is to be developed, geomorphologist Dr. Will Marsh feels that the Town’s traditional “pipe and pave, ditch and drain” method of development will damage the hydrological system and negatively impact Hilton Springs.
Marsh argues that the area is not ideal for affordable housing, as it is not situated near commercial services or transportation routes and will only further encourage the use of automobiles.
McRae confirmed that the Province has made no commitment regarding the Crown grant application submitted Feb. 2 by the Town.
“We need to retain as much of our ecosystems as we can,” he said. “We’re not making any more.”
— Comox Valley Conservation Strategy