The Town of Comox council has moved forward with a decision to allow staff to prepare bylaws for the Northeast Comox Stormwater Management Plan (SWMP).
At the Jan. 20 strategic planning committee meeting, council voted unanimously to proceed with option three – where property owners, either individually or jointly, are granted the right to design and build detention ponds and infiltration galleries for their own properties as the preferred solution for Northeast Comox storm drainage.
At an April 1, 2020 regular council meeting, council announced they passed a resolution at its March 18, 2020 in-camera meeting that council endorses option three, subject to receiving comments from the area residents, property owners and the public, and that the town holds an open house in order to receive feedback on the preferred storm drainage plan for Northeast Comox.
The Northeast Comox lands have been a historical flood plain and regularly floods with current stormwater conditions and mitigation. The lands have been unable to develop due to the downstream flooding liabilities the town would incur.
According to Jordan Wall, the town’s chief administrative officer, the town is not willing to take on the upfront risk of the infrastructure development and no single landowner being large enough to provide the one or two larger sized ponds as recommendations for option three.
He explained the downstream area has already been the subject of a lawsuit in the past and landowners have informed the town and its representatives that they are prepared to undertake court action against the town should development in Northeast Comox increase flooding or related damage.
“The goal of the (SWMP) was to ensure that we were not increasing the amount of stormwater flow at an event set at one in 100 years,” he said. “Where we are now … is to allow developers to move forward and construct their own smaller ponds in order to move forward with development.”
Stormwater nuisance has resulted in a number of court cases across B.C. with municipalities being found at fault or having contributory negligence.
“With the town signaling preference for this option, land acquisition within the area has started to take place in anticipation of pond locations and to allow larger sized ponds to be constructed. Fewer larger ponds will result in lower upfront and long-term costs which have provided incentive for landowners and developers to work together,” he said.
The town originally scheduled an open house Nov. 20, 2020, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the open house format was modified to virtual meetings with staff.
Coun. Maureen Swift noted the town is not scheduled to have the bylaws in place until 2022 and added she finds that disappointing.
“What I’m wondering about is, is that realistic? We keep telling the public and developers dates, and it keeps getting pushed along.”
Wall explained it is, however, there is a caveat due to the level of focus staff can place on Northeast Comox. He said it is realistic as long as staff doesn’t have projects which get prioritized, and noted it comes down to council decisions.
Mayor Russ Arnott said the project has been in front of council for years and added it is time to proceed or completely do away with it entirely.
“I’ve gone out to the community, I’ve made promises because of past administration assurances that we would have this ready to go … I understand we have a lot of challenges … but this has been going on for a long time and I think it’s time that we do what’s right with these developers.
“We can’t drag them through this any longer. There’s been $500,000 of developer money put into this – they’re looking for a way to put this back. We have to be honest with them at some point; either we have to tell them we can do it or we can’t.”
The formal bylaws will return for council approval at a future meeting.