Last summer, the regional district started looking to prevent new gas stations from opening in its electoral areas.
Now, the hope is to encourage the municipal partners in the Comox Valley Regional District to take a look at how to tighten up their own zoning and find ways to encourage infrastructure for zero emission vehicles (ZEV).
At a council meeting in Cumberland in June, Coun. Jesse Ketler had submitted a letter about the issue to her council on behalf of the CVRD board, which she chairs.
“The thinking is that we wouldn’t want to be putting any more petroleum-based infrastructure into the valley,” she said at the meeting. “We’re not asking anybody to close their gas stations. Maybe it would help them move toward other forms of fuel, maybe hydrogen or electric vehicle plug-ins.”
In the case of Cumberland, council voted to send the matter to staff to get more information. At the regional level, the driver of the plan has been Area A director Daniel Arbour, who brought up the idea at the electoral area services committee last summer. It then went before the board. This May, the CVRD board voted to refer the bylaw to local governments to consider a more co-ordinated approach.
Part of this process includes sending out the zoning bylaw for comments from the municipal government partners. For Arbour, this means more than commenting on the regional zoning.
“That would lead the municipalities to a more regional approach,” he said. “A lot of the future will be about encouraging the alternatives.”
The process would see the municipal government take a look at their zoning to see if there are loopholes that would allow the establishment of new gas stations.
“It’s very permissive. They have multiple zones,” he said.
This, Arbour added, could include various measures, even removing zoning from sites that permit gas stations but currently sit empty.
“There’s more ways to kind of slice the pie here,” he said.
He has gotten more involved in the issue during the last year, joining a network of jurisdictions aimed at moving away from fossil fuels toward options for ZEVs.
Los Angeles, sometimes cited as the centre of car culture, recently joined the organization, which includes other communities from around the U.S. The CVRD is the jurisdiction in Canada leading the way at this point — a fact that was cited in a recent article in the Guardian. In the second paragraph, it mentions Los Angeles, along with Bethlehem, N.Y. and the CVRD, as jurisdictions looking to policies to prevent the establishment of new infrastructure for fossil fuel vehicles.
Arbour stresses, as he did at the time he brought up the idea for rural areas, that this is not about getting rid of current gas stations. It is aimed at providing some control for local and regional governments over what happens in the future when it comes to the infrastructure around vehicle power. A CVRD report notes that three zones in the rural areas permit “Automotive Service Station” as a use. The zoning applies to 14 lots of which six currently have a gas station.
The CVRD’s action, Arbour said, could have gone further toward banning future establishment of gas stations altogether. He did face some pushback last year after he brought up the idea, but the plan now is to require anyone hoping to build or expand a gas station in electoral areas to go through rezoning and hold a public hearing. By having the municipalities follow suit, he hopes a regional approach will be more effective at moving the region toward zero emissions, though he expects some roadblocks along the way.
“It’s not going to be an easy transition, no matter what we do,” he said.
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