Courtenay finally accepts regional district’s offer of land downtown

Courtenay council has accepted an offer from the regional district to transfer ownership of three properties on Cliffe Avenue.

Courtenay council has accepted an offer from the regional district to transfer ownership of three properties in the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue, along with a $100,000 grant from the Vancouver Island Health Authority, to assist with developing an emergency shelter and/or supportive housing project — subject to dissolving the shelter and housing function.

There was some confusion about the latter part of the motion at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting, though Courtenay director Starr Winchester said the idea for dissolving the function came from the board and district staff, not from Courtenay.

“This is coming to the end of a long and complex process,” Courtenay director Jon Ambler said, suggesting the ‘and/or’ phrasing could tie the city’s hands.

Earlier in the year, the CVRD board voted to transfer the Cliffe Avenue properties to the City of Courtenay for one dollar on condition that the properties, or proceeds from selling the properties, be used for emergency shelter and supportive housing purposes, as intended when the CVRD made the purchase.

Around the same time, Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula had initiated a resolution to amend commercial zoning to ensure homeless shelters are not permitted within a specified area of the downtown core.

Jangula, a member of the previous CVRD board, has been opposed to the proposed shelter location since the district purchased the three lots in 2010 for $470,000.

The city is not limited to one property. Service bylaw wording enables the purchase of a subsequent property for supportive housing, says CVRD officials.

“This board decided to offer land to Courtenay with caveats,” Ambler said. “We accepted.”

The committee approved a motion to move forward and refer the matter to staff to draft an agreement.

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The board approved a motion from Comox director Tom Grant to send a letter to newly appointed Deputy Premier Rich Coleman to point out BC Housing’s “severe underfunding” of the Comox Valley, particularly in the area of homelessness.

Grant feels the Valley has been “grossly under-served by BC Housing” — a sentiment he has shared with local MLA Don McRae and tried to share with Coleman, who had served as Minister Responsible for Housing.

He noted discrepancies between Courtenay, Nanaimo and North Cowichan outlined in a Housing Matters BC information sheet. For instance, Courtenay has 20 emergency shelter spaces and housing for the homeless while Nanaimo and North Cowichan have 247 and 54 respectively.

“Is Nanaimo 10 times bigger than the Comox Valley?” Grant said, noting government has consistently denied funding requests from local non-profit groups. “It is absolutely absurd.”

He suggests continued lobbying of BC Housing to rectify the situation.

The letter will appear at the next committee of the whole session.  The board also approved a motion from Cumberland director Gwyn Sproule to forward the housing data to the local Housing Task Force for information.

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The committee approved a recommendation to accept a donation from the Tsolum River Restoration Society of a six-foot concrete statue of a spawning salmon to be placed on the road to the river at the exhibition grounds with a recognition plaque.

Suggested wording on the plaque recognizes the donation, and the healthy riparian zone on the road.

“This is a tremendous riparian zone,” the society’s executive director Jack Minard said. “We’ve tried to capture a couple of concepts here.”

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com