For some residents in the north of the Comox Valley, their road has gotten noisier in recent weeks at the same time as they’ve been frustrated by near-silence from the Province.
The 5000 block of Willis Way, in Electoral Area B, has about 15 homes. There are 13 kids under age 11 who live on the street, and play or walk to school on the road. The portion of Willis, in question, lies north of Huband and meets up with a trail toward Seal Bay Nature Park.
At the north end of the road is a large piece of property. There is one house at present, but the rest of the site is being logged to make way for a few large lots. Starting in July, large trucks have been rumbling along the road through the day, heading in and out of the site.
“We were enjoying our quiet little neighbourhood,” says resident Brenda Caswell, who has lived on the road for five years.
The part that poses the biggest question is the end of the road that bends and narrows to the west, toward a nearby school. Its surface is gravel and marked off with a gate to the schoolyard, and the residents think the stretch is a fire lane. Since the logging trucks, they have been trying to find out if it’s actually part of the road covered by the provincial highways department.
“The road already is not in great shape,” says Caswell. “It’s just not set up for industrial traffic.”
On July 30, she and her neighbour Ed Brickman, who has lived on Willis Way for 16 years, issued a news release as the Concerned Citizens of Willis Way to get some answers as to how this happened.
The property, they say, sold a couple of months ago, which is when the logging started. They don’t take issue with the logging itself, but they were under the impression the trucks would come in and out using a connection that hooks up with nearby Mottishaw Road. That route is the site for Huband Park Elementary School, but the residents say many children get to the school using Willis Way.
Brickman says he has been back and forth between the Comox Valley Regional District and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), which oversees highways, to try to figure out how the truck traffic was approved without people on the road hearing about it. The latest he’d heard was that the road is under the jurisdiction of the ministry but could not get more information.
“I went back to highways, and all of a sudden everybody got hush-hush,” Brickman said.
The Comox Valley Record has confirmed with MoTI the developer does have a permit to remove the logs for a set amount of time. A ministry spokesperson sent the following statement, “A temporary access permit was issued to accommodate logging on private property in the area. This access is temporary and will be closed at the end of August, prior to school starting. The ministry will continue to monitor the area to ensure the safety of the travelling public.”
The CVRD provided some further background about the site, saying the property is an 18-hectare (44-acre) lot between the school and Seal Bay Park, with a house at 5140 Willis Way. “The property owner has made an application to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to subdivide and as part of MoTI’s referral process they have sent the proposal to the CVRD, which we are currently reviewing,” a regional district spokesperson said via email. “The previous owner pursued a two-lot subdivision in 2016-2017, but that was abandoned.”
One of the developers, Abel O’Brennan, said they bought the property several months ago and brought in many specialists, including arborists, to study the site and how it should be developed.
“We spent a small fortune … doing all the studies in advance, before we did anything,” he said. “I went and spoke, kind of, with all the neighbours that actually touch the fence line with me, to explain to them what our plan was.”
O’Brennan is a realtor and also owns Coastal Black Winery. He says he passed out business cards to the residents and encouraged the ministry and CVRD to pass on his contact information if they fielded any concerns from people.
“I’m happy to chat with anybody about it,” he said. “I think it’s probably just a matter of [the plan’s] changed and people don’t know.”
He also points out he has posted a sign on site with his contact information if anyone has questions about the work.
“It’s pretty short-lived, there’s not much timber coming out of there,” he said, adding the logging removal should be done within the next two weeks.