Raising concerns about what could be handed down from on high if the process goes to binding arbitration, Courtenay council has endorsed the latest version of the Regional Growth Strategy.
The local mayors and the vice-chair of the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) board met in December to discuss the non-acceptance items identified by the local governments in the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) bylaw with the services of a mediator.
Through this session, the Comox Valley representatives came to agreement on all outstanding items, CVRD chair Edwin Grieve wrote in a letter to council.
Courtenay council reviewed the bylaw amendments and associated maps Tuesday and endorsed them.
Coun. Murray Presley voted against the amendments.
“I have not been happy with this regional growth study, mainly because I’m concerned that whenever you try and make more rules and regulations about what can happen, you end up inadvertently causing other problems,” he said.
Presley was concerned that the RGS could suppress large standalone developments.
“I think we should have the flexibility all the time to take a look at a development, especially a large-scale development, on its own merits,” he said. “I like the RGS from the point of view it stopped these little piecemeal addition developments outside our boundaries, but I think larger standalone developments should not be discouraged because sometimes they provide better quality of life for the people who live in those developments than what we presently have within our municipal boundaries.”
Coun. Larry Jangula had a number of questions and concerns, including the settlement expansion areas (SEA) and servicing agreements.
“None of this is perfect, and there are some things that worry me,” he said. “One of the things that was brought up is if, for example, a Mount Washington development were to happen now, it would be almost impossible to get it off the ground, and that causes me some concern. There may be other examples like that which benefit the whole community with employment; I’m not sure we’d be able to facilitate it.”
Coun. Doug Hillian noted that SEAs were the top concern expressed in public meetings, as people feared the size of SEAs would promote growth that would go beyond the limits of what the Valley can handle.
The city wanted some protection of growth on its boundaries, and that is what the SEAs provide, explained Peter Crawford, the city’s director of planning services.
“The main thrust is giving the city something we don’t have right now, which is control over development around our boundaries,” he said. “I think that’s very important for us, and it’s a good item to have.”
Despite misgivings about the process, Hillian was supportive, in the spirit of compromise and the hope that SEAs provide for orderly development as opposed to the piecemeal development of the past.
“I confess to being somewhat bewildered by the whole process, which perhaps reflects what the average person on the street would experience if they took part in it,” he said. “Depending on who you listen to, this is either a resolution to a lot of problems in the Comox Valley and its piecemeal development and will bring some sort of order, or it’s the worst possible thing we could have done, and it’s going to pave the way to rampant development and speculation and uncontrolled growth. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between.”
There were things Coun. Jon Ambler liked in the RGS and things he didn’t like, but he felt it was a “pretty solid” plan.
“If we don’t agree, and we don’t support it, it goes to binding arbitration, which means somebody we don’t know and who has never met us and may or may not have even been to the Comox Valley will take the points of difference and give them a directive decision, and that would be far worse than the compromises that we’ve had to make to look after the City of Courtenay’s interests and the Comox Valley’s interests,” he said.
Councils are required to forward their resolutions to the CVRD by Jan. 20. The resolutions will be brought forward to the CVRD board meeting on Jan. 25.