Establishing a new settlement node as a standard amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) means neighboring municipalities such as Powell River could have a say in an application from 3L Developments, which hopes to create a riverfront community near Stotan Falls.
In a weighted vote Tuesday, the regional district committee of the whole defeated a recommendation to consider a minor amendment to the RGS, a land use document that governs growth in the Comox Valley. Directors Ken Grant, Larry Jangula, Bob Wells, Bruce Jolliffe and Rod Nichol voted in favour, but dissenting votes from Erik Eriksson, Barbara Price and Curtis Scoville (alternate Area C director) were enough to defeat the motion. (The vote needed two-thirds approval.)
Criteria for minor amendments includes a stipulation that says ‘not regionally significant.’
“It could be a longer process,” said Area A director Bruce Jolliffe, chair of the CVRD board. “It all depends on a number of factors that are out of our control. If a lot of communities don’t think it’s a good idea, say Courtenay decides it’s not a good idea, or Comox, then it could change.”
Eriksson favours the standard amendment because of the regional significance of 3L’s project, but Grant said a decision could be years away because of other municipalities that have “nothing to do with us.”
“It bothers me that nearby communities can stymie us,” Jangula added.
CAO Russell Dyson said neighboring communities need to have legitimate reasons for opposing an application.
Along with developing a subdivision, 3L’s plans include 260 acres of public parkland/greenspace, which includes Stotan Falls in Area C. For years, the proposal has stalled because of red tape and legal battles. However, an RGS steering committee has found that a new settlement node is of regional significance.
In 2013, 3L applied to amend the RGS to develop its Riverwood project, but the CVRD board said no. In response, 3L filed a legal challenge against the decision. The court found the CVRD was “not reasonable in its decision to not initiate the amendment.” The district was ordered to consider 3L’s application in a “manner consistent with the mandatory process” set out in the RGS. The CVRD filed an appeal with the BC Court of Appeal, but lost.
The RGS establishes that 90 per cent of future growth in the Valley be directed to the core areas of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland, Settlement Expansion Areas (SEAs) adjacent to municipalities, and three settlement nodes of Mount Washington, Saratoga Miracle Beach and Union Bay. The remaining 10 per cent is for rural areas. 3L lands are mostly rural with a small corner located in an SEA.
“We’ve had this property for just about 12 years,” 3L president Dave Dutcyvich said to the committee. “Between 2008 [and now], we’ve given up $22 million so that the regional district could have a park. We thought we had a deal and it’s all fallen apart…I’m sort of like the Mayor of Ottawa. I don’t want the red tape, I want the red carpet. Whatever it takes, I would like to see this park take place. I would like to see us get on with it. It has to come to an end some place.”
Kabel Atwall of 3L suggests the entire process could “spin out of control.” Price said the RGS process is somewhat convoluted. Nichol asked if the ambiguous nature of some of the wording could provide flexibility to the board.
“I appreciate having room to negotiate,” said Nichol, Area B director.
“I really want to see the park,” Nichol said. “There’s some positives here. However, as an elected official, I have to justify my decisions to my public…It is regional significance. I can’t justify agreeing with it when I look at what is a minor amendment. But to go to a standard amendment, I object having to go to Nanaimo and Powell River and Strathcona because I don’t think they have any business commenting on what we do here.”
At its July 24 meeting, the CVRD board will consider initiating 3L’s amendment application and providing notice of the application to affected local governments.