Separation anxiety in Chemainus

Frustration about North Cowichan council’s refusal to drop plans to develop part of Echo Heights forest has sparked some Chemainiacs to request a provincial restructuring study that could see mural town leave the municipality.

The Chemainus Residents’ Association asked Premier Christy Clark to direct B.C.’s Local Government Department to start the Chemainus restructure study.

It would involve town residents plus North Cowichan council and ministry agents, the CRA stipulates.

“The CRA is appealing to the province because we feel the community isn’t being listened to and properly consulted on the issue of Echo Heights forest that’s of great concern in Chemainus,” said CRA secretary Kathy Wachs.

“We are a small but distinct community, part of a local government which is very large geographically and in terms of population.

“We have no elected officials in local government who live in our town.”

Still, she said CRA members have repeatedly protested North Cowichan’s “selling off of a public asset which is very valuable in its present form.”

Fifty-two acre Echo Heights is currently zoned for residential use.

Council has voted to develop 40 per cent of the forest and save the rest as parkland.

That plan doesn’t satisfy the CRA.

“Response from North Cowichan has been to push steadily forward toward turning our park into a subdivision without answering our concerns or having meaningful consultation,” said Wachs.

“By that we mean consultation on whether or not the majority of people agree with their plan.”

The CRA’s restructuring request falls under the ministry of community, sport and cultural development, said spokeswoman Marika Glickman. Comments from Clark were unavailable by press time.

Mayor Tom Walker said he’s heard separation talks before and basically took a bring-it-on attitude.

“This is nothing new. Clayton Balabanov wanted Chemainus to separate a few years ago.

“I wrote him a letter saying ‘Go for it’ as long as there’s open, public and transparent process.

“I hooked him up with ministry people in Victoria and what legislation to look at.”

Walker said if a clear majority of property owners want to leave North Cowichan, “they’d be part of Saltair and the regional district, but it’s not an easy process.”

Glickman said residents interested in restructuring need to approach North Cowichan council with a request for conducting a restructuring study.

“Once the study is completed and the electorate votes to restructure the municipality in a referendum, the district would then have to request a boundary reduction,” she advised the Leader.

Meanwhile, the date for a public hearing about council’s plan to develop Echo Heights is pending.

“We still have to see a draft bylaw for first reading,” said Walker.

“It’ll be a fairly long public process and everyone will get their kick at the cat.”

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