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Artisan Village project feeling the Echo

Developer Chris Clement is hopeful his $80-million Artisan Village housing project in Chemainus can get underway shortly after Christmas. - Peter W. Rusland
Developer Chris Clement is hopeful his $80-million Artisan Village housing project in Chemainus can get underway shortly after Christmas.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Patience and public participation kept developer Chris Clement’s Artisan Village project alive through four-plus years of municipal hoops and Chemainiac hopes for the sprawling site.

But the process surrounding the $80-million strata-housing project — starting after Christmas, pending preliminary layout approval — is being criticized by North Cowichan council candidates as a red-tape wrangle threatened by North Cowichan plans for its own subdivision at Echo Heights public forest.

And with the Nov. 19 civic election looming, debate persists about taxpayers being developers and competing against private-sector folks such as Clement.

A flexible Clement saw stalled Echo Heights — its public hearing curbed until post-election — as competition, but competition he’s ready to accept.

“Echo Heights is competition, but there’s competition everywhere.”

And Echo Heights’ hiatus gives him a head start facing fickle markets for his green-leaning 400 condos and assisted-living units offering geothermal heating, storm-water management, trails and more.

“Artisan Village is a seven-plus year plan, and it depends on market conditions,” Clement said of his 33-acre project with comprehensive development zoning, that would preserve the Hermit Trails and demolish the large archway signifying the failed Pacific Rim Artisan Village project.

Candidate Jon Lefebure, former mayor, explained council should wait until Artisan Village is built before starting Echo Heights.

“It’s in council’s interest not to compete with Chris Clement and drive the value of lots down.

“If the future council goes ahead with Echo Heights, it would be wise to proceed after his development, as that would help both projects.”

Council hopeful Tom Masters explained market demand plus infrastructure costs could hobble Echo Heights for years.

“Council won’t go ahead with Echo Heights until the market improves a lot.”

He and candidate Clayton Balabanov oppose Echo Heights development. Balabanov said there won’t be competition because the Artisan Village will be built before Echo Heights gets off the ground.

“There’s not enough housing demand to necessitate bringing Echo Heights on line,” he said, noting seniors support Artisan Village as it’s within walking distance to downtown.

Mayor Tom Walker didn’t view Echo Heights as competition for Clement’s project.

Walker basically backed the idea of taxpayers prudently spending about $2.5 million to make some $3.5 in net profits.

“You’ll likely see eight to 10 lots a year developed over many years — I don’t think it’s competition to Clement.

“There’s no intention of flooding the market.”

Right, said administrator Dave Devana.

“We have no intention of hurting Chris, that’s for sure.”

North Cow’s new council must also gauge demand for its 250-odd Echo heights homes — a phased mix of single family, town homes and apartments, Walker and Devana explained.

While the Chemainus Residents’ Association wants the whole forest saved as parkland, council aims to preserve about half of the site.

Even putting aside the Echo Heights situation, council candidates say approvals for Artisan Village were glacial — snags also faced by other developers shunning North Cowichan.

“Builders tell me ‘Don’t put your money in North Cowichan; it’s not worth the hassle,’” said Balabanov.

“They just get the runaround and are charged for things they don’t need. If we don’t make it easier, we won’t get investment.”

Devana was dubious.

“(Artisan Village) took some time, but that’s sometimes the way it goes.”

Clement cited moderate delays by a system that seemed understaffed.

“It goes through a lot more hands,” he said of development plans.

“There’s always some (developer) frustration dealing with municipal hall,” Lefebure said, an issue Masters emphasized.

“Five independent sources found things have almost slowed to a dead stop on development issues at the hall,” he said, citing a leadership “paralysis.”

“If a (plan) fits our official community plan, it should go through quickly and easily.”

Meanwhile, Clement saw his Artisan Village fitting into Chemainus’ revitalization.

“Our goal is to help the whole town — it needs a bit of a facelift.”

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