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Vision 2013: Village people
Picture a pedestrian zone dotted with cafés, bike racks, transit, shops, uniquely green housing, and a gang of great recreational and educational facilities.
That’s the University Village vision.
Straddling North Cowichan and Duncan, the largely dormant zone — baited by some tax breaks — is bounded by Lakes Road, Somenos Marsh, Coronation Avenue and Duncan Street.
“The idea is it’s a hugely under-developed area that’s really fallen behind,” North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said.
But he cited a new commercial-residential complex being built at Garden and James streets as typical in his UV landscape being painted by public ideas in a municipal local area plan.
“When you have a dense community, well served by transit, it’s also good for the environment with a smaller carbon footprint and lower living costs for residents.
“Imagine someone living in a condo on Garden, where they can fill all their needs by foot or by bike, with parks and recreation and different programs offered nearby.”
UV’s baseline review and draft local area plan should be done by year’s end.
The final area plan should see regulating documents and guidelines by April, toward implementation by May.
“We have greater services and amenities there — a library, VIU, Clements House, Island Savings Centre — that are well served by transit but residential-commercial housing stock is under-developed.
“There’s a huge opportunity, over the next few decades, to transform that area into a vibrant core.”
That would mean a wider tax base for North Cowichan and Duncan.
“We’ve really got all the different aspects of life covered in a really small area, and that makes a successful town core — the University Village is the logical place for it to happen,” said Lefebure.
North Cowichan’s chipping in about $60,000 for planning, with more from BC Hydro to create an electrically efficient, compact community. And North Cowichan’s tax-breaks should sweeten the UV doughnut for developers, he noted.
“We’ve already passed our revitalization bylaw to give tax advantages for University Village, Crofton and Chemainus.
“Planner Brian Green says it could end up in a form where developers open a map and look at the Village area, and see multi-use areas with parking, bike stalls and other things needed. The bottom line is 100 units per hectare.”
Economic forces would decide housing prices.
“Affordability is best served through market conditions. If incentives are for high-density, inevitably the units tend to be smaller, and market forces should drive down prices,” Lefebure said.
Developers are talking to staff about North Cowichan’s plans “and staff makes sure they know about the tax-incentive bylaws, and the planning process.”
UV population projections will surface during planning processes, he added.
Meanwhile, Lefebure pointed to successfully launching Cowichan Place in recent years — a revamped zone in mid-UV.
It now comprises VIU, the community-centre complex, and a looming new Cowichan High, sandwiched between James and Beverley streets and the highway.
“We had ball fields too small — baseballs were landing on the highway — a struggling Cowichan Exhibition, Malaspina College (now VIU) looking for a new home, and a replacement high school needed.
“That land was underutilized and disorganized, so we untangled everything.
“Now we have a phenomenal new ball facility at Evans Field, a revitalized Cowichan Exhibition on Mays Road, a new VIU campus, with courses in town — and we’re awaiting the new high school.
“That’s how planning early can lead to great results. It’ll take time to build out, but I think we can get the same results in the rest of the University Village area.”