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Push for new park continues to Echo in Chemainus
Vocal Chemainiacs demanded all of publicly owned Echo Heights forest be preserved as parkland Wednesday, while council remained split on that idea.
After heated debate, council voted to send a planning department report — based on saving 80% of Echo Heights as park — to three committees for debate and recommendations to council. A public meeting would follow those committee reports.
The other 20% is targeted for 54 residential lots, on 4.2 hectares, for phased sale to developers, given market conditions.
Those sales could reap an estimated $3 million to fund council’s various other projects.
Mayor Jon Lefebure later noted no final decision has been made about how much of Echo Heights to save.
He voiced concerns the 20% area, basically ground already cleared for development, could impact the forest, marsh, and meadowlands.
Those ecosystems are described as rare, and precious by the Chemainus Residents Association members, plus various scientists, and First Nations folks.
Lefebure suggested a phone poll of residents to help gauge their appetite for saving all of 22.12-hectare Echo Heights.
“A high percentage of our residents are in favour of that. It might help give guidance to council,” he said, citing an earlier phone survey about North Cowichan’s climate-action tax.
Aware of CRA demands, the mayor and Councillor Kate Marsh later voted against sending the 80/20 plan to the Chemainus advisory, community planning, and climate-change advisory committees.
“I’d like to see us save all of it,” Marsh said. “We already own this land. I can’t see how saving a forest would be the wrong thing to do, in terms of climate (action).”
But Councillor John Koury, head of council’s economic development committee, seemed sick of talking about saving any more than 80%.
He pulled staff’s recommendation to send the planning report to the EDC.
Koury miffed the mayor by suggesting Lefebure was basically “indifferent” about how much of Echo Heights to save. Lefebure objected as some councillors and residents walked out of the tense chambers.
That happened after CRA members told council why all of Echo Heights must be saved, a tune they’ve sung to council for years.
Biologist Kelly Bannister suggested councillors accept expert advice available about Echo Heights’ ecological, scientific and cultural values, noting studies done so far are “quick and dirty assessments.”
For instance, she cited further archaeological and hydrological data needed — finding it “ironic” council officially received its climate-action plan award Wednesday before debating the controversial forest.
Tom Masters said there’s no community support for developing the Heights.
“It comes down to the people want it saved, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Gus Lolaric explained housing projects already underway in Mural Town are selling slowly, despite reduced prices.
“Spend (taxpayer) money on projects of more benefit to the community. Don’t cut down the trees for short-term gain.”
Diana Hardacker told how school kids learn about nature on Echo Heights field trips.
“Nature deficit disorder is rampant among children today,” she said.
Mary Dolan said folks have used the Heights as a park for years, as it is “remarkable in its diversity”, before CRA chairman Bernie Jones pointed to some 1,400 petition signatures so far to save the site.
Lefebure said he didn’t expect a public meeting about Echo Heights until January, after the planning report is discussed by the three committees.