News

Election may tell the final tale on Echo Heights

Despite strong community opposition, North Cowichan Council recently voted to approve a controversial development plan for the Echo Heights forest that could see 20 per cent of the 54-acre property in Chemainus turned into residential housing.

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure was one of two council members who voted against the plan, preferring to instead preserve Echo Heights as parkland.

As Lefebure acknowledged plans to develop the parcel are driven by the financing needs of various community development projects, including parts of the Chemainus revitalization strategy that promises a new skateboard park, town centre square, library and seawalk.

North Cowichan has earmarked nearly $10 million in community development projects, with more than half of total funding expected to come from the sale of municipal properties.

In fact, North Cowichan recently cautioned that failing to develop Echo Heights could hurt plans with several projects including the Chemainus revitalization strategy.

Lefebure is careful to note, however, that such projects could still go ahead without developing the parcel.

It’s more a matter of timing.

“What you can say about it is that everything on the list could be accomplished over time without funds from Echo Heights. It’s just a matter of how long it takes. Do we want more money from taxes, or to leave certain projects off the list?”

Might there be an opportunity for residents to tell North Cowichan council that they could live with delaying certain community development projects a few years, or even taking them off the list? The 2014 budget cycle may provide a window of opportunity.

“Everything we plan to do will be in the budget. Residents are free to come to council meetings and the budget open house in to say what they want municipal funds spent on.”

North Cowichan owns properties across the district, many of which would surely attract less controversy than Echo Heights. Why not develop one of these sites instead?

While Lefebure did vote against developing Echo Heights, he understands the rationale behind selecting the site.

“Because Echo Heights is adjacent to services, zoned for residential development and within the Urban Growth Boundary, staff recommended that some development take place there, and successive councils have wrestled with how much would be appropriate.”

Although developing Echo Heights may make sense from a fiscal standpoint, Lefebure acknowledges that such a point of view does not necessarily take into account its ecological values.

And that’s the heart of the problem.

No matter how much profit can be generated from developing the property, the overwhelming majority of those who have shown interest in Echo Heights still want all of it preserved for future generations.

North Cowichan may have approved the Echo Heights development plan, but with the next municipal election only months away and the plan still having to clear several hurdles, this story may be far from over.

Rob Douglas is Constituency President of the Cowichan Valley NDP. He writes monthly for the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial and can be reached at douglas.robert.g@gmail.com

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