Perspectives on 2012: Grandiose Bamberton dream gone full circle to town’s roots

Ross Tennant speaks in favour of a scaled-back Bamberton early last year. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Ross Tennant speaks in favour of a scaled-back Bamberton early last year.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

The vision of a modern sustainable community at Bamberton has perhaps faded but the property was granted a renewed lease on life with regional district approval this year to proceed with a scaled-back plan to make room for much-needed commercial and industrial land.

Ironically, the site that sought to pioneer planning concepts of sustainability in a community where residents could live, work and find opportunities to engage in entertainment and recreation, will become an employment generator with little of the original vision remaining.

Bamberton began its life in 1921 as a cement plant and churned out perhaps millions of tonnes of the basic makings for concrete before the operation was permanently shut in 1980.  A whole community was built around the open pit limestone mines and the processing plant.

It wasn’t long before others began looking for ways to take advantage of an industrially-zoned piece of waterfront property with deep-water port potential.

Mill Bay residents woke one morning in the late 1980s to discover someone wanted a ferro-chromium plant on the waterfront at Bamberton and the Cowichan Valley began to experience what has been a seemingly endless series of public meetings and hearings on development proposals for the property.  To say there was an intensely negative reaction in the community to the ferro-chromium proposal would be an understatement. That proposal was soon dumped in the dustbin of history.

Next came David Butterfield and a consortium of union pension funds that backed a vision for an inclusive sustainable community built over 20 years.  It was an extraordinarily ambitious plan to incorporate from scratch all manner of planning concepts that are commonly accepted as “Smart” today. (Full disclosure: I was deeply involved in the rezoning process.)

The CVRD board eventually approved new zoning for the property but the NDP government of the day failed to have the courage to get behind an innovative project and eventually killed it through endless bureaucracy and studies.

This development proposal became intensely political and spawned the careers of several regional district directors who worked hard to prevent development.

In this atmosphere there was little appetite in the development community to try anything with the property for almost a decade. Then, along came Three Point Properties who purchased the property with no assurances it would ever be able to proceed with the almost-complete comprehensive zoning, but was convinced if it “did the right thing,” the community would support them.

“The right thing” eventually meant as much as $35 million in cleanup costs of contamination around the old cement plant and five years of detailed consultation with the community in an attempt to define development proposals that would be acceptable to the community.

In the end, the CVRD simply determined there was no need for additional residential zoned property in the Mill Bay area.  It was clear to Three Point there was no point in continuing to push for a comprehensive planned development.

Following further consultations with the regional district a compromise of sorts was reached.  Three Point would agree to drop its rezoning application and the CVRD was accept a much-reduced application to rezone some of the property for commercial and industrial use.

When there was no deep resistance from the community expressed, the CVRD granted the zoning.

Patrick Hrushowy is the president of the Cowichan Valley constituency association of the B.C. Liberal Party. Email him at phrushowy@shaw.ca

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