Muni’s development agenda trumps public input

I don’t trust government. I have been part of a municipal council and should trust. But I don’t, and have not for a long time.

I am generally a pretty positive fellow, but government, particularly local government, continues to fray any opportunity for my trust to return.

To illustrate my growing distrust was last week’s North Cowichan Council decision to move the Urban Containment Boundary from Beverly Street to the new dike.

After a year of public consultation and participation, the final draft for the new plan for the so-called University Village Area clearly stated that the UCB should remain at Beverly Street.

The planning maps unveiled at last week’s council meeting paint an entirely different scenario with the appearance of alternative #1 and #2 maps, which moves the UCB to the dike, or to the back of a significantly enlarged area of development.

It is interesting to note North Cowichan, School District 79 and Fun Pacific own the lands between the dike and Beverly Street, but only North Cowichan and SD79 staff participated in the University Village Stakeholder Advisory Group. Fun Pacific was notably absent from the process.

Fun Pacific owns the only commercial property outside of the UCB and has, for years, unsuccessfully engineered ideas to make their land more profitable.

Their persistence finally paid off last year when the Agricultural Land Commission agreed to allow the removal of their lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve in trade for land on the flanks of Mount Prevost, land that in earlier years, had been identified by the ALC as unsuitable for agriculture.

Now we learn from the new planning maps there is a possibility that a portion of the disputed police station property might be slated for development once again, this time as an annex to the neighbouring Fun Pacific property.

To add insult to injury, the land beside the dog park, purchased by North Cowichan for a farmland price, is likely to be flipped for development rather than be left as agricultural as the University Village Plan recommended.

Strangely enough, the PowerPoint presentation by the Director of Planning, Scott Mack provided a very convincing argument against moving the UCB, and yet, his final slide recommended moving the UCB to the dike.

Go figure.

Contributing to the one-sidedness was Fun Pacific’s representative speaking to council in support of the UCB move, while the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society’s letter against never made it onto the public record.

The Mayor pegged it when he said he would vote against the recommendation due to the anticipated perception council’s decisions were once again being development driven.

The initial discussion drew to a close when the CAO, pushing his development agenda, instructed council that the entire area, with the UCB moved to the dike, was now in their hands to determine what the final zoning would be for the area.

North Cowichan appears hell-bent for leather to get this all done before the summer ends thus ensuring that the public resistance that the Mayor is afraid of will be minimalized by summer holiday absences.

The question to ask is why was there a public planning process at all when council is now set to rewrite the plan without further public input.

It just doesn’t seem right.

Paul Fletcher is former Duncan city councillor who writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial.

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