The Chemainus Residents Association (CRA) is upset at a decision made by North Cowichan council that will see part of Echo Heights forest dismantled and developed upon.
In November, council decided to develop 20 per cent of the Echo Heights land against the wishes of many Chemainiacs. The CRA is now saying council has failed to “keep faith with the residents of our community.”
“We’ve been telling council for eight years that we don’t want to see development on the forest,” said Bernie Jones, chair of the association. “We’ve submitted petitions with over 1,600 names on them, we conducted an analysis where 92 per cent of correspondence said to save it all … This doesn’t make sense.”
A rare species of tree grows in Echo Heights, and according to Jones, this is all the more reason for the forest to be preserved in its entirety.
“It’s a very special area. It sees Coastal Douglas fir trees grow, and they only grow on B.C.’s coast,” he said. “There’s only a small number of areas that have them now and they need to be protected so we don’t lose them.”
Part of Echo Heights was disturbed in the early 1990s, but in the end, little came of that projected development.
North Cowichan now wishes to develop on that part of the forest that was disturbed, as well as a little more.
Originally against the idea, North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure hopes the move will turn out to be a positive thing for all.
“We’ve told staff we want to see something innovative and not just your business-as-usual subdivision,” he said. “Staff will bring back their proposed plan to council and we will either adopt it, ask for more work to be done, or reject it. If it’s accepted, we will see bylaws proposed for re-zoning as that area is R-1 right now.
“Re-zoning would see a public process, and we would likely have an information meeting first. Then we’ll have a formal public hearing before council decides and people will have the opportunity to put their comments on record.”
Lefebure, a Chemainus resident, did confirm he was against development on the 20 per cent of the forest from the get-go, alongside colleague Coun. Kate Marsh, but the two were outvoted.
“I was not interested in the 20 per cent and subdivision model, but I was still willing to talk about developing the 15 per cent of the forest that was previously disturbed. However, council has made its decision so now my job is to make it the best we can make it,” said the mayor.
In a letter to the Chronicle, Jones also suspects financial gain may have influenced council’s decision way back when.
“We cannot understand how council can continue to ignore the wishes of such a large part of the community regarding this important issue. In recent weeks we have been told that, if these lands are not developed at a profit to the municipality, then promised improvements to Chemainus might not be forthcoming. The current plans have been under discussion for more than two years and yet it is only in the past month or two that the suggestion has been made that there might be a direct link between the two. If this is indeed the case we cannot help wondering why these plans and proposals, both here in Chemainus and elsewhere in North Cowichan, were made in the first place if financing for them depended on such tenuous and unacceptable terms,” wrote Jones.
Lefebure chose to look on the bright side, stating that more money acquired from land sales means the greater possibility of more community development at a quicker pace.
“The reality is we pay for community development projects via a variety of sources. That can be through grants, taxes or municipally-owned land. If there’s more money from generating the sale of land, then there’s more money for projects, but council still has the ultimate decision.”