A request to allow a half-acre lot on 6293 Westlock Rd. to subdivide led to a lengthy debate about the larger issues of densification and urban sprawl at North Cowichan’s council meeting on Sept. 19.
The landowner requested that the lot be subdivided in two to allow the construction of a second home on the property.
A staff report recommended that council allow the subdivision of the property, stating that it’s allowed under the official community plan, and is “appropriate with consideration to the existing neighbourhood character”.
The zoning request passed in a tight 4-3 vote, but not before many of the property’s neighbours raised concerns at the meeting and a long discussion among council members.
One neighbour who had lived in the area for 25 years said this is not a simple rezoning, but would open the door to further subdivision in the neighbourhood which would fundamentally change its semi-rural character.
“I’m not happy with the piecemeal way this is happening,” the neighbour said.
“Where is the complete neighbourhood plan for our area so we can know what is supposed to happen here?”
Another neighbour named Nick said that subdividing the property would detract from the character of the neighbourhood.
“Allowing this would be precedent setting,” he said.
“This neighbourhood has a long history of being quiet and serene, and changes like this would detract from the neighbourhood that we all love.”
However, some who spoke were in favour of the proposal.
One man asked where should future generations in the Valley be expected to live if adequate housing is not available, and another said the landowner should be able to do what she wants on her own property.
Coun. Kate Marsh said she wouldn’t support the zoning change.
“We’ve received a lot of push back during this term regarding growth areas,” she said.
“It’s a contentious issue that will be included in the (upcoming) update on the urban containment boundary. I would rather the next council deal with this application.”
Coun. Maeve Maguire said that once the Westlock Road area was hooked up to the municipality’s sewer system, the possibility of densification in the neighbourhood was opened up.
“This application meets the requirements that have been set and the fairest thing to do would be to consider it under the policies that are in place right now,” she said.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said the creation of the current urban containment boundary was “staff driven” and is merely lines on a map.
She said the public have repeatedly pointed out that areas have been missed in the UCB.
“This is not just about this one house and we owe it to the development community to do a better job in areas where growth is happening,” she said.
“It was decided that the urban containment boundary would be reviewed some time ago, and I said at the time that it was too important an issue to let it go too long.”
Coun. Al Siebring said he understands that densification is not for everyone, but the current official community plan is the plan that council has to work with.
“We’re bound to operate within its rules and it allows for densification in this neighbourhood,” he said.
“Waiting for some time in the future in which the OCP may be amended before we make this decision would create uncertainly.”
Coun. Rob Douglas said residents have raised legitimate concerns around how appropriate such a zoning change would be for their neighbourhood.
“It highlights the need for a bigger plan for the area, or adjustments to the urban containment boundary to take these lands out of it,” he said.
“This is one property, but we have to think of the bigger picture so I won’t support this application.”
Coun. Tom Walker said the application meets the criteria of the current official community plan, even if people feel that some areas should have been left out of the urban containment boundary.
He said council had decided that it would continue to work with the present OCP and its polices until any decisions are made to make changes at some point in the future.
“It’s not an easy decision, but this application does fit within our policies,” he said.
Mayor Jon Lefebure said it’s a land-use issue and the decision on whether to allow for the property’s subdivision is within the rules of the OCP.
“This subdivision meets the density requirements of the OCP, the area has been hooked up to our sewer systems and the lot is big enough to be subdivided with little disruption to the neighbourhood,” he said.
The motion for the subdision of the property was passed, with Behnsen, Douglas and Marsh opposed.