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North Cowichan residents express strong approval for Official Community Plan

‘Today is a milestone’ says planning director after three years of work

Residents expressed widespread support for a new draft Official Community Plan at a public hearing Monday in North Cowichan.

Of 128 written submissions received by municipal hall from June 23 to July 14, 80 percent — or 103 — supported the OCP whereas only 12 opposed. Of 43 late submissions, 31 supported the OCP and seven opposed.

The remaining submissions indicated neither support nor opposition for the OCP.

Citizens also had the opportunity to address council during the 2.5-hour, on-line public hearing Monday — and they expressed almost unanimous support for the OCP.

Reasons for support ranged widely, including support for more trees and parks and natural areas, diversity of housing to aid affordability, addressing climate change, limiting urban sprawl, and maintaining farmland.

Opponents called for more time to digest the lengthy document, suggesting a delay until after the next election.

Others disagreed strongly.

“To think of delaying the passing of this bylaw until after another election is to disrespect the voters…and the democratic process,” said Kathy Wachs of Chemainus.

Planning director Robert Conway noted that the OCP has been more than three years in the making. “Today is a milestone…” he said.

During their submissions, citizens frequently applauded the extensive nature of the process and all the individuals who contributed to making it possible.

Conway noted that the covid pandemic, greenhouse gas issues, the opioid crisis, housing affordability and Indigenous reconciliation all created additional challenges.

“Official Community Plans are traditionally focused primarily on land-use issues. This OCP takes a broader view to recognize and respond to social, economic and environmental challenges at the local level.”

Council heard some criticism at the public hearing that the OCP actually took on too many issues.

Icel Dobell of the forest watchdog group, Where Do We Stand, said she supported the OCP, but had concerns regarding a reference to the Municipal Forest Reserve.

She said the OCP accurately points out that the Municipal Forest is currently the subject of a review.

However, she said the document goes on to state that one objective is to ‘retain and conserve the Municipal Forest Reserve through sustainable harvesting practices,’ with the caveat, in brackets, ‘if harvesting is to be undertaken at all.’

Dobell said the reference to sustainable harvesting practices is biased and contradicts the public consultation process.

“As you know, the first phase of the public consultation into the forest reserve was overwhelmingly in support of non-harvesting values in the reserve.

“When citizens were asked what they value most about the forest reserve, logging revenue and jobs did not even make the top-10 list.”

She added there is no reference to carbon credits, though the UBC team working on options for future management of the reserve is expected to include carbon credits.

Dobell suggested the reference to ‘sustainable harvesting practices’ be replaced with more neutral language such as ‘sustainable forest management.’

Council last April unanimously approved first reading of the OCP bylaw — a blueprint for the community over the next 20 years — paving the way for the public hearing.

The public hearing continues Tuesday with the opportunity to appear in person before council starting at 2 p.m. at Cowichan Exhibition Park.

After the public hearing is concluded, council will decide whether to proceed with the OCP as drafted or make changes before giving second and third readings to the bylaw and moving to adoption.

The OCP guides council and staff in budgeting, servicing, planning capital projects, and development approvals, and is used by residents and businesses as a reference for investment decisions, and by school districts and community organizations to guide facility planning and service delivery, the municipality says.

The OCP does not directly impact how land may be used, but subsequent bylaws and regulations must be consistent with the OCP, the municipality adds.

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— Larry Pynn, July 18, 2022


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