The need for more affordable housing in North Cowichan won out over the official community plan at the council table on June 2.
In a tight 4-3 vote, council voted against a recommendation by Coun. Rob Douglas to down-zone a 21.5-acre property at 9090 Trans Canada Highway in Chemainus, next to the Country Maples Campground, to a rural designation to prevent the development of a 108-unit modular-home park at the site.
Core Group, consisting of Robyn Kelln and his wife from Salt Spring Island and an engineering company from Vancouver, purchased the site last year to develop the modular-home park, which will be called Morgan Maples.
The site is zoned to allow the development, but Douglas took exception to its location and lack of alignment with the OCP.
He said when the OCP was last updated 10 years ago, it emphasized protecting the rural character and natural environment in North Cowichan, and preventing urban sprawl.
“It did that by establishing the urban-containment boundary [UCB] and directing future growth and development to urban growth centres, while keeping land outside growth boundaries as rural,” Douglas said.
“This property is located well outside the UCB and is nowhere near any established growth centres.”
Douglas said the OCP encourages walkable communities, and reducing greenhouse gases from car emissions and this development appears to be the opposite of that.
As for housing affordability, he said there are no assurances there will be any at this development.
But Coun. Tek Manhas said Kelln bought the property in good faith that he could develop it to be a modular-home park because it was zoned for it, as it had been for the past 42 years, even after two updates of the OCP in that time.
He said it’s a great location for affordable housing and it’s located close to a bus stop on Henry Road for people to get to the more urban areas of the community.
“There has been so much public input in support of this project and you’re ready to dismiss that,” Manhas said.
“What does public response mean to you?”
Mayor Al Siebring said council finds itself on the horns of a dilemma with the issue.
He said that on one hand, the municipality has policies in its OCP that discourages this type of development.
“It’s a legitimate reason to attempt to down-zone the property to achieve consistency with the OCP,” he said.
“But the other horn is the issue of affordable housing. We heard Mr. Kelln say the purchase price of one of the modular homes would be about $260,000 and I consider that affordable. The price of a single-family home in the Valley went up 23 to 28 per cent during the pandemic and is now in the range of about $700,000.”
Siebring said being asked to make a decision between the OCP and affordable housing creates a dilemma, but under the current market conditions, he has to go with affordable housing.
“Yes, we have the legal right to down-zone the property, but is it wise when we’re trying to attract people to build affordable housing here to say ‘sorry’ and change the rules in the middle of the game because we don’t like the location?” he asked.
Coun. Christopher Justice said the decision for the zoning of the property to allow for a modular-home park was made before the climate emergency and the current concerns around urban sprawl.
“It was a mistake that it was zoned this way and a holdover from another time, and I’ll vote to down-zone the property to rural,” he said.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said she sees both sides of the issue, but pointed out that she doesn’t own a home and likely won’t anytime soon in the current market.
“I feel sorry for people my age and younger who can’t buy into the market,” she said.
“The rest of council got into the market at an appropriate time. Congratulations because you’re one of the last,” she added. “I hear countless stories of people asking social services for assistance with housing and being offered a tent. That’s the reality we’re living in. As environmental as I am, I can’t vote to down-zone the property.”
The recommendation to down-zone the property failed, with Siebring, Sawrie, Manhas and Coun. Debra Toporowski voting against it.