The Cowichan Valley Regional District will have independent professionals complete a survey, geotechnical review and an environmental assessment of Taylor Park before making a final decision on whether to construct a new 100-vehicle parking lot on the site.
The board decided to approve staff’s recommendation to have the work completed in yet another tight vote at its meeting on April 27.
The CVRD has received a $459,000 grant from the province to help construct a new parking lot somewhere in the area to address the increasing demand for organized and safe access to the Kinsol Trestle, a major recreation tourism destination in the Shawnigan Lake area.
But building the parking lot in Taylor Park, an approximately five-acre undeveloped property just off Renfrew Road, has raised concerns in the community for a number of reasons, including the fact that there are environmentally sensitive ecological wetlands in the area.
The Shawnigan Basin Society made a presentation to the CVRD’s committee of the whole that provided information on how destructive building a parking lot at the site would be to young salmon in the streams in the park, and the environment in general.
Sierra Acton, the CVRD’s director for the Shawnigan Lake electoral area in which Taylor Park is located, said she has received dozens of phone call, emails and letters on the issue, and personally took to the streets around the park to talk to residents and gauge their attitudes towards constructing a parking lot in Taylor Park.
She said she received mixed reviews on the proposed project, and some who were opposed to it took exception to promoting the Kinsol Trestle because they don’t want more visitors to the rural area.
Acton said she wants to see more information before any final decisions on the project are made.
“But I think this proposal will fundamentally make the neighbourhood better,” she said.
“It’s giving the community all the things they are striving for in that they want to live in a neighbourhood that’s safe and walkable. We also have environmental issues so we have to ask how can we come together in the middle so that we can live together socially and with the environment. I think we need the geotechnical review and environmental assessment to allow us to make better decisions.”
But Cobble Hill director Mike Wilson said he has real concerns with building a parking lot in the park because it would disregard every environmental and ecological reason for it not to proceed.
“I have to ask, how many directors have visited the site to see for themselves what a huge error it would be if we rubber stamp this project without having access to detailed cost estimates and, more importantly, environmental impact studies?” he asked.
“There are salmon present in those streams and their breeding grounds exist there. We are contemplating destroying that vital habitat by paving over it with a parking lot and a staging area. To go ahead with this project is wrong in every way.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said allowing for the studies to be done, at a cost of about $12,500, is in no way rubber-stamping the parking lot project.
He said based on the information that will be provided in the reports, the board will determine if the project is a good or bad idea.
“The decision we’re making today is not to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, but whether we want environmental impact studies done in the area,” Siebring said.
“I see nothing wrong with that. Approving this motion [for the studies to be done] doesn’t approve a parking lot.”
But Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, pointed out that if the project proceeds, it will definitely cause damage to wetland habitats in the area, regardless of any mitigation efforts to prevent it.
“Yes, we can go ahead with the environmental assessments, but there will most certainly be damage there if we move forward with this,” she said.
“This project is just not the right solution to the problems we have.”
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone also said he thinks the board should take the opportunity to gather more information before making any decisions on the project.
“To cut off the process before independent professionals take a look at it would be unfair to the process,” he said.