Ever on the lookout for threats to the Town of Lake Cowichan’s parks and institutional zones (P-1), a large delegation of Lake Cowichan Ratepayers’ Association members visited council last week to discuss their latest concerns.
These latest concerns involve proposed changes to the town’s Official Community Plan, which could have the Palsson Elementary School site included within a comprehensive development permit area, named the Grosskleg Neighbourhood.
“For the benefit of our town, we’d like it to be P-1,” Ratepayers’ representative Rod Peters told council. “We’re just a small town. I don’t think we need a comprehensive development area… We should keep it P-1.”
The underlying concern behind the Ratepayers’ adamant stance on keeping all of the town’s P-1 zones remaining zoned as such, is to ensure that schools will always be located at said places.
The town’s planner, James van Hemert, then tried to explain the basics of comprehensive development permit areas, as per the delegates’ request.
“The Official Community Plan does not change the zoning directly,” he said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with what the planner likes… I advise the Advisory Planning Commission.”
It’s the five volunteers that make up the Advisory Planning Commission that put together the Official Community Plan, which provides council with guidance as to what the community would like to see happen within the town.
Although P-1 zoning can remain zoned as such within a comprehensive development permit area, van Hemert said that it would add more flexibility to the zoning.
“It does open the door for modifications in the future,” he said, adding that the Official Community Plan is mandated with looking forward to the next 25 years.
This opened door is exactly what has caused the Ratepayers’ concern.
“In the future, if you want to change the zoning, you could,” Peters said.
“I don’t think my intent is to see any down-zoning within these areas,” councillor Tim McGonigle. “Any developer can come up and bring up re-zoning. It’s the onus of this table to keep the concerns of the Official Community Plan and the electorate.”
Cowichan Valley School Board 79 trustee Diana Gunderson said that the district fully backs the Ratepayers’ concerns around P-1 zoning.
“The School District is adamant that Palsson should stay institutional… Until a decision has been made regarding a new school,” she said. “Our declining enrollment numbers are part of the fear… We want our kids’ parents to know that Palsson is zoned institutional.”
Ratepayers member Duncan Brown reminded council of their prior commitment to protect P-1 zones. Comprehensive development areas aren’t a means of protecting them, he said.
“There are really few restrictions at all. The doors are open, ‘we’ll look at things,'” he contended. “We do not have many of these areas left, and the only way to protect them is through zoning.”
In addition to the Palsson Elementary School area, the J.H. Boyd site is a P-1 zoned site that needs protection, the Ratepayers insist – a site purchased by an independent developer who went into his dealings with the property knowing full-well the zoning, and who doesn’t appear to have any intentions of building a school.
“He chose to buy it anyway, and he failed to get the zoning he wanted,” Brown said.
Mayor Ross Forrest assured the Ratepayers’ Association that council maintains their support of protecting P-1 zones.
“Nothing has come to our table to ask us to change that yet,” he said. “Nothing has changed with that.”
Aside from the delegation of Ratepayers’ Association members, the issue has yet to come before council, and is still being discussed by the Advisory Planning Commission.
“They have had a lively debate about that, and this is supposed to be happening,” van Hemert said, of commission meetings.
“There will be a discussion with the Advisory Planning Commission when they meet next week,” the town’s chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said.
Another related issue to be brought forth to the commission will be a change to P-1 zoning, replacing “affordable seniors, rental and special needs housing,” with, “affordable seniors care or special needs facilities,” as per a suggestion by the Ratepayers’ Association.