Comments on one of the white boards at the OCP open house show the range of local concerns. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

‘Missing Middle’ housing tops OCP feedback at Lake Cowichan

Residents make their concerns known to Lake Cowichan officials at OCP open house

The ideas at Creating Our Future open house on Lake Cowichan’s Official Community Plan, held Thursday, Jan. 31 got all kinds of response from the public.

From the standpoint of municipal government they ranged from the probable to the totally impossible, but they gave town officials and members of the advisory planning commission a clear notion of what folks were thinking.

Comments posted on special boards could be divided into two main categories: one about planning and zoning; and one with concerns about lifestyle.

The first group included notes that said, “I need more landmarks on maps to locate myself on the map”, “[OCP is] too long, reduce to 50 pages or less, no photos”, “tiny house bylaw/area — YES!”, “Car bridge needs to be added to Map #7”, “Regarding the maps, please name some of the boundaries, streets, cenotaph etc.”, “I don’t see the need to distinguish between Uptown and Downtown? the red and the pink on the map could just be all red. I don’t understand the need to define one or the other area and it is limiting in a way”, “Where is CLEC [Cowichan Lake Education Centre] in the OCP?”, “Suggest you take out all the extraneous info; keep it to what an applicant needs to know when proposing a zoning change or development. No need for pictures”.

The other group of comments was not surprisingly more diverse, with access to the water a favourite.

It included, “More public water access with parking close to town”, “Get VIHA to update the Kaatza Health Clinic”, “Air BnB should be encouraged and supported”, “parking for river access is very limited in most places”, “There’s a ballooning aging population but no facilities being built to house them. This is an oversight,” and “Where is the plan for the aging population?”, “Lake Cowichan needs to be more gay friendly, parade float etc.”, “Youbou/Lake Cowichan junction traffic far too fast; logging trucks using engine brakes”, “We need a small beach at Saywell Park. The new wharf is good but not easy for mothers with babies or handicapped folks”, “Community access to lakefront for environment friendly marine recreation, i.e. sailing, canoeing, boarding, paddling, rowing, dragon boating, etc.”, “Seniors housing care: plans to deal with aging population”, “Cut bush off BC Hydro line so you can see lake”, “Cut all bush down at Saywell Park so you can see lake”, “Increase tourist appeal: air quality, lake access, trails, more restaurants. Limit/reduce/stop deforesting”, “Need to reduce wood burning to keep air quality healthy”, and “Provide more local healthcare services to residents eg. physio, occupational therapy”.

James Van Hemert, town planner, said at the session that there was also a lot of interest in more kinds of housing.

Patio homes, seniors, row houses, condos, and more are in short supply in the Cowichan Lake district, but how does the town attract more of that sort of development?

“Some of that housing is called ‘The Missing Middle’. It’s between the single detached, of which we have plenty, and the other extreme, which is apartment buildings. In the middle is the place where a lot of people want to be because they can afford to buy it and you don’t have to be eligible for affordable housing subsidies. That’s not where most people actually are.

“Most people are at the point where either their lifestyle or their budget isn’t going to allow them to buy a single detached home. The first step is that this official community plan addresses that in a much more powerful way than the current plan. So the housing policy is going to promote infill, that is development on existing under-developed or no development lots.

“We actually did an inventory and we can accommodate most of our anticipated growth within the existing developed area of the town. We don’t need to do a lot of so-called ‘greenfield’ development, which tends to be single unit detached homes. The policies in the plan are directing this. We’re also going to update the zoning bylaw to reflect this so that’s a natural outcome of the plan process.”

One of the most powerful implementation tools of any OCP is the zoning bylaw, and Van Hemert said plenty will be happening there.

“We expect an overhaul of the zoning bylaw. For example, we may see a broader range of housing types permitted. I’ll say it only that far because I don’t know where the APC or council wants to direct us but I think those are very important steps.”

The planner gave two examples of building proposals that reflect the new guidelines.

“One is already under construction, and another one that’s still at the subdivision stage. The first is a very small development [at Penny Lane on Nelson Road]: we actually called it ‘the tiny house’ development plan. I use the word tiny house but technically I should have said small house. They’re darling, cute houses. They’re 400 sq. ft. footprints and then there’s a half storey. It’s a new zone we created. It’s not a model zone because it had to fit this land. If we had to do more of this there’d be more amenities required and better common space but we had to squeeze these in. That’s an example of a missing middle.

“We recently completed a rezoning for the remaining land in Point Ideal. It will also have homes similar to the kind of housing that’s in Brookside but they wouldn’t be attached. They are on 12-metre wide lots. They are small and duplexes are also allowed. That’s another example of what’s happening.

“I think by us opening the door and being flexible in our zoning, that’s the key for us as a town to attract that kind of housing.”

Encompassing it within the current town boundaries makes it all much more compact, too.

“If I could clarify, it’s not just the town boundaries, either. It’s the developed part of the town. The boundaries are quite extensive, and, quite frankly we have far more land than population growth can fill for generations to come. We don’t need to expand new areas for housing, other than some areas where there’s already a commitment, like finishing up Point Ideal, maybe finishing up The Slopes.

“We don’t have to open new areas up. We can accommodate growth, and the beauty of that is you can do more of that Missing Middle housing. And you have the benefit of all that infrastructure: the roads are there, the sewer and water is there, and you can walk to services. This is still a town where you see the high school students and the elementary students walking to and from school. You don’t see that in many communities any more. We want to keep it that way,” Van Hemert said.

Coun. Carolyne Austin said she was pleased to see so many people out to examine the maps, look at the information and talk to councillors and members of the APC.

“People had lots to talk about: the employment lands, the possibilities for new subdivisions, and for water access.

Austin herself has been pushing for some local water access at Prospect Avenue but it hasn’t gone ahead yet.

“But people have been walking down the dock by the Riverside Inn and to Gillespie Park,” she said.

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