After three years of hard work by the Municipality of North Cowichan and members of the public, the new official community plan was adopted by council on Aug. 17 in a 5-1 vote.
The new wide-ranging OCP, which can be found at www.northcowichan.ca/assets/Departments/Planning~and~Land~Use/docs/OCP~Project/North Cowichan OCP.pdf, will guide decisions on community planning, growth management, housing, natural environment, food security and agriculture, local economy, and sustainable infrastructure for many years to come in North Cowichan.
The new OCP will steer growth away from historical patterns of development in North Cowichan, and that has raised the concern of many in the community.
A press release from the municipality said the OCP’s revised urban containment boundary concentrates growth and development in areas with existing infrastructure capacity, aims to build resilience to the climate emergency, and provide a diverse and affordable range of housing options.
But many in the gallery at the council meeting took exception to the new OCP being passed and Mayor Al Siebring, the sole council member who voted against adopting it, had to call for order several times as hecklers interrupted the discussions.
When the vote was finally taken after a long discussion, one person in the gallery rushed the guest speaker microphone yelling “shame, shame!”.
In explaining why he didn’t vote for the OCP, Siebring cited a couple of reasons.
He said, on balance, the overall tone of the new OCP is more about ideology rather than the simple “and boring” best practices in planning for growth and development in North Cowichan.
Siebring also said he thinks the process of developing the OCP was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years which prevented many people from being able to participate in the discussions.
He said he feels that during the pandemic, the only people who were actually able to comment extensively on the plan were those of a particular comfortable socio-economic class who have access to online services.
“But the vast majority of our citizens for the past two years have been preoccupied with just trying to get through COVID-19,” Siebring said.
“Any discussion about something as esoteric as an OCP has been the furthest thing from their minds.”
Coun. Rob Douglas said there was much more public feedback during the process for this OCP than the last time it was updated in 2011.
He said there has been some rhetoric in the community that council is somehow ramming through the new OCP before the upcoming municipal elections on Oct. 15, and that council developed it behind closed doors.
Douglas said that notion is “total nonsense”.
“The new OCP was built from the ground up with extensive community involvement from local residents at each step of the process,” he said.
“However, I would argue that there’s no such thing as a perfect OCP. It’s not supposed to be perfect and we’re not carving it into stone.”
Douglas said that in five or 10 years from now, if it’s found that there’s something future councils disagree with in the OCP, they will have the option of going back and amending it.
Coun. Christopher Justice said, while the new OCP is not perfect, it’s not just a good OCP, it’s a great one.
“One proof of this is the reaction the draft OCP got when we put it before the community at the public hearing,” he said.
“Yes, there were some dissenting opinions but I was really impressed by the depth of the positive response the plan got from those who had really considered it.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said after years of developing the OCP, North Cowichan has an OCP that no one is 100 per cent happy with, and that sounds about right to her.
She said that at the public hearing, she learned that some don’t like inclusion, diversity, or equity, and some don’t like the urban-containment boundary shift in the OCP.
Sawrie added that some don’t want density to increase in core areas and others don’t like the focus council has put on preserving the environment.
“Is it perfect? No. Will it ever be? No. As unsatisfying as that is to say, this is the reality of the nature of this process,” she said.
“None of this was perfect, it was never going to be, but if we look at the great things that we have accomplished, I strongly believe everyone will find pieces in here that they can be proud of.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said the process of developing the OCP hasn’t been easy for anyone involved.
“There’s a lot of tension that’s gone on about everything, and the pandemic has affected a lot of people in very different ways,” she said.
“I want to say thanks to all the people who participated, even those who don’t like it all. That’s democracy, that’s what we do.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski said she knows staff did their best in these difficult times to try and make sure they reached as many people as possible during the process by whatever means available, including in-person and Zoom meetings.
“Thanks to the public for participating in whatever form was available to you,” she said.