The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of a number of other factors, have caused the Municipality of North Cowichan to extend the timelines of the ongoing review of its official community plan.
The four-stage process of reviewing and updating the OCP was supposed to be completed this spring after a two-year process, but at its meeting on April 7, the municipality’s council decided to extend the process until February, 2022, and add $55,000 to the $202,000 original budget for the review, after hearing from Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning.
Conway said the OCP update has not fully followed the path that was originally envisioned when it was conceived in the spring of 2019.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the project, both in terms of how the municipality and its consultants at MODUS Consulting engage with the public and the risks, uncertainties and limitations that new and untried community-engagement methods have imposed.
Conway also said that having to deal with the climate emergency, the housing-affordability crisis, food security, homelessness, the opioid crisis, reconciliation with First Nations, diversity and inclusion and income inequality are other major issues that are influencing the timelines of the OCP project.
“In addition, past assumptions and established land-use patterns are being challenged, and some are looking to the OCP update for a new paradigm that will provide solutions to the many issues faced by North Cowichan, its residents and our larger society,” Conway said.
“These are very weighty expectations to fulfill. The success of the OCP update will ultimately be determined by how it is accepted by the community. Allowing opportunities for meaningful engagement, including participation and involvement by the OCP volunteers, is essential to the success of the project.”
Conway said that meaningful engagement involves building trust, explaining and discussing issues, and listening to a wide range of opinions and perspectives.
“The OCP update digital engagement process endorsed by council allowed for meaningful engagement, but adjustment to that process may be necessary if the digital engagement method proves inadequate, or if other approaches are necessary to respond to issues and circumstances encountered during the course of the project,” he said.
Mayor Al Siebring said he was part of the last OCP update in North Cowichan and it took five years over three council terms to complete.
“This update will be done in less than three years, so we need to keep this in perspective,” he said.
But Coun. Rob Douglas said he feels a certain level of frustration that the timelines have to be expanded.
He said when the process began in 2019, the majority of council wanted it to be a one-year process, but a two-year process was agreed upon to allow for an extensive public engagement process, and to also allow the municipality to complete other projects and deal with other issues at the same time.
Douglas said many of the reasons stated by Conway for the need to extend the review’s timelines were already cited in the work plan that was adopted by council in June, 2019
“I’m not trying to criticize anyone, but from my perspective, there is some frustration that we had agreed upon a deep and broad public engagement in the process and complete the OCP update with a wide scope that people would sign on to,” Douglas said.
“But here we are almost two years later expanding the timelines and budget and, even now, the direction we’re heading in is not the scope we agreed upon in 2019.”