A government-to-government meeting between Cowichan Tribes and North Cowichan is being sought to discuss development planning in the Bell McKinnon area.
The decision to ask for the meeting was made at the North Cowichan council meeting on Oct. 20 in response to a letter council received from the First Nation’s director of lands and self governance, Larry George, after the municipality asked Cowichan Tribes for input into its ongoing review and update of its official community plan.
George outlined the First Nation’s position on many issues in his letter, including land development in North Cowichan.
He said that Cowichan Tribes see unconstrained development throughout the municipality as a barrier to protecting the First Nation’s well being and access to natural resources.
“Therefore, Cowichan Tribes supports zoning that contains growth in already populated areas, and provides services within those areas to curtail increases in vehicular traffic and carbon emissions,” George said in the letter.
“Contained growth areas would also result in reduced development into natural environments and watersheds.”
At the council meeting on Oct. 20, North Cowichan Coun. Christopher Justice said it’s apparent to him from the letter that Cowichan Tribes doesn’t support new growth in unpopulated areas that are not designated growth centres, and that would include the Bell McKinnon area where the new $887-million Cowichan District Hospital is to be constructed.
Despite concerns raised by a number of councillors, including Justice, of too much development in the mainly rural area that the new hospital could bring, most of council at this time favours a full build-out in much of the Bell McKinnon area.
Justice acknowledged it’s possible that Cowichan Tribes doesn’t see the plans for Bell McKinnon as unconfined growth, despite the fact that it is occurring in a area that is currently sparsely populated.
“So, for me, there is a lack clarity of what’s being told to us by Cowichan Tribes,” he said.
“I think it would be prudent to ask [Cowichan Tribes] for clarification of its position on the general direction for Bell McKinnon being developed as part of our OCP.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he has already reached out to Cowichan Tribes’ Acting Chief Cindy Daniels about George’s letter to council and she confirmed that the issue was not discussed with her and council before the letter was sent.
He also said that Cowichan Tribes did weigh in on the local area plan for Bell McKinnon in 2017 when it was being developed.
“At the time, Cowichan Tribes said the emphasis on multi-use in the local area plan is a refreshing change from big-box and single-use developments that has characterized the region for decades,” Siebring said.
“There were no substantive objections to the plan and I don’t know why we would revisit this.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski, who is also a member of Cowichan Tribes’ council, said that George likely wrote the letter to council with good intentions, and it was probably meant as a response from one staff member in Cowichan Tribes to another staff member in North Cowichan.
“We need another government-to-government meeting so that some of these questions can be hashed out,” she said.