A second attempt to prevent the development of a 108-unit modular-home park in Chemainus has failed.
At a meeting on Oct. 7, North Cowichan’s council decided in a tight 4-3 vote not to down-zone a 21.5-acre property at 9090 Trans Canada Hwy. that would have stopped the project, which is called Morgan Maples and located next to the Country Maples Campground, in its tracks.
The recommendation by Coun. Kate Marsh to down-zone the property to only allow the sale of lots of no less than two acres came on the heels of another failed motion made by Coun. Rob Douglas in June to down-zone the property so that the modular-home park couldn’t be developed there.
As in June, Mayor Al Siebring and councillors Debra Toporowski, Tek Manhas and Rosalie Sawrie voted against Marsh’s motion largely due to the fact that the region is in a housing crisis and is in desperate need of affordable housing.
Repeating what he said during the debate on the issue in June, Siebring noted at Thursday’s meeting that council finds itself on the horns of a dilemma.
He said that on one hand, it’s a land-use issue, but the other side of the coin is that it’s also an affordable housing issue.
“The proposal calls for the down-zoning of the property for it to become, potentially, 10 or 11 two-acre lots that would sell for about $1.5 million each,” Siebring said.
“These would be very comfy estates that would be the worst kind of urban planning for affordability, the environment, density and all that stuff. When you look at that, there’s really no question in my mind on which way I have to go. The housing crisis is a more important issue to deal with.”
Core Group, consisting of Robyn Kelln and his wife from Salt Spring Island and an engineering company from Vancouver, purchased the site last year to develop the modular-home park.
The site is zoned to allow the development, and has been for more than 40 years, but Douglas and Marsh took exception to its location in the middle of a mostly rural area and lack of alignment with the official community plan.
In a written statement by Marsh submitted to council when she made the motion, Marsh said that the repeal of the property from the agricultural land reserve 42 years ago should never have happened.
She said current best practices in planning would not support 108 units on a steep slope in a rural area above a river, particularly the Chemainus River whose creeks and tributaries support salmon and other important and possibly endangered species.
Marsh also questioned how “affordable” the housing project will really be when the environmental impacts are considered.
“We bandy around the term ‘affordable’ housing like it means the same thing to everyone, and we should not forget to take into account the wider costs of density in rural areas,” she said.
“Forty-two years ago, building 108 units beside a fish bearing, clean water supplying, ecosystem may have seemed affordable, but it never was. And we are now seeing the true cost of these poor past land-use choices made in many places, including the municipality, through droughts, floods, wind storms, fires, and heat domes.”
Marsh said many residents of North Cowichan have repeatedly told council through official community plans not to build density in rural areas.
“As council, it is our job to be the stewards for future generations in terms of our land-use decisions,” she said.
“This land can’t support density without a cost we can’t afford down the road. That means carefully making land-use decisions, popular or not. We need more affordable housing in North Cowichan, but this is not the place for it.”
But Sawrie pointed out that a developer is not going to purchase a lot of land like 9090 TCH within the urban-containment boundary to build a similar development and make it affordable.
“That’s not what we’re seeing right now in the housing market,” she said.
“So, yes, it doesn’t fall in line with the OCP and even my own values around walkability, but it will add to the housing stock. The housing crisis can’t be taken lightly.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said, considering the overall and long-term good of the community, the most fundamental question comes down to what is the best use of the land.
“That question has been considered twice now by the community and councils in the 2002 and 2011 OCP updates which designated this land as rural and outside growth boundaries,” he said.
“If this land was zoned agricultural, would either of us be in favour of an application to change the zoning to allow a trailer park? I very much doubt it. Even with the need for housing, all of us recognize this is not the right place for it.”
But Toporowski questioned whether it’s fair to change the zoning after the developer bought it in good faith that a modular-home development could be put there.
“To decide to change the rules would create uncertainty and distrust,” she said.