Need for development guidelines in Cowichan Valley
I am writing in response to recent attempts in North Cowichan to place a moratorium on development and feel I wish to add my comments in the aftermath of the recent controversy.
I have worked in the Cowichan Valley since 2013 and have extensive experience in the City of Vancouver as an engineer in design and construction. I recently moved from Maple Bay area into the town of Youbou.
In assessing the need for a moratorium on development the first question should be: “What is the real problem?” The fundamental issue may not be with development itself but with how development is taking place. We all recognize the pressures created by expansion of population and as a result of the need for affordability of housing in areas such as Vancouver and Victoria. There are inevitably moves away from expensive centres into areas like ours — simply due to lower prices. However, of late we have been seeing clear-cutting of large sections of land to the detriment of the character of the neighbourhoods. This is occurring in Maple Bay and is also evident in Youbou. Large sections of land are being sold off and this inevitably changes the character of the landscape.
We have been lucky to have some of the most beautiful country drives. One of these is certainly the drive to Maple Bay via Maple Bay Road or via Herd Road to Maple Bay.
Pressure from development in Maple Bay is generally not a huge problem as residential single-family housing can be accommodated with relatively moderate impact on the area. Increased clear-cutting of lands for multi-family developments is however, a problem. It is no coincidence that a major issue with the development of the golf course clear cutting the site in advance of design and construction without approvals fully in place, led to even more intensive development of the denuded site. Subsequent developments have exacerbated deforestation and may be contributing to environmental risks as well as compromising the very rural character that attracts people to Maple Bay.
It is clear that intensive residential developments are not desirable in these areas and lead to unanticipated traffic snarls and congestion, inconsistent with the available infrastructure and the rural character they are ostensibly trying to improve.
The essential character of our rural areas is the pastoral setting, views and trees. The very air is better along these routes. The drives themselves are a tourist attraction and are what bring visitors to the Cowichan Valley. Development can be sensitive in order to preserve character. We do not have to level all the trees on these sites. Why cannot we preserve at least some trees along these routes to maintain the essential aspects of nature? Why, in fact, do we really need high density where such development is incongruous and detrimental to what we hold dear? Clear-cutting seems to occur in order to ensure that there is sufficient drive-by interest in selling such homes; however, most that are buying want the setting and are willing to pay for it. Good developments demand good site planning as well as aesthetic building design and good quality construction.
Recent clear-cutting along Highway 1 north of the Highway 18 cut-off are disgraceful and send an awful message to our visitors. Also, who indeed approved the storage of compacted cars overlooking the Malahat south of Mill Bay? Someone is not reviewing the drawings properly, otherwise it would be obvious that this is a hazard and obtrusive. Blatant violations of the planning principles set out by local government require enforcement action.
In Youbou and Lake Cowichan we are seeing the wholesale sell-off of lands along the Highway 18 corridor. Recent developments, although small in scale, have been poorly designed with inadequate setbacks and character that is simply incompatible with the visual appeal that brings visitors here.
To rectify this we need to do several things.
Re-assess the kind of development that is appropriate in the context of our country drives.
Bring in protective measures to maximise the preservation of trees and screen highways from residential neighbourhoods.
Preserve pastoral settings as vital elements of our economic future.
Think about what the health of these commnuities needs. The future of Maple Bay and the Highway 18 corridor does not need to sacrifice its country feel. It needs trees. The future is tourism and this detrimental clear-cutting is not consistent with the area’s future tourism potential.
Invest in preservation of our villages to enhance the area.
The ‘village’ feel of many of these areas relies on sensitive development rather than uncontrolled expansion.
Administer proposals carefully to ensure that we selectively eliminate inappropriate proposals that are spill-over from over densified areas such as Langford.
Be prepared to enforce regulations/bylaws and take remedial action where required.
We have the benefit of some of the finest country on Vancouver Island. The reckless levelling of our forested lands does not need to be. We can control unfettered development and ensure that we preserve our communities through good design and administration of the processes. That approach benefits us all.
Let’s get this right before it’s too late.
John T. Ivison