CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls
BREAKING: In another surprising twist to the 3L Developments proposal for Stotan Falls, the July 17 Committee of the Whole vote that defeated a motion to consider the issue via the minor amendment process has been overturned. The motion has now passed on a 5-3 simple majority, and it will be recommended to the entire Comox Valley Regional District board later this month that the 3L application for an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy be considered by the minor amendment process. When the full board votes, however, a two-thirds majority will be required.
Here is a statement from the CVRD legislative services team:
“In preparing the minutes for yesterday’s (July 17) Committee of the Whole meeting, Regional District staff considered the issue of whether the Committee’s vote on the process for proceeding with the amendment to the RGS proposed by 3L Development required a two-thirds majority or a simple majority vote for the Committee to recommend to the Board that it proceed as a minor amendment. Having reviewed the Regional District’s Procedure Bylaw, the RGS, and the applicable statutes, staff are of the view that there is an arguable issue as to the required vote. In the circumstances, and as the RGS makes clear that the determination of whether an amendment is a minor amendment must be made by the Board, staff have concluded that it is fair and reasonable to resolve the issue in favour of the applicant and have prepared the Minutes to reflect that the motion to proceed with the amendment as a minor amendment was carried on a simple majority vote of 5 to 3. By doing so, the matter will properly be on the agenda for the upcoming Board meeting and the Board will be in a position to fulfill its duty to determine, if the amendment is initiated, on a two-thirds majority basis whether the amendment will proceed as a minor amendment or, in default, as a standard amendment”
The original story follows …
Editor’s note: this article was amended July 23 to provide context for a quote by David Dutcyvich
For Comox Valley Regional District directors Bob Wells and Rod Nichol, expediency justifies circumventing a requirement of the board’s own Regional Growth Strategy.
Wells and Nichol were two of five directors to vote July 17 in favor of considering a proposal by 3L Developments to change the RGS as a minor amendment, rather than through the standard amendment process.
The two directors joined Larry Jangula, Ken Grant and Bruce Jolliffe to support a motion to proceed via the minor amendment process.
Erik Eriksson, Curtis Scoville and Barbara Price voted against the motion.
It was the second time for directors to vote on the issue. On July 10, they defeated the motion with only Grant and Jangula supporting it.
But the board had voted at that time after hearing incorrect information that a future unanimous vote in the minor amendment process would be required for the proposal to pass first reading. In fact, only a majority vote would be required at first reading.
So when the board’s Committee of the Whole reconvened a week later, on July 17, and voted again after discussing the corrected information and another hour of debate on the matter.
What’s surprising about the vote is that the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy clearly states the criteria that a proposed amendment must meet in order to be considered through the minor amendment process.
Area B Director Nichol asked CVRD staff to display section 5.2.3(a) of the RGS, which refers to the “criteria under which a proposed amendment to the RGS may be considered a minor amendment:”
It can be minor, if it is not regionally significant, contributes to the goals and objectives of the RGS, contributes to achieving the general principles in the RGS, and is not directly related to enabling a specific proposed development.
Nichol then went through each criterion and explained why, in his opinion, the 3L proposal did not meet any of them. But he voted in favor anyway.
Wells expressed similar difficulty with the criteria.
After the meeting Wells told Decafnation that he voted in favor of the minor amendment process anyway because he was satisfied the board “could still get a fulsome and meaningful” review of the 3L proposal “equivalent to the standard amendment” process.
Wells said his concern was the timeline for responses from other governments required under the standard amendment process, which “from my experience can be significant, and it seemed very unclear there would be any benefit.”
Nichol said the board has “inherited an issue that should have been decided a long time ago.”
“Yes, it did not meet all the requirements, but I firmly believe we can come up with a decision that conforms with the wishes of the people.”
Director Eriksson, who opposed the minor amendment process, said the 3L Developments proposal for 740 houses at Stotan Falls is a significant change to the Regional Growth Strategy.
“I’ve been critical of the RGS in the past,” he said. “But it reflects the aspirations of the public.”
The mayors of each municipality and the electoral area directors signed a protocol on “managing growth in the Comox Valley” in September of 2006. That lead to the development of the RGS, which was adopted in March 2011.
The Regional Growth Strategy is the culmination of considerable public input, negotiation among elected officials and feedback from local government staff through the board’s Technical Advisory and Steering committees.
But five directors, including Wells and Nichol, ignored that work for the sake of moving along consideration of the 3L Developments proposal a little bit quicker.
And 3L Developments has been trying to get CVRD approval for a long time.
It has been 11 years since 3L Development founder Dave Dutcyvich originally proposed to build a self-contained riverfront community on 550 acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers, north of Courtenay.
His company has offered to donate 260 acres for a public park that includes access to the popular swimming area known as Stotan Falls.
3L spokesman Kabel Atwall said they have grown weary of the delays that have prevented them from going ahead with their project. Atwall said consulting other regional districts, as a standard amendment process requires, could “spin the whole process out of control.”
Dutcyvich also spoke to the board prior to its vote on July 17.
“There’s a lot of money tied up (in the project), and it has to come to an end some time,” he said. “To quote the mayor of Ottawa, ‘I don’t want the red tape, I want the red carpet’.”
The former St. Joseph’s Hospital is being called back into action. Some patients in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital, who are waiting for residential care beds, will move to St. Joseph’s to alleviate the new facility’s chronic overcapacity
Eleven months after the new Comox Valley Hospital opened, the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) will finally unburden its staff from chronic overcapacity.
And it will give Comox Valley family caregivers some extra opportunity for relief with three additional respite care beds.
VIHA has contracted with St. Joseph’s to open 21 residential care beds in the former acute care hospital site at the top of Comox hill. The beds will be available in September.
And the health authority said they will also convert space on the new hospital’s fourth floor, which was reserved for expansion, into a 17-bed residential care unit for mostly elderly patients who need an alternate level of care.
Norm Peters, Executive Director, Surgery, End of Life Care & Residential Care at Island Health told Decafnation that “By moving (ALC patients) to St. Joseph’s, it opens up acute care beds at the hospital for people who require acute care.”
Almost every day since the new hospital opened with 129 acute care beds, it has been dramatically overcapacity. The number of admitted patients has soared to 178 on occasion, nearly 50 percent higher than planned.
That has stressed workers at the hospital, which was budgeted for 129 patients.
FURTHER READING: Record 178 patients at CVH; Flawed planning at root of hospital’s problems
Most of the overcapacity has been due to patients in more expensive acute care beds who are waiting to transition to long-term care facilities. But the Comox Valley has had a dearth of long-term care beds for many years, so these patients have had no option but to stay in the hospital.
In fact, those in charge of designing the new hospital never planned for any ALC patients (alternate level of care). Hospital planners naively assumed that VIHA would have provided enough beds at residential care facilities such as The Views at St. Joseph’s, Glacier View Lodge or the Seniors Village.
The new 21 beds at St. Joseph’s are temporary until VIHA opens a proposed 151 new complex care beds sometime in 2020, if they can be built that fast. Contracts for those beds, spread among multiple providers, won’t be awarded until at least Aug. 31.
Michael Aikins, administrative officer for The Views at St. Joseph’s, told Decafnation that the 21 residential care beds and the three respite beds will be located on the third floor of the former acute care hospital.
While the new beds are detached from other Views patients, they will be cared for by Views staff who will follow St. Joseph’s policies.
Aikins said The Views was in the process of hiring care aides, LPN’s, housekeepers, dietary aides and will add hours in other support areas such as maintenance, payroll. They will reinforce their casual workers in all areas.
There will be crossover opportunities to maximize The Views’ resources, but the temporary ALC unit will have dedicated staff to provide day-to-day care to the residents.
St. Joseph’s will make some modest improvements to the hospital rooms that have sat vacant for nearly a year with some fresh paint, new furnishings and improved wayfinding.
St. Joseph’s Board of Directors Chair Chris Kelsey said the board is happy to help and provide support.
FURTHER READING: Island Health press release
Ministry officials explain and justify their Sackville Road groundwater extraction decision, saying no negative effects will result. But Merville residents question the ministry’s data and remain suspicious about negative effects on their wells
EDITOR’s NOTE: This story was updated at 11 a.m. July 17
Provincial government officials who reviewed and approved a groundwater extraction license for a proposed Sackville Road water bottling operation explained their decision-making process to a packed house at the Merville Community Hall last night (July 16).
Representatives of the Nanaimo Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) used a PowerPoint presentation to convince the crowd of several hundred people that the extraction of up to 10,000 litres per day from their aquifer won’t result in any negative effects.
The crowd wasn’t buying it.
The audience listened to the presentations with few interruptions and applauded politely for each speaker.
But when the question and answer period began, the mood turned raucous, with catcalls and loud and long cheering for citizens who pressed the ministry officials to defend what was called a “ridiculous” decision.
The ministry issued a groundwater license to Christopher Scott Mackenzie and Regula Heynck, who hope to create a commercial business by selling up to 3.65 million litres of water annually.
The Comox Valley Regional District has not approved the couple’s rezoning application, which is necessary to allow such an operation on the property.
Citizens questioned whether the ministry actually has reliable data about aquifer #408, because the studies it has relied on are 18 years old, and since then accelerated population growth and climate change have altered the facts.
Other citizens called most of the presentation irrelevant because it referred to the effects of the Sackville groundwater extraction on nearby drilled wells. But according to residents, 90 percent of the wells in the area are not drilled, but shallow.
Area C CVRD Director Edwin Grieve, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and the Sackville applicants attended the presentation.
How the decision was made
Pat Lapcevic, water protection section head for the ministry’s west coast region, talked through the science behind the extraction approval.
She showed charts of the ministry’s simulations that estimate that current groundwater use in the Merville aquifer is less than 20 percent of its annual recharge, which has been stable over the last 15 years based on data from an observation well located 12 km from the Sackville site.
The aquifer is recharged — a fresh input of water — by precipitation falling on the area and by snowmelt from the Beaufort Mountains.
She said the annual recharge is 34 million metres-cubed, or 34 trillion litres. The current use is estimated at six million metres-cubed, or 18 percent.
Lapcevic said pumping out 10,000 litres per day is “expected” to drawdown water levels in the aquifer by less than three centimetres. It represents less than one percent of the annual recharge.
Daryl Slater, a resource manager in FLNRORD’s Nanaimo office, reminded the audience that his ministry does not make policy, it only implements and monitors policy made by the Ministry of Environment and the BC Legislature.
Ticking off the considerations in reviewing a groundwater license application, Slater said the ministry could find no reason to deny it. They found no negative effects on anyone’s rights or to the wells of nearby users.
Slater said his office consulted with Island Health, local governments, the Ministry of Highways, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and archeology experts.
He said they also consulted with K’omoks First Nations, but would not reveal the content of those consultations, which he called confidential.
But K’omoks First Nations has publicly opposed the water bottling operation and the issuing of a water license, and told the FLNRORD ministry so in 2017 during the consultation process.
In a strong letter to the CVRD, KFN Chief Nicole Rempel explained their opposition.
Citizens wondered what was the point of ministry consultations if both the Comox Valley Regional District and K’omoks First Nation opposed granting a water license, and the ministry approved it anyway.
Citizens contradict FLNRORD
Bunky Hall, whose shallow well is the closest to the Sackville site, challenged ministry “estimations” of the effect of drilled wells on shallow wells.
He said when the Portuguese Creek Restoration Society drilled a well to keep the stream from going dry during the summer, his 16-foot deep shallow well went dry two days later.
When a water delivery service brought him water, they asked what was going on because they had never delivered water to that area before and all of a sudden they were getting multiple requests.
Ministry officials dismissed his experience saying there probably wasn’t any connection between the two events.
Lapcevic responded that shallow wells were sensitive to climate change and maybe it wasn’t the drilled, pumping well that caused his well to go dry.
“Most of what the ministry people presented tonight is irrelevant,” Hall told Decafnation after the meeting. “About 90 percent of the wells in the vicinity (of Sackville Road) are shallow wells. They only talked about the effects on drilled wells.”
The Technical Report summarty states that “the well (WTN 111987) is on the applicant’s property and is flowing artesian at roughly 15 gpm so a pump is not required at this time.”
Neither Slater or Lapcevic explained that if a pump is unnecessary how the aquifer could be confined and not affect shallow wells.
Bruce Gibbons, a member of the Merville Water Guardians and lives on ALR land about 300 metres from the Sackville Road site, said the ministry presented more detailed information than was contained in their original Technical Report.
“It appears they did significant work after the decision was made and after the opposition to their decision arose,” he told Decafnation.
Gibbons was privy to the original Technical Report because he filed an appeal to the FLNRORD decision. The ministry has not revealed the report to anyone else.
Even MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard was unable to get a copy of the original report.
And the ministry has still not responded to a Freedom of Information request for the report filed in March by Merville Organics farmer Arzeena Hamir.
Slater told the audience he didn’t know why the FOI request hadn’t been fulfilled. He said it’s “unfortunate” it takes so long.
Another speaker challenged the ministry’s assumptions about the stability of the aquifer.
She said the climate change is causing the Comox Glacier and other nearby glaciers to melt, which could be artificially inflating the aquifer’s recharge rate and its stability.
Lapcevic said the ministry is not seeing changes so far due to climate change, but the Sackville Road decision was based on the best data at the time.
Wayne Bradley recognized the FLNRORD ministry was bound by legislation in its decision-making process, so he called on MLA Leonard to champion a political movement to amend the Water Sustainability Act.
“We need to recognize that water is a common property,” he said. “Private profit on a sale of community property is not a beneficial use.”
Leonard left the meeting without responding to Bradley, but made a statement earlier that residents “should feel assured that I have posed these questions also.”
She said the Water Sustainability Act is new, and it’s moving water rights issues in the right direction.
“It takes time,” she said. “Be active, make your concerns known.”
FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns; Ministry stalls FOI request on Merville water bottling; “Unbelievable accusations” move water bottling to public hearing
CVRD directors will vote again — this time with corrected information on their Regional Growth Strategy minor amendment process — on whether to consider 3L Developments application to amend the RGS as a minor or standard matter. It’s not as confusing as it sounds
When the Comox Valley Regional District voted last week to defeat a motion to consider an amendment proposed by 3L Developments to the Regional Growth Strategy as a “minor” process, it was acting on incorrect information.
The correct information will be presented to the CVRD’s Committee of the Whole (COW) at 4 p.m.Tuesday, July 17, and the directors will vote again on whether the 3L application should be considered a “minor” amendment.
The COW was told at its July 10 meeting that a unanimous vote was required to pass first reading of a minor amendment bylaw. And, if the vote wasn’t unanimous, then the proposed amendment would automatically proceed by the standard process.
The standard process requires more robust consultation with stakeholders and neighboring governments and therefore takes longer. A minor amendment process is streamlined without any required consultations. The board could even decide not to hold a public hearing.
But staff discovered after last week’s vote that a unanimous vote is not required.
FURTHER READING: CAO’s memo to the directors
“While section 437(3) of the Local Government Act [RSBC, c. 1, 2015] does describe such a scenario (unanimous vote), the legislation also defers to the process contained in an RGS where the minor amendment process is defined,” wrote Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson in a memo to the board.
“The Comox Valley RGS in fact defines a minor amendment process and requires that voting on such amendment bylaws would follow normal procedures (meaning a simple majority on first reading is required for approval).” Dyson said.
See minor vs major comparison chart below
The regional district is taking extra care to be precise in its procedures and voting while considering the 3L Developments application. The company has been vocal and litigious in its criticism of the CVRD’s handling of their applications.
3L Developments sued the regional district in 2015 and won an order by the BC Supreme Court, which was later upheld by an appeals court, that the CVRD should have initiated a process to consider an amendment to the RGS, and was directed to do so.
The Committee of the Whole voted last week to initiate an amendment process. It was a unanimous decision.
The COW then voted on a motion by Ken Grant and seconded by Larry Jangula to proceed via the minor amendment (shorter) process. That motion was defeated with only Grant and Jangula voting in favor.
At Tuesday’s meeting (July 17), the COW will vote again whether to proceed via a minor amendment process, after staff clarifies that no unanimous vote is required.
It seems unlikely the resolution will pass given that only Grant and Jangula appear to support the 3L Developments application.
But this time directors will be voting with the correct information, which the CVRD hopes will close any opening for another lawsuit.
3L Development founder Dave Dutcyvich wants to build an entire riverfront community on 550 acres near Stotan Falls, where the Browns and Puntledge rivers converge. It would have 740 homes and a commercial center, and be self-contained with its own water and sewage treatment systems.
The CVRD board has decided in the past that the development doesn’t comply with its Regional Growth Strategy.
The CVRD Committee of the Whole voted to consider an application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy in a way that would permit the 3L Development on the Puntledge River near Stotan Falls, but the majority votes down a motion by Ken Grant and Larry Jangula to expedite the process
The Comox Valley Regional District has voted to consider an application to amend its Regional Growth Strategy that would enable a controversial 740-house subdivision north of Courtenay.
But the CVRD board supported a staff recommendation to follow the more robust standard amendment process, rather than the expedited minor amendment process requested by the developer.
3L spokesperson Kabel Atwall said the company was only willing to move forward on the minor amendment process and claimed CVRD staff had promised that it would. That was contradicted by CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson and Manager of Planning Services Alana Mullaly.
3L Developments has tried for 11 years to develop its 550 acres situated between Browns River to the north and the Puntledge River to the south. The Inland Island Highway borders the property to the west.
It has promised to give the regional district 260 acres of its land for a park that would allow public access to the popular Stotan Falls.
The CVRD has denied 3L’s past requests for development permits because the site doesn’t fit into the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which has already identified three areas for growth outside of municipal boundaries, and all of them are far short of reaching capacity.
The existing three “settlement nodes” are Saratoga, Mt. Washington and Union Bay.
FURTHER READING: Road toll sprouts from dispute; RD loses appeal against 3L; Miscommunication in application; Riverwood
The CVRD’s original denial has triggered a series of confrontations that resulted in a lawsuit, which the regional district lost, and Area C Director Edwin Grieve being barred from future CVRD board deliberations about 3L Developments.
Taking a different tact, the developer has recently applied to have the RGS amended to permit the 3L Development, known as Riverwood.
At its July 11 Committee of the Whole meeting, the board deliberated whether to initiate a process to consider amending the RGS for Riverwood, and if it did so, whether the process should be undertaken as a minor or standard amendment.
The board voted unanimously to initiate an amendment review process.
But there was a great deal of confusion about the difference between following the minor and standard amendment process, by the directors as well as the 3L applicants.
In simple terms, a standard amendment process takes longer because it’s more robust, requiring consultations with surrounding municipalities and neighboring regional districts in Strathcona, Powell River and Nanaimo.
A minor amendment process can move along more quickly and relies entirely on CVRD directors and staff to do its own public outreach and due diligence.
Mullaly estimated that a standard amendment process could take around six months longer.
Comox Director Ken Grant made a motion to follow the minor amendment process, and Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula seconded it.
Grant and Jangula were the only directors to vote in favor of the motion, so it was defeated and, by default, the 3L Developments application for an amendment to the RGS will follow the more robust and longer standard process.
Most of the debate centered on the futility of following a minor amendment process because the B.C. provincial government built in a fail-safe to ensure that any amendment to a district’s Regional Growth Strategy would have the full support of the board.
To pass first reading of an RGS amendment, a regional district board must vote unanimously in favor of it. If just one single director votes no, then the process must restart as a standard amendment process.
Grant said that rule was unfair and made the minor amendment process useless.
It’s a flawed process, to be nice about (describing) it,” he said.
Area B Director Rod Nichol wasn’t so nice.
“It’s stupid,” he said.
But other directors saw the wisdom in giving the 3L Development proposal an extensive review, and planner Mullaly reminded the board that this stage is about their vision, “How you see regional growth unfolding in the future.”
Comox Director Barbara Price clarified that the board was not discussing the merits of the 3L application, but the appropriate process to bring those merits to the public’s attention. She was concerned that following the expedited process would set a precedent for future applications.
“The RGS amendment process is new to us and what we do now will affect our future,” she said. “I’m loathe to overturn the advice of our technical and steering committees for the only reason that we get it done before the (Oct. 20 municipal) election.”
Courtenay Director Bob Wells said the longer timeline for the standard review process gives the board and staff time to “fully contemplate the consequences of our decision.”
“The benefits of doing this properly are significantly more valuable than saving six months,” he said. “It’s worth it for the best possible outcome.”
Alternate Area C Director Curtis Scoville said he wished they could turn back the clock and start the standard review process “before all the obstacles that delayed us.”
“But this proposal deserves a robust consultation,” he said. “I encourage 3L to stay with the process.”