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.”
Judi Murakami wants City Council to focus on senior women’s poverty, arts and culture, revitalization and removing blight and protecting green spaces. Plus, she’s prepared to put in the time to make important decisions
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated for the correct spelling of Judi Murakami’s name
Judi Murakami wants to use her education and professional experience to help the Courtenay City Council coalesce around some common goals, something she believes they desperately need to do.
She decided to run for office in January, after meeting with Mayor Larry Jangula, who she says told her the council was not working well together.
That shows up, she says, in the failure of the city’s strategic plan to even mention schools and education, green spaces and arts and culture, and is short on specifics.
“For example, the plan talks about growing the economy, but how?” she told Decafnation. “It doesn’t say.”
FURTHER READING: Read about other Comox Valley candidates
Since moving to the Comox Valley 10 years ago, Murakami has been a tireless volunteer, including a seven-year stint hosting the local cable TV program, Comox Valley Stories.
She has a masters degree in applied behavioral sciences with a focus on organizational development, and worked as a safety advisor for the Vancouver Island Health Authority training staff how to better manage aggressive behaviors.
Before retiring, she also did quality assurance work with the BC Ministry of Health.
Murakami thinks that knowledge and experience will benefit the city by helping the council focus on its four most important issues.
At the top of her list is senior women’s poverty.
“Rising house prices in Vancouver and Victoria have moved up island,” she said. “We don’t have any affordable housing for low-income seniors, particularly women.”
She points to the three-year wait for a vacancy at Kiwanis Village as a symptom of the problem.
Next, Murakami would make arts and culture an economic pillar of the city.
“The city should create a budget for arts and culture, not make these organizations come cap in hand every year for funding,” she said.
She believes the city could do more to market Music Fest, CYMC, the art gallery and The Sid. She envisions maps with walking tours, and more city-sponsored events to promote the arts.
Murakami wants the city to take more aggressive action to revitalize its core areas.
She specifically refers to the vacant lot at England and Cliffe, the site of the old Palace Theatre, which has sat empty for years.
“It’s an eyesore in the heart of downtown,” she says. “The private owners are not being incentivized to do anything … they’re not being fined or taxed enough to get moving.”
She wants to identify that site and other blighted areas and encourage property owners to speed up improvements.
Finally, Murakami wants the city to better protect and enhance green spaces.
She applauds the city for forgiving taxes on the Kus-kus-sum site while Project Watershed raising the funds to purchase the property.
“But waiving property taxes for two years isn’t enough,” she said. “Council should get on board and approve a sizable grant for the project.”
Murakami believes the Comox Valley is a “charity driven” community.
“People consciously go out of their way to attend events and support local causes,” she said, noting that the Valley is one of few communities to support a YANA (you are not alone) organization to help families that must travel to access medical treatment for children.
Murakami says there’s another important reason why voters should choose her on Oct. 20: She’s got the energy, qualifications, time and commitment to serve on City Council.
“I won’t just show up to meetings,” she said. “I’m prepared to put in the time to read and understand the reports and issues that come before council, and ready to make important decisions.”
Murakami sees the role of a councillor as a two-way street.
“It’s a dialogue with people to understand their concerns,” she said. “I’m always learning from people.”
FURTHER READING: Visit Judi Murakami’s Facebook page
Working in an Alberta ministry office taught City Council candidate Deana Simpkin that it’s easier to get things done from the inside. She wants to densify and revitalize downtown, meet growth head-on and keep taxes in check
EDITOR’S NOTE: his post was updated on July 5 to correct that 16 (not 19) additional staff were hired and one staff was reclassified.
Having spent 20 years advocating for the developmentally disabled and also several years in the Alberta Minister of Culture’s office, Courtenay council candidate Deana Simpkin learned that it’s easier to get things done from the inside.
While she’s proud of her advocacy work, she had a greater impact on developmentally disabled children like her daughter, and their families, while working for MLA Lindsay Blackett. Simpkin helped change the system to smooth the transition when a DD child turns 18.
Despite that provincial-level accomplishment, Simpkin says she’s always been more interested in municipal politics. And now, after eight years in the community, she’s ready to get involved.
Simpkin and her family moved to the Comox Valley from Calgary in 2010 to be closer to her parents, who made a stop at CFB Comox in the 1950s and retired here in 1990. She and her husband bought the former Billy D’s restaurant on Fifth Street and rebranded it last September as the High Tide Public House and seafood restaurant.
She’s been active in the community ever since, serving as president of the Courtenay Rotary Club, the Downtown Business Improvement Association and currently as vice-president of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.
“I think I’ve earned my stripes,” she told Decafnation. “And along the way I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about Courtenay.”
INTERESTING FACT: Simpkin’s name is pronounced “dean-ah” not “dee-anna.” She’s named after Dean Martin, her mother’s (a singer) favorite performer.
She hopes to help densify and revitalize the downtown core and to steer the city toward proactive measures to deal with its inevitable growth and housing issues.
And she wants to use her accounting diploma and business experience to “keep taxes in check.”
“A lot of people are worried, both business and residential,” she said. “There’s no big industry in the Valley paying for infrastructure.”
She points to the recent hiring of 16 additional city staff and one reclassification at a cost of about $2 million as an example.
“What are those people doing? If they’re not doing anything, then that’s a concern,” she said. “And where is the money coming from? I heard they’re taking it from a reserve.”
Simpkin said once she’s elected and get answers to those questions, “then maybe it will all make sense.”
But she thinks the council and staff haven’t done enough to convince her and others that the hires were necessary.
“I feel like council needs to give more direction to staff and communicate better with the public,” she said. “A lot of people think staff are running council.”
She says she is not a member of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Association.
Simpkin also hopes to spur a revitalization of the downtown area by encouraging more people to live in and around the core. Young people, single people and young couples want to live close, she says, and more downtown housing would help businesses expand and improve.
She says there is no way to achieve that or to create affordable housing generally without decreasing development costs. She envisions property tax breaks and other incentives to encourage developers to build more affordable houses.
“It’s a big ugly circle,” she said. “If there’s no incentives or lower development costs, then all those extra costs go down to the consumer. The builder can’t lose money.”
Simpkin says Campbell River recently offered a long-term tax break for builders of new homes.
Simpkin says she can work well with the other people on council, although four seats are open. And she’s staying out of endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race “… for now.”
The recent paddle board convert believes she can make a positive difference by working within the City Council.
FURTHER READING: Interviews with other candidates on our politics page.
PHOTO: 21st Street is in the middle at the bottom, with the car lot on the right side. It crosses Cliffe Avenue and dead-ends at the Courtenay Airpark boundary. Dave Bazett photo
A proposed new bridge would kill the Courtenay Airpark, walkway, Hollyhock Marsh, undermine Kus-kus-sum and add another signal light on Comox Road. So why is the City of Courtenay promoting it? Even mayoralty candidates aren’t sure
The City of Courtenay has floated a proposal to build a third crossing of the Courtenay River at 21st Street to alleviate traffic congestion at the 17th Street and Fifth Street bridges.
The proposal, which is part of a study for the city’s required update of their 2014 Master Transportation Plan, would wipe out the Courtenay Airpark, part of the Airpark walkway, destroy the estuary’s last remaining intact ecosystem at Hollyhock Marsh, undermine the Kus-kus-sum rehabilitation project and create another major signaled intersection on Comox Road at a point that regularly floods during winter storms.
Not to mention that Hollyhock Marsh is protected crown land and is an area under claim by the K’omoks First Nation.
It’s an idea that has left many people shaking their heads.
“I thought it was an April Fools Day joke,” said Dave Bazett, a land surveyor whose office is in the proposal’s path and who owns two aircraft hangared at the airpark.
Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen said the study appears to have been done by someone who doesn’t know anything about the area.
“And, who employs someone to pursue an idea that’s not feasible?” he said.
Bazett pointed his finger at the city, which defined the scope of the transportation plan update for the consultant, including a bridge south of 17th Street and the idea that the airpark and the marsh were expendable.
Even the three announced candidates for Courtenay mayor tried to distance themselves from the proposal.
David Frisch emphasized that the proposal is not a plan, just some consultant’s idea. He said there are more environmentally friendly options.
Bob Wells said he didn’t know how a third crossing got in the plan. He thinks its an option the consultant picked up from previous studies, before Kus-kus-sum became a community project.
Erik Eriksson wondered how many millions of dollars per minute of wait time at the existing bridge intersections the public is willing to pay for. A new crossing would cost tens of millions of dollars.
“So we’re not going to see another bridge in my lifetime,” Eriksson said.
The city has undertaken a required four-year update to its 2014 Master Transportation Plan. It held an open house in March and another in mid-June, and is conducting an online survey.
The study and community feedback will be presented to the Courtenay City Council over the summer. Council members will decide what parts of the study get costed out and eventually make it into the 2018 Master Transportation Plan.
Take the survey here
FURTHER READING: See the study’s open house display boards; The city’s Master Transportation Plan webpage
The 2014 plan also examined options for a third crossing. It rejected crossings at 19th and 26th streets, and suggested Eighth or 11th streets for new bridges. The city eventually costed out an 11th Street bridge at around $35 million, and later dropped the idea.
But traffic congestion at the 17th Street east intersection and at the Fifth Street east intersection has worsened as the Comox Valley has grown. But is it unbearable?
Wait times at the bridges may pale now in comparison to the Langford Crawl in Victoria or to numerous choke points in Vancouver, but without an acceptable long-term solution, motorists’ frustration will magnify.
Why 21st Street won’t fly
Bowen, a former BC Ministry of Highways employee in the Comox Valley, said the third crossing proposal and other proposals in the study to build new roads across the Courtenay Flats farmland “fly in the face” of everything Project Watershed has been trying to achieve.
“We’ve been working on projects over the past 20 years to preserve and protect the remaining flora and fauna habitat along the river and K’omoks estuary,” he said. “This proposal has no regard for the estuary. It’s single-minded and not well-informed.”
Local citizens fought Crown Zellerbach from filling in the marsh back in the 1960s and battled them and the provincial government to save the pristine ecosystem, which is unique in the Comox Valley.
Hollyhock Marsh is the model for Kus-kus-sum, a project to restore of the old Fields sawmill site, and the marsh is it’s connection back to the estuary.
“It’s a non-starter for us (Project Watershed,” Bowen said. “And I would expect for K’omoks First Nation, too.”
Decafnation was unable to reach K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel for this story.
Bazett, a pilot who uses aircrafts in his land surveying business, considers the 21st Street crossing a “purposeful attack” on the Courtenay Airpark.
Bazett says the city has tried to shut down the airport before and neither the mayor or council members have been supportive.
“This crossing was concocted as an excuse to eliminate the airpark,” he said. “The study didn’t even consider air transportation.”
He doesn’t think the city realizes the economic impact and importance of the airport. It brings pilots and passengers to town and the RCMP and MediVac helicopters use the facility regularly.
“It’s a precious jewel,” he said. “There are few private airparks in the province for both float and land aircraft, and within walking distance of town.”
Bowen said his experience working with the highways ministry taught him there are better options to improve traffic flow.
The primary problem is that there are two northbound lanes of traffic approaching the bridge from the south on Cliffe Avenue and two lanes on the bridge. But whether you turn north or south, you have to merge down to one lane.
It’s the same approaching the bridge from the north on the Island Highway bypass, which is two lanes at Superstore, but merges down to one lane at the bridge.
Bowen believes there should be four lanes of traffic approaching the 17th Street bridge, across the bridge and then all the way to the Shell gas station at the old Island Highway and also part way toward Comox.
The long-term solution, he said, is to twin the 17th Street bridge. The highways ministry purchased extra land on the north side of 17th Street east of Cliffe Avenue to anticipate a widened bridge. That land looks like a park with cherry trees.
The ministry also designed the bypass for four lanes, which is why the shoulders are extra wide through the S-turns.
Bowen agree with Erik Eriksson about also widening the Fifth Street bridge and making it four lanes from the Shell gas station at the bottom of Mission Hill all the way to Cliffe Avenue.
An election issue?
City Councillor Eriksson says the study is flawed in another important way: it only considers Courtenay boundaries.
“Any traffic study has to be regional,” he said. “And Comox people should help pay for any traffic improvements.”
Councillor Frisch wouldn’t rule out a third crossing forever, but he said “city taxpayers are not going to pay $20 million to $30 million for a new bridge.”
The question for him is where to spend the city’s limited funds.
“If we spend it on a bridge now, what’s the lost opportunity to support walkability, cycling, transit and other things,” he said.
City Council candidate Melanie McCollum said the cost of building a bridge across a estuary seems potentially prohibitively high.
“It’s very sensitive habitat. It would also mean building into sediment, which liquefies in an earthquake,” she said. “Of course this is not my area of specialty, but from what I know, building a bridge in an earthquake zone on sediment will incur some very expensive geoengineering.”
McCollum would also like to know if the plan for this bridge had taken into account sea level rise expected in the next 50 to 70 years.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula did not respond to our questions.