Battle brewing over city’s transportation master plan

Battle brewing over city’s transportation master plan

The City of Courtenay may recommend a third bridge as part of its 2018 transportation master plan, but Project Watershed will oppose any crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th Street

 

A battle is brewing over how to improve the flow of traffic through Courtenay and across the Courtenay River without destroying established businesses and key portions of the K’omoks estuary.

The fight could pit the city against Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations, business owners at the Courtenay Airpark and others over a proposed third crossing at 21st St., which would close the airpark, destroy portions of the estuary and have devastating effects on the Kus-kus-sum restoration.

The city is developing a much-needed transportation master plan that will guide City Councils over the next 20 years on where to invest in new infrastructure and how to meet the transportation needs of a growing population.

The plan is long overdue, and the failure of the city to develop such a plan in the past has limited the city’s options today to meet future transportation requirements.

Mayor Larry Jangula and some council members have downplayed a consultant’s report that recommends the 21st St. crossing as simply “a concept.” But Project Watershed and airpark business owners worry that a ho-hum attitude could result in the “concept” being enshrined in the master plan.

In a strong letter to the mayor and council, Project Watershed has said it will oppose any third crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th St.

“This route, which would go through wetlands, across agricultural lands and creeks in order to hook up with Comox Road and then eventually Macdonald Road, is ill advised in the extreme,” wrote Project Watershed Chair Paul Horgen.

“The permanent damage that would be done to sensitive ecological areas, including Hollyhock Marsh, Glen Urquhart and Mallard Creeks, as well as Dike Slough by such a project, is unacceptable. This additional crossing would also affect those that enjoy the recreational opportunities afforded by the Courtenay Airpark Lagoon trails, Horgen said in his letter.

Horgen said the city should appreciate the sensitive habitat values of the area and the importance of conserving key eco-assets.

The city is a full partner with the nonprofit and K’omoks First Nation in the restoration of the old Fields Sawmill site, known as Kus-kus-sum.

In response, Mayor Jangula seemed to indicate there was no cause for alarm.

“I understand your concerns. This was simply a report on transportation plans with suggestions on where to place a third crossing,” Jangula wrote. “The City has no plans at this time to build another bridge. The idea is conceptual.”

That provided little comfort for Project Watershed.

“Thanks for your early response Mayor Jangula. Our deep concern is that this non-viable and ill-informed Option B crossing, being a conceptual report or not, will continue to persist in future planning documents, as these things have been shown to do in the past,” Horgen responded. “Our preference would be to see it removed entirely from this process.”

How was the recommendations developed?

According to a fact sheet published by city staff, the City has explored several alternative crossings of the Courtenay River beyond the 5th Street and 17th Street bridges since 2005.

Public feedback has indicated that growth pressures on the crossings, downtown and northeast areas, as well specifically Ryan Road and Highway 19A Bypass were areas of concern.

But most of the city’s options for a third crossing have been eliminated by a “combination of previous decisions and studies along with technical review in 2018 … due to impacts and/or changes to localized conditions (including 3rd Street, 6th Street, 8th Street, 11th Street, 13th Street, 19th Street, and 20th Street).”

That left crossing alternatives at 21st Street and 29th Street, but “preliminary investigations and stakeholder meetings resulted in eliminating 29th Street from further review largely based on the reduced traffic diversion that would be expected, as well as the significant costs and high environmental impacts.”

That last statement is ironic according to Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen.

“Project Watershed has worked hard to secure the old sawmill site to restore the shoreline of the Courtenay River. The option B flies in the face of all the city’s support of the Kus Kus Sum,” Bowen has said. “The wetland salt marsh ecosystem must be kept as a unit for connectivity of plant species and fish channels.”

Morris Perry, a spokesperson for the Courtenay Airpark, says the community benefits from the facility and supports it. He points to a May 2015 poll by the Comox Valley Record in which 93.7 percent of respondents said the Airpark should stay.

“Lots of votes here and, yes, lots of retired air force families that love the airpark and the green space it provides,” Perry wrote in a comment on Decafnation. “Oh yes, and no cost to the taxpayer as its 100 percent maintained by volunteers and of course all the jobs it provides working on aircraft from companies all over North America, not just Harbour Air.”

What’s next

Courtenay city staff will present final recommendations for the transportation master plan in the fall. The current council will consider the plan, including any changes they want before final adoption.

However, future council members will decide to proceed with specific recommendations in the plan and fund them through the annual budgeting process.

FURTHER READING: City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sumProject Watershed, K’omoks First Nations to restore sawmill site

 

Expediency wins out over CVRD’s growth strategy

Expediency wins out over CVRD’s growth strategy

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’.”

 

CVRD will vote again on 3L with corrected info

CVRD will vote again on 3L with corrected info

 

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.

 

 

CVRD to consider growth strategy amendment

CVRD to consider growth strategy amendment

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.

The debate

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 has four core issues for City Council

Judi Murakami has four core issues for City Council

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

 

Deana Simpkin wants to work inside City Council

Deana Simpkin wants to work inside City Council

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.