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.
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.”