An overwhelming majority of directors defeated a motion to consider an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy via the”minor process” to enable 3L Developments 740-house community near Stotan Falls. But this is still an early round in the 11-year saga
NOTE: this story was updated July 26 to report that 3L Development has decided to proceed with its request for an amendment to the RGS despite the CVRD board deciding it would only do so via the standard amendment process, and to correct the vote total as 7-3 against.
Common sense prevailed at the Comox Valley Regional District board meeting yesterday, July 24, as directors voted 7-3 to reject considering a proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy via an expedited process.
Only Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, Courtenay Councillor Mano Theos and Comox Councillor Ken Grant voted in favor. The vote required a two-thirds majority for passage, so it failed overwhelmingly.
The CVRD did, however, vote unanimously to initiate the amendment process, which 3L Developments requested as a first step in a long process to build a 740-house new community near Stotan Falls.
3L spokesperson Kabel Atwall has said repeatedly that the company would only proceed via the minor amendment process, but it announced on July 25 that it would continue with its application via the standard process, which involves consultations with neighboring regional districts as well as local governments and the public.
3L said after the meeting it would make an announcement this morning, July 25.
The two votes yesterday, were narrowly focused on whether to consider amending the RGS at all, and, if so, whether it qualified as a minor or standard process by the rules the directors themselves have written into the bylaw.
It was not a vote on the merits of the proposed development, known as Riverwood.
That point seemed to escape directors Larry Jangula and Mano Theos who argued in favor of going the minor process based on a shortage of available building lots, job creation and 3L Developments offer to donate land for a public park surrounding the popular Stotan Falls swimming area.
“Think of the jobs and housing we’ll lose if we shoot this down,” Jangula said.
Area B Director Rod Nichol, who voted against the minor process, set Jangula straight.
“We’re not here to shoot it down,” Nichol said. “We’re deciding to go minor or standard.”
Grant at least kept his comments in support of the minor process on topic.
But it wasn’t only Jangula and Theos who didn’t understand the question before the board, all seven of the pro-development speakers also argued based on housing shortages and a desire for a public park, not whether the 3L application met the minor process criteria.
Only long-time Comox Valley realtor Dale McCartney even mentioned the minor versus standard amendment process question. He dismissed the standard process because he said the decision should be made solely within the Comox Valley.
How we got here
3L Developments first proposed a new, self-contained community on 550 acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers in 2007. The CVRD rejected it while developing its Regional Growth Strategy, but was later told by the BC Supreme Court to give the proposal a fuller consideration.
Because the Riverwood community isn’t included in the Regional Growth Strategy, 3L applied to have the RGS amended.
The CVRD is the only regional district in the province to allow developers or other private parties to apply for RGS amendments. In all other regional districts, only another government entity can apply to amend the RGS.
The CVRD passed first reading of its own amendment to the RGS at yesterday’s meeting to change that element of its growth bylaw, which will bring the Comox Valley in line with the rest of British Columbia.
At two previous Committee of the Whole meetings, which are not full-board meetings, a majority of directors first rejected recommending the minor process on July 10, then voted in favor of recommending it to the full board at a second meeting on July 17.
Yesterday was the first time the full board had considered the amendment issue.
Courtenay Councillor Bob Wells, Nichol and Area A Director Bruce Jolliffe changed their votes from pro-minor on July 17 to against it yesterday and swung the majority toward a standard process.
Wells, Nichol and Jolliffe probably heard from constituents aghast at how they could ignore clearly written criteria for a minor process, none of which the 3L Development proposal meets.
Their votes also rankled Mayor Jangula, who told radio station 98.9 The Goat, that he found it “amazing” the directors would change their vote due to “I think, the psychological pressure of all the opposed people.”
Jangula reportedly said he didn’t consider that good leadership. By “that,” he seemed to refer to listening to other points of view.
Record number of delegations
At the top of yesterday’s meeting, the board agreed to hear more than its usual number of delegations, including several that had applied to speak after the deadline.
Seven of those spoke in favor of the minor process by way of supporting the Riverwood development, and the five who were opposed stayed mostly on topic.
Diana Schroeder, a 10-year Valley resident asked for clarification of the issues before the board. She asked if the question was whether to allow the development or to accept the park land. She was told no, the question is about the process.
“Oh,” she said, “because I was confused. All the previous speakers were talking about parks.”
Kabel Atwall, speaking for 3L Developments, not as a delegation, said it’s been 11 years and many confusing missteps, which concerned him because “it’s our side that has to point them out.” He said without an amendment to the RGS, 3L would not offer up land for a Stotan Falls park. He said Riverwood would address the Valley’s housing shortage. He read a letter of support from Central Builders Home Hardware.
Atwall claimed the company will make a $780 million capital investment in Riverwood. If they develop 1,000 lots, that’s an investment of $780,000 per lot before house construction and operating profit.
D. Eliason, who owns a home improvement company, said his family was “pigeon-holed to a lot in Crown Isle” when he moved here because there wasn’t anything else available. If Riverwood was available, he would have preferred it. He praised the parkland offer and asked the board to expedite the process.
Greg Hart, the managing broker of Royal LePage, said the Valley has had a critical shortage of houses on the market since 2016.
“If you want to talk affordable housing, we to talk about supply,” he said. “Because local people can’t afford them”
Hart said the Valley “needs product on the market.”
Dale McCartney said there was no such thing as urban sprawl in the Comox Valley.
Ken and Gladys Schmidt, who live near the Riverwood site, says the Stotan Falls area is a parking nightmare now, with garbage strewn around and toilet paper hanging from trees. A developed park with parking lots and sanitation would improve that.
N. Strussi, who described himself as a sportsman, offered directors a tour of the area he has roamed since he was a kid. He wondered why we have to have so much bureaucracy.
P. Walker, a retired airline pilot, complained about how the CVRD handled his own small land development project south of the Trent River. He called 3L founder David Dutcyvich “a visionary” who is handing the CVRD a complete package. He urged the board to fast track the proposal before there’s a “ferris wheel” on the property.
L. Wilson has lived in the area for 45 years and called herself an avid hunter and outdoors person. She said a park near Stotan Falls would provide sanctuary for wildlife, such as deer, that are being driven into cities by diminishing habitat.
“People love to see deer in their yards,” she said.
Diana Schroeder was the first of several speakers to address the issue before the board. She said there was no “wiggle room” in the criteria for a minor amendment to the RGS. To consider the 3L proposal via the minor process “mocks the intent of the Regional Growth Strategy.”
She raised questions about water, fire protection, public transit, compatibility with Courtenay’s Urban Forest Strategy, and other topics.
“These are questions that can only be answered by the standard amendment process,” she said. “And it should take time. The 3L proposal will change the Comox Valley forever.”
D. Bostock suggested the rural Official Community Plan offers other means of preserving land for a park at Stotan Falls. She called the Browns River watershed critical, and, with the Puntledge, provides a natural urban containment, which preserves the rural character surrounding our cities. She disputed 3L’s claims of job creation, saying they can only transfer density from other existing settlement areas, which would then lose construction jobs.
Grant Gordon said the old north Island regional district was divided into two, creating the CVRD, because Courtenay, Comox and Campbell River didn’t like north Island directors interfering with their planning. He said the compromise was the Regional Growth Strategy to sustain our rural areas. He said all the pro-3L speakers were out of order because they didn’t address the issues at hand, and he claimed the municipal directors have too much power over Area A, B and C directors.
Lisa Christianson said she opposes developments that skirt proper procedures for expediency. Since Riverwood would have a major impact on the Valley, she said there’s no way it should qualify for a minor process. She questioned a concern of some directors to get the amendment process completed by the Oct. 20 municipal elections. She was confident that new directors will be competent to deal with the issue.
Wendy Morin, who has lived her entire 55 years in the Valley, said while she’s sympathetic to the affordable housing argument, she said it’s “unfathomable” that the 3L application could fit the minor process criteria. She noted the staff report that said the current settlement areas are not close to capacity and she worried about issues such as water consumption and the city’s Urban Forest Strategy.
The CVRD will immediately notify neighboring regional districts in Nanaimo, Powell River and Strancona of an upcoming RGS amendment proposal for their comment.
CVRD staff will begin working on a consultation plan and time frame for the board to review at its August meeting.