Regional District again rejects 3L Developments, amending regional growth strategy

Nov 16, 2020 | Government, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Regional District today rejected for a second time the Riverwood housing development.

3L Developments Inc. had applied in 2017 to the regional district board and again in May of this year to the regional district’s Electoral Areas Services Commission to support amending the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS).

The company wants to develop about 500 acres in a triangle between the Browns and Puntledge rivers, but that isn’t allowed under the RGS. Their previous application was rejected by the regional district board in 2018.

But after vetting the current proposal with Comox Valley local governments, agencies and First Nations over the summer, the commission voted 2-1 to accept the regional district staff recommendation and refuse this new request.

The commission had referred the proposal to Comox Valley agencies, First Nations and the Courtenay, Cumberland and Comox municipalities for feedback. None of them responded in support of the proposal.

After a lengthy discussion that was at times testy, Commission members Daniel Arbour (Area A director) and Arzeena Hamir (Area B director) voted in favour of Arbour’s motion to refuse the request. Edwin Grieve (Area C director) voted against it.

Earlier in the meeting, Rob Buchan, a retired municipal planner representing 3L Developments, warned that the ownership group led by Dave Dutcyvich would pursue other interests on the property, including logging and gravel extraction.

Buchan presented the commission with a revised version of the proposed Riverwood development that moved the residential lots south of the Puntledge River and included space allotted for a Farmer’s Market and an ‘agriplex.’

He argued that because the local governments and agencies were referred the first version of their 2020 Riverwood proposal, but had not seen their revised version, that the referral feedback was invalid.

And he said that any feedback would only be valid if it was based on the merits of amending the RGS rather than focused “on some general concept” of the Riverwood plan.

Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager for planning and protective services, said she was confident that local government planning directors and Chief Administration Officers understood the referral process and that they knew what they were looking at and why.

Arbour said the revised proposal felt a little like a “bait and switch” ploy by the company.

“There was an extensive public process in 2017-2018 that resulted in rejection. I expected this second kick at the can would have addressed those concerns with your best foot forward,” he said to Buchan.

3L Developments Inc. wants their property designated at a “settlement node” under the RGS that would allow denser subdivision.

But Arbour pointed out the company could apply to the City of Courtenay to expand its boundaries to include Riverwood, or to support an RGS amendment application to the regional district board.

 

TENSION AMONG DIRECTORS

Grieve, who chairs the commission, at times, invoked Biblical references and at other times seemed to chide the other directors for having “little mindsets.”

Grieve was enthusiastic during the meeting about working with 3L Developments to find a compromise that would add new parkland to the regional district’s portfolio. And making a deal would missout on a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

“it’s all about the parkland,” he said. “It’s sad to see our natural jewels disappear.”

“Beseeching” Directors Hamir and Arbour to refer the 3L request to the full regional district board to consider initiating the amendment process, Grieve questioned the RGS sacred status.

“The RGS isn’t some chapter out of the Bible. It wasn’t handed down from the top of Mt. Washington,” he said. “It isn’t written in stone.”

He urged Hamir and Arbour to look at the “bigger picture” of gaining parkland and saving access to Stotan Falls, the popular summer swimming spot.

“We’ve got to get out of our little mindsets,” he said.

Hamir took exception to that comment, which she interpreted as Grieve calling her and Arbour small-minded.

 

WHAT THE REFERRALS SAID

None of the feedback sought by the Electoral Area Services Commission supported the application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy.

Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and K’omoks First Nation all recommended denying 3L Developments proposal. Other agencies such as the Vancouver Island Health and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure raised numerous concerns about the Riverwood development.

Cumberland and Courtenay recommended rejecting the proposal because it is inconsistent with the Regional Growth Strategy. Comox agreed, but added that the Town Council was interested “in a process which would return Stotan Falls to public access and use.”

K’omoks First Nations said the “application is located within the K’omoks statement of intent area; it is the interest of the K’omoks Nation to respectfully maintain our rights and access to the lands and resources throughout our territory.”

The Ministry of Transportation raised concerns about having a stormwater management plan, a geotechnical hazard assessment and confirmation of potable water and sewage disposal for each lot. They also raised the issue of dedicating the private logging road that bisects the property as a public road.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority had numerous concerns and recommendations. High on that list was that 3L Developments prove there is a sustainable water source on the property sufficient to meet the needs of the full development.

They also noted that Riverwood would be a car-dependent area that would never be walkable.

“We encourage the CVRD to consider this impact, contain urban sprawl and create complete, livable communities in line with Object 1A of the Regional Growth Strategy which states, local housing close to existing services,” VIHA wrote.

Other feedback included a comment from the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness on the 3L Developments claim that Riverwood would provide affordable housing. The coalition rejected that claim.

“The interests of the coalition are unaffected as the issues of affordable and non-market housing do not appear to be addressed by the 3L proposal,” they wrote.

 

HOW WE GOT HERE

3L Developments Inc. purchased the approximately 500-acre property in 2007 and quickly logged portions of the site. In the same year, the company also proposed to develop a self-contained community to be called Riverwood.

At the time, the regional district was conducting a community-wide process to develop the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) that was adopted as Bylaw 120 in 2010.

The regional district board originally rejected the Riverwood proposal but reconsidered it in 2018 as an application to amend the RGS at the direction of the BC Supreme Court. The regional district rejected the proposal for a second time because it was inconsistent with the RGS. 3L Developments then started another legal action to overturn that decision, but it was unsuccessful in the courts.

The regional district then amended the RGS itself to restrict who could propose amendments to the RGS. Previously, the Comox Valley Regional District was the only one in the province that allowed private parties to apply for RGS amendments.

Now only a member municipality, the Electoral Area Services Commission or the full CVRD board can request an RGS amendment and they can do so on behalf of an external agency or private party.

In May of this year, 3L Developments tried again to get approval for Riverwood by asking the Electoral Areas Services Commission to support an amendment application and refer it to the full regional district board.

The Electoral Area Services Commission voted to seek feedback from other municipalities, external agencies and First Nations before making a decision.

After receiving feedback on the application and sharing it with 3L Developments, the CVRD staff report says the developers revised their application to eliminate commercial areas, increase residential units and add areas identified as “Farmers Market” and “Agriplex.”

 

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