George Le Masurier photo

The Week: COVID in the Valley, future of 3L property and a possible Grieve connection

Nov 20, 2020 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re thinking about COVID in the Comox Valley, vaccines and an Island bubble. But we haven’t forgotten about 3L Developments and the Economic Development Society or how Area C Director Edwin Grieve weaves a common thread between those two controversial issues. Plus we’re having a random thought about religious zealots

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry delivered a sobering report yesterday along with new orders restricting travel and social gatherings and making it mandatory to wear masks in all public and retail indoor spaces.

Henry was reacting to the sharp rise in new COVID infections across the province, which has occurred primarily because people have let down their guard. It’s evident right here in the Comox Valley.

Before these news orders, if you walked into any local store, big or small, you could have been surrounded by people without masks. If you had peeked inside any gym or recreation centre, you might have seen people huffing and puffing without masks, sometimes where spin bikes were located in common areas.

And, good heavens, what was Comox Valley Economic Development Officer John Watson thinking when he planned a three-day Seafood Festival for last weekend? Bringing in chefs from the Lower Mainland and Ontario?

Thank goodness the North Island medical health officer stepped in and the saner minds of local hoteliers helped kill that reckless plan.

 

Now that the Comox Valley Regional District has rejected the idea of amending the Regional Growth Strategy — for a third time* — what will become of the 500 acres in the Puntledge Triangle that encompasses Stotan Falls? There are many possibilities.

The first option is, of course, the possibility that 3L could develop the property according to its current RU-20 zoning, which it is free to do. But a 50-acre minimum lot size won’t have wide market appeal.

Another option, one that many people fear, is that 3L will log the property and turn it into a gravel pit.

Owner Dave Dutcyvich has threatened to do this if the CVRD refuses to amend the Regional Growth Strategy to permit a high density subdivision. And he would presumably continue to deny public access to Stotan Falls and withdraw his offer of parkland.

But it’s dubious whether there is enough gravel in the ground to make such an endeavour feasible. And it wouldn’t be the first time the property has been logged.

Supporters of the company’s plan argue that maintaining access to a swimming hole used a few months of the year and the acquisition of another regional park are worth the price of giving in to 3L.

3L’s opponents and others disagree. They believe that undermining the crux of the Regional Growth Strategy would open up the floodgates for a line-up of developers just waiting for the precedent that might return us to the good old days of uncontrolled growth on less expensive rural land.

They think it’s more important to save the principle of urban containment that is embodied in the RGS.

However, 3L has more options. After a one-year waiting period, the company could try to find another local jurisdiction willing to support the idea of amending the Regional Growth Strategy. The Town of Comox, perhaps. Or the City of Courtenay.

3L could also try to convince the City of Courtenay to annex the portion of the property south of the Puntledge River. This area is closer to the city’s current boundaries and was identified by 3L — in an after-the-fact revision of their latest application — as a potential site for its Riverwood development.

But that option faces its own difficulties. While the property is identified as a future settlement expansion area, the city could not annex any piece of it without providing satisfactory servicing. Convincing the Courtenay Council to take on more long-term infrastructure debt to extend water and sewer lines seems like a long-shot.

3L probably made a mistake by not putting their revised version on the table first. It might have gotten a better reception, though not necessarily a favourable one. But flaunting essentially the same old plan that regional directors had previously rejected wasn’t a winning strategy.

 

In an interesting twist to this story, it was Area C Director Edwin Grieve who split with his two colleagues on the Electoral Areas Services Commission and opposed the rejection of 3L’s application.

Grieve previously opposed the company’s original application two years ago, so why would he support the application now? Especially after 3L made trouble for him over an incident they could never prove?

Grieve says it’s because he, like many others, wants the CVRD to acquire more parkland, which 3L tantalizingly dangles as a possibility, and that he want the public to always have access to Stotan Falls.

But it is curious that the company’s last-minute-but-too-late development plan revision included space for an “agriplex.” Grieve has been a champion of the original “agriplex” idea — Read: convention centre — on ALR land at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.

The non-profit entity that manages the exhibition grounds had proposed a small facility that would actually benefit the local agricultural industry. But then, a few people with special interests jumped on (stomped on?) that plan and repackaged it as a big arena for monster truck shows and country music concerts.

Given the current CVRD board, building an arena on ALR land in a flood plain probably wasn’t going anywhere. So, was 3L throwing out an enticement for Grieve to argue for consideration of the company’s revised plan? Or, was it just a coincidence?

 

But why would an “agriplex” appeal to Grieve? It could be tied to Grieve’s staunch support of the CV Economic Development Society even though Area C receives few if any direct benefits from the society’s activities.

Before Grieve was elected, Area C was represented on the regional board by Barry Minaker. And Minaker had the radical thought nearly a decade ago that his constituents — Area C taxpayers — weren’t getting their money’s worth from the Economic Development Society.

So Minaker floated the idea of withdrawing Area C from the service, as Hornby and Denman islands and Cumberland have done. But some other local interests didn’t want to see this happen and they helped Grieve challenge Minaker at the ballot box.

As it turns out, some of those same interests are also behind the push for an “agriplex.” There’s nothing nefarious about that. But it is an interesting connection.

— When do you know that a person has really cracked up? Just wondering, because this week American televangelist Pat Robertson prayed publicly for Satan to stop making people believe Joe Biden won the election. On the other hand, maybe this is just the average intelligence level of people who voted for Trump.

 

* The CVRD rejected 3L Development’ first application to amend the RGS, but were told by the courts to reconsider. They did and rejected it again. Now, the regional district has rejected the company’s application for a third time.

 

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