CV governments apply for infrastructure funds to ease pandemic economic recovery

CV governments apply for infrastructure funds to ease pandemic economic recovery

Courtenay and District Museum building  |  George Le Masurier photo

CV governments apply for infrastructure funds to ease pandemic economic recovery

By George Le Masurier

All four of the Comox Valley’s local governments have applied for provincial funds designated to help BC communities recover from the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic.

The provincial government set aside $90 million to provide one-time, 100 percent funding for projects — up to $1 million each — that meet one of four objectives:

— Community economic resilience
— Destination development
— Unique heritage infrastructure
— Rural economic recovery

Projects will be chosen from the applications based on their contribution toward creating immediate new employment or re-employing laid-off workers. The projects have to begin before Dec. 31, 2021, and complete by March 31, 2023.

Decafnation asked each local government what they applied to do.

TOWN OF COMOX

Comox has applied to complete phase two of its marina enhancement plan. It hopes to receive funds for a new marine services building.

CITY OF COURTENAY

Courtenay city staff have worked with and supported the Courtenay Museum to renovate and build a new section onto the existing facility.

The city also negotiated with the provincial granting agency to get the Sixth Street bridge included. But the complexity and environmental aspects of the project could not meet the 2021 deadline for starting the construction.

VILLAGE OF CUMBERLAND

Cumberland applied to rebuild the village’s No. 2 dam, hydro generation and Unnamed Creek remediation project.

It has also applied for infrastructure development of water services on the Bevan Lands and infrastructure upgrades and improvement for Cumberland Lake Park. If the Bevan Lands project did not qualify for timing reasons, the village planned to also apply for renovations of the field house and washroom facilities at its Village Park.

In another application, Cumberland applied to the separate but related Childcare BC New Spaces Fund for up to $3 million to create new childcare spaces within the village.

COMOX VALLEY REGIONAL DISTRICT

The regional district submitted six applications, four to the federal infrastructure program and two to the province.

The federal applications include the Denman Island water treatment project, phase one of the Baynes Sound sewer extension project, a retrofit of the CV Sports Centre mezzanine area and a Shingle Spit boat launch project.

The provincial applications included expansion of the Seal Bay parking lot and the Merville Hall food hub project.

 

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3L Developments prefers to sell Riverwood land but vows to log it and extract gravel

3L Developments prefers to sell Riverwood land but vows to log it and extract gravel

Archive promotional image from 3L Developments Inc.

3L Developments prefers to sell Riverwood land but vows to log it and extract gravel

By George Le Masurier

The current spokesperson for the 3L Developments Inc. company told the Comox Valley Regional District today that “the future of the lands” is in their hands.

The spokesperson, Rob Buchan, said the company will proceed to log the property and open it up to a gravel extraction operation unless the regional district purchases the property.

The four parcels of the property have a 2020 assessed value of $4.222 million.

Buchan referred to the nearly 500 acres of land in the Puntledge Triangle — four large parcels between the Puntledge and Browns rivers — that 3L wants to subdivide into 799 housing units.

Last week, the Electoral Areas Services Commission (EASC) of the regional district rejected the company’s request to amend the Regional Growth Strategy and rezone the property for a dense subdivision. Under current zoning, the company can only subdivide 50-acre parcels. 

The EASC took their vote again in front of the full regional district board today and confirmed their rejection of 3L’s application to amend the RGS and also to direct staff to work with the company to restore public access to Stotan Falls.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve changed his vote. At last week’s EASC meeting, he voted against a motion to reject the 3L application. At today’s full board meeting, he voted in favour of rejecting 3L.

“The owner (David Dutcyvich) would prefer that the CVRD buy the lands,” Buchan said. But added that the company would proceed to the best use of the property under current zoning, which is to log and extract gravel.

No purchase price was mentioned.

Comox Director Ken Grant asked Buchan if some “middle ground” was possible.

“I’d like to say yes,” Buchan said. “But export log prices are at an all-time high, so there’s a small amount of time.”

Area C Director Edwin Grieve asked if the company had approached the City of Courtenay about annexing a portion of the property where they could develop a subdivision.

“Yes, we approached Courtenay about nine months ago,” Buchan said. “There was no appetite for annexation at the time. It’s unfortunate.”

Courtenay Director Wendy Morin wondered if there were enough high-quality gravel and timber on the land to justify logging, especially because of the riparian zones required along the river.

Buchan said he believed there was a “considerable sum of fir and cedar” trees to log and that the company had an offer from a gravel operator to buy the property earlier this year.

Morin said she was skeptical about the volume of resources and questioned whether Buchan’s information was accurate.

Regional directors also agreed to hear a presentation from Kathleen Pitt, who spoke before Buchan. She said there were only three options for the regional district: Rezone it (“in a perfect world”), buy it or stand by and watch it logged.

By not rezoning or buying the land, she said directors were “choosing” to have it logged and mined for gravel.

Courtenay Director Doug Hillian asked if Pitt was a Comox Valley resident because she gave no information about herself. But Pitt declined to answer any questions from directors.

 

WHAT IS THE ASSESSED VALUE?

If the Comox Valley Regional District pursued the purchase of the land, what price would they pay?

3L Developments has never floated a purchase price publicly and Decafnation has not been able to find public records of the price the company paid for the land in 2007.

But the assessed value of the property is public knowledge.

According to the BC Assessment office, the total 2020 assessed value of the four properties owned by 3L Developments that comprise the proposed Riverwood subdivision is $4,222,000. That represents a decline over 2019 assessed values by about $424,000.

The smallest of the four properties was the only one to increase in value while the three largest all dropped between five and 16 percent.

The largest 185-acre parcel (PID: 028-915-194) dropped from $1.642 million to $1.375 million or about 16 percent, roughly $267,000.

A 158 acre parcel (PID: 000-866-814) went down from $1.613 million to $1.411 million or about 12 percent, roughly $202,000.

The 118 acre parcel (PID: 003-922-308) fell from $563,000 to $534,000 or about five percent and roughly $29,000.

The smallest parcel of 33 acres (PID: 000-866-792) increased in assessed value from $828,000 in 2019 to $902,000 in 2020, about a nine percent jump or roughly $74,000.

There was no information on the BC Assessment website about how much 3L Developments Inc. paid for the four parcels in 2007. The website only shows last sale price information if the properties were sold within the previous three years.

This article has been updated Nov. 25 to clarify that only Electoral Areas Services Commission members voted on the 3L application and that Director Grieve changed his vote to support rejection.

 

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

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

George Le Masurier photo

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

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

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

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

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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BC Seafood Festival cancelled at last minute, two more CVEDS directors quit

BC Seafood Festival cancelled at last minute, two more CVEDS directors quit

Archive photo from the 2019 BC Seafood Festival

BC Seafood Festival cancelled at last minute, two more CVEDS directors quit

By George Le Masurier

Organizers have cancelled the BC Seafood Festival, which was scheduled to take place next weekend. Comox Valley Economic Development Society Executive Director John Watson informed his board of directors of the decision at a meeting this morning, during which two more directors resigned.

Watson gave little information about why he cancelled the event, mentioning it only as a footnote to a broader discussion about the appropriateness of tourism marketing to bring snowbirds to the Comox Valley this winter, according to sources who attended the meeting.

Decafnation has since learned that local hoteliers expressed concern about the event during a time when COVID virus cases are surging and when health authorities are recommending against unnecessary travel.

David Rooper, general manager of The Old House Hotel and Spa, told Decafnation that he had pulled his participation in the festival yesterday. He had been already advising guests who had reserved rooms for the three-day event.

Bill Kelly, general manager of Crown Isle Resort, said he had recommended that Watson cancel the event.

Earlier this week, the North Island Medical Health office had contacted the CV Economic Development Society to ensure that it was following all the public health orders and guidelines. At the time, The festival’s website was promoting ticket sales broadly and its line-up of featured chefs, many of whom were from the Lower Mainland, where travel in and out had been restricted.

That resulted in changes to the website to advertise only Vancouver Island chefs and to restate pandemic protocol such as physical distancing and mask-wearing. But it continued to promote an appearance by a world champion oyster shucker from Ontario.

The festival website was still up and offering tickets this morning. It was taken down shortly before noon today.

Watson and Board Chair Deana Simkin have not replied to requests for information and comment about the cancellation.

Courtenay Councillor Melanie McCollum said Watson’s communication concerning the event was not clear. He gave no details about the cancellation except that the hotels had recommended it. But earlier in the meeting, she said, Watson explained that the festival was scheduled because the hotels wanted it.

There was no discussion by board members about the cancellation, according to McCollum and Area B Director Arzeena Hamir. But neither were surprised.

“The board was never informed the festival was being planned, we never talked about it happening,” McCollum told Decafnation. “It was a surprise when I learned a couple of weeks ago that it was going ahead.”

Hamir said the board might have figured out it was happening by the society’s financial reports that used to be distributed at meetings. But Watson hasn’t presented any financial reports to the board in 11 months, since last February.

 

TWO MORE DIRECTORS RESIGN

During the meeting, Diane Naugler, the Dean of the Faculty of Business and Applied Studies, announced her resignation from the board. Mike Obal has also resigned via email, although his resignation wasn’t recognized during the meeting.

Five directors have resigned in recent months: Naugler, Obal, Brian Yip, Bruce Turner and Justin Rigsby. That leaves Simkin, Tony Hayes, Paul Ives, Spender Serin, Jasmin Badrin and Melinda Knox as the remaining public board members.

Five elected officials also attend board meetings in a non-voting capacity: Hamir, McCollum, Area C Director Edwin Grieve, Area A Director Daniel Arbour and Comox Mayor Russ Arnott.

 

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