Editor’s Note: If you missed it this morning, jump on over HERE and catch Sarah’s Winter comfort foods. They all sound delicious.
Comox Valley journalist Colleen Dane is back this afternoon with Part 2 of the SHIFT News series on the Comox Valley Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). Read Part 1 HERE. Today, she takes a look at the politics that lead to the need for an RGS, how local businesses and private organizations are getting involved and the need for participation from local residents.
Get talking. Ask questions. Tell us what you think. This is your newsroom:
My regular evening walk takes me along Arden Road — that long, straight roadway connecting Cumberland Road to Lake Trail. It’s often a dark swath of pavement, minus the lights of a few houses and the occasional streetlamp.
The strip of larger-scale residential lots so near the small ones at the bottom of the hill marks the striking difference from old-school rural to new suburban neighborhood.
It’s an in-between community, with houses 60 years old and brand spanking new. Arden is becoming a connector route that seems to be getting closer to the city core as the definition of core resets outward — yet dogs still saunter down driveways to greet you as you pass by.
As more and more people relocate to the Comox Valley, areas like this could see pressure for higher density and more housing. Keeping development compact is a guiding principle of sustainable growth.
A tight circle around housing, putting homes closer together, preserves the land around it and creates a “neighborhood” atmosphere.
But, people often come to the Valley for its open spaces – larger lots with privacy, character and practical uses for work like gardening.
It’s a tricky balance – providing enough growth restriction to not be faced with unregulated sprawl alongside enough leeway to accommodate people who come here to get away from the City.
Local residents, governing bodies and municipalities have been debating what exactly that balance is for more than a decade.
The Regional Growth Strategy is the solution being offered.
The political background for the growth strategy begins years ago when disagreements between local municipalities and rural areas were increasing as each looked at ways to accommodate the amount of people rapidly moving to the Valley.
One of the more notable disagreements was when Courtenay announced plans to take in part of Royston.
People in the area wanted sewer service and the city wouldn’t provide it outside of their boundaries, so they planned to extend them.
The provincial government doesn’t require unincorporated areas like Royston to agree to proposals like these — giving municipalities the ability to dictate these kinds of plans without requiring the area’s approval.
Residents felt threatened by the city that they saw as stomping on them rather than working with together toward a solution.
The uprising was so solid and loud that Courtenay changed their plans.
It had already shown how the negative effects of individual municipalities making sweeping planning decisions in a region where communities are closely interlinked.
With that in play, arguments arose over cross-boundary issues like water and roads. For example, if Cumberland gave the large Trilogy development approval, what would the impact be on the watersheds in Courtenay?
How much more would Courtenay have to pay for its roads if it’s neighbour grew that dramatically?
The challenge was that, using this case as an example, the approval authority rests with Cumberland — so no matter the impact around them, it would ultimately be their decision, and their decision alone.
All of this was compounded by tension on the Comox Strathcona Regional District board which represented the geographical area spanning from Fanny Bay to places like Zeballos and Kyoquot.
The range was too big, said some involved, making the business of the board inefficient.
Some directors resented that decisions affecting the Comox Valley could be voted on by representatives from places such as Gold River.
So, in July 2007, the provincial government dropped a bomb — splitting the CSRD into the Comox Valley Regional District and the Strathcona Regional District.
The news shocked nearly everyone involved, but the language of the letter from then-Community Services Minister Ida Chong was clear: sort out your issues with region-wide planning policies.
The new Comox Valley Regional District was directed to produce a Regional Growth Strategy and a Regional Water Plan. It wasn’t a request – it was a requirement.
Over the past year, RGS consultants Urban Strategies Inc., Ecoplan International Inc. and Ear to the Ground Planning have collected information about the Comox Valley to paint a picture of what is here now and what is to come.
That information helped to form a Background Paper titled Understanding Our Choices. Feedback on that paper has helped to shape the preliminary strategy that will be released next week for further public review.
Many people are actively taking part in the discussion — from individual residents through public open houses, to non-profit, business and environmental communities through consultations with the planners.
The Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has long championed strategic planning and formed their own working groups to address issues of the business community.
Their response to the early steps is very clear, with their first point being that environmental protection should be the top priority.
Start by marking areas that need protection, and then talk about the spaces that are left, they say. They suggest it be led by Nature Without Borders, a conservation strategy produced last year by the Comox Valley Land Trust – a guiding document to the RGS.
In those spaces that don’t need strict protection, the Chamber emphasizes the importance of the RGS allowing for flexibility and innovation. For example, they don’t want to see an area excluded from development potential, when there could one day be a proposal that meets high social and environmental standards.
Their priorities are the kind of feedback that the consultants are using as they draft the actual strategy. And with the draft ready for review soon, you can be sure that the Chamber and other organizations will be ready to dig in.
Looking at how the Comox Valley grows is something that many residents automatically think about as a regional priority.
Commuters don’t dismiss proposed developments in Comox even if they live in Courtenay because they know they’ll feel its effects. People in Little River understand how a development in Union Bay could affect the valley as a whole.
Policies until now though, have left each government to themselves — considering the other’s input, but ultimately making the decisions themselves. This RGS plan, is one they’ll all come up with together, approve together, and adopt under the watchful eye of the provincial government that ordered it.
Those policies will preserve farm land to protect the valley’s future food sources, it will highlight key transportation routes to make life easier and reduce greenhouse gases. It will look at where taller apartments could be allowed. It will not only protect parks, it’ll have to protect greenways and watersheds.
The plan they’re discussing could help establish what’s allowed along that road. It could also help establish the future of the road you live on, or near, or travel each day.
The community needs to be involved, so the strategy reflects what they want to see over the next 20 years.
Is it important that new growth be focused in downtowns? Are there places outside of already-developed areas that would be perfect for new building? Is it important that Arden remain a large lot haven, or is that a good place for extra doors?
It’s all those things that will be addressed through this plan.
The deadline for the RGS’s adoption is at the end of 2010 — but the consultants plan to finish their part of their work in the next few months, leaving it then on local politicians to incorporate it into their own plans as required.
Four public meetings are scheduled for next week:
- On Nov. 23, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., they be at the Cumberland Cultural Centre
- On Nov. 24, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., they’ll present at the Merville Hall
- On Nov. 25, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., they’ll host an open house at the Comox Valley Regional District boardroom in Courtenay, and from 5 to 7 p.m. that night, at the d’Esterre House in Comox
It’s 20 years of this place’s future, and it needs an hour of residents’ time to ensure it reflects what they want in the long run.
To find out more check out the Regional Growth Strategy’s website, under Regional Strategies at www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.
Colleen Dane is a journalist in the Comox Valley and a self-diagnosed News Nerd. She’s lived here for only four years — but with deep family connections in the Valley, she’s awfully attached to the area and what happens to it.
Category: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT