North Cowichan council met for about one and a half hours during its regular meeting Wednesday and then for another two hours in the evening for the public hearing portion of the agenda.
For Mayor Al Siebring’s report, he passed the floor to Councillor Rosalie Sawrie to share information about an upcoming initiative to recognize and support Earth Day. From Thursday through Saturday, April 24, local community groups and governments were working together, from a distance, to participate in a region-wide community clean-up.
North Cowichan supplied up to 100 free garbage tags for residents to conduct clean-ups on trails, in their neighbourhoods or anywhere else.
A delegation at the meeting from the Quamichan Lake Neighbourhood Association requested council consider developing a Tree Protection Bylaw. Suggestions were offered on how the municipality could implement such a bylaw. After some discussion, council and staff concluded a policy relating to trees would be considered as part of the current process to update the Official Community Plan, and that the municipality’s current Local Area Plans also already include guidance regarding planning and trees.
Council gave the first three readings to the Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw and the Tax Rates Bylaw that will see a 2.5 per cent tax increase distributed equally across all classes for 2021. The municipal budgeting process is an annual cycle that begins the year before with comprehensive business planning by staff, community engagement typically in the fall and many Committee of the Whole meetings along the way.
Last year, council directed staff to focus on a recovery budget for 2021 with the goals of returning to sustainable tax levels post-COVID-19, cutting capital projects and leveraging existing capital by supplementing it with grant funding for eligible projects and slowly phasing capital projects back in over 2021-2022. These bylaws will be back before council for adoption during a special council meeting on May 11, 2021.
Three readings were given to an Alternative Municipal Tax Collection Scheme Bylaw that would extend the penalty date by two months for taxpayers who cannot meet the July 2 deadline to pay their property taxes. The deadline for property tax payments will remain July 2, but for those unable to pay by then, the 10 per cent penalty will not be applicable until after September 1. This bylaw will be back for adoption at the May 11 meeting.
A Notice of Motion from Councillor Rob Douglas regarding policy development related to street trees was discussed. He shared about the many benefits of street trees and requested staff introduce policies and regulations to expand the number of street trees and shade trees in residential and commercial developments and public works projects as part of the new Official Community Plan, Zoning Bylaw, Subdivision Bylaw, Biodiversity Strategy and any other relevant initiatives planned or underway. Council voted in favour of the motion.
Council then agreed to have Siebring write a letter to the Solicitor General to advise that the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment is still interested in participating in the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crimes Unit or similar organization.
“I have been involved with this file for many years, but we’ve never been able to get any concrete answers to our questions around this issue,” noted Siebring. “But earlier this month, the Province indicated there was a possibility of us becoming a partner in VIMCU, which would offset some of the potential costs of major crime investigations. The letter will also request more information on the funding formula associated with this, asking for clarification on the cost breakdowns.”
To end the regular meeting, council discussed submitting an application, on behalf of the Cowichan Housing Association, for approximately $2.5 million in grant funding under the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ COVID-19 Restart Funding for Local Governments, Strengthening Communities Services program. Council agreed to make the application and, if successful, it is envisioned the funds being spent throughout the Cowichan region, but mostly in the core of Duncan and North Cowichan. In addition, the Cowichan Housing Association would be required to enter into an agreement with the municipality to administer the expenditure of the funds.
Council reconvened for two public hearings. The first was for a Zoning Amendment Bylaw at 2772 Herd Rd. that would permit a second detached dwelling unit in addition to a principal single family dwelling on the property. Council heard from a few members of the public who supported the application but had concerns about increased run-off and drainage issues that might result from additional site works on the property. Council gave the application third reading, but also determined prior to adopting the bylaw, the applicant must provide confirmation that a covenant has been registered on the property requiring a storm water management plan and drainage works before a building permit is issued for the second dwelling.
The second public hearing was for an Agricultural Land Reserve exclusion application for the Chemainus River Campground located at 8682 Trans-Canada Highway. The application asks the Agricultural Land Commission to exclude the 10.7 hectare property from the ALR.
Council heard the majority of the property has very poor soil quality, is not suitable for agriculture and has never been used for agricultural purposes. The Municipality is the applicant for the ALC application, something council decided to move forward last year in support of the property owners. During the public hearing, council again heard from the proponents and no one opposed to the application. Council voted in favour of forwarding the application to the ALC recommending the application be approved.
The next regular council meeting takes place electronically on Wednesday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m.