Tek Manhas. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Proposed moratorium on development in North Cowichan a poor idea

It’s not yet clear how extensive the limit on development would be

Businesses are keeping a careful watch on an ominous movement being led by North Cowichan Coun. Christopher Justice, who is proposing what amounts to a moratorium on development in the municipality.

It’s not yet clear how extensive the limit on development would be or for how long it would be in place if North Cowichan councillors go along with Justice’s proposal.

The rookie councillor introduced his motion in mid-December and while his focus seems to have been on the Quamichan watershed and his desire to see staff refuse to consider developments until the process of reviewing the Official Community Plan is complete, there are legitimate fears that a moratorium could be far-reaching.

Business people are concerned but the broader community should also get involved.

This issue is about residential and commercial development, but it’s also very much about jobs, housing and quality of life.

Coun. Tek Manhas, who has emerged as the only voice of business on this council, sounded the alarms when Justice’s notice of motion was presented.

“The word is already out there that North Cowichan is closed for business,” Manhas warned. “Do we want to deal with the legal challenges to this motion if we were to pass it?”

Manhas added it doesn’t make sense to deny anyone from applying for a development permit.

Also a newcomer to council, Manhas is right to worry about how long any shutdown of development would last. The process of reviewing an official community plan can be tedious and time consuming, as North Cowichan learned the last time this work was done.

Coun. Debra Toporowski’s assertion that Justice’s motion would be an interim measure is optimistic but dangerous.

Uncertainty is perilous. Investors need to know their project will be completed on time and on budget. Trades people in the Valley need to know they’ll have work for the foreseeable future; if not they’re looking for greener pastures, taking young families with them.

Veteran councillor Kate Marsh has decided development is “a privilege, not a right” but she does make a good point in suggesting full public discussions on the issue needs to take place throughout the OCP review process.

And that’s where it behooves business people to step up and help council and the community understand the importance of sensible and appropriate development and the benefits that follow.

The motion will be discussed at the next regular meeting of council on Jan. 15.

Mayor Al Siebring says municipal staff are expected to have a report on the issue ready for that important meeting, adding placing a moratorium on development in the Quamichan watershed area without public input might not be a good idea.

“That area includes all kinds of lands,” he said.

“These kind of decisions might have unintended consequences, so we need a report from staff before we can decide on this motion.”

In a letter to the Citizen, K. Tennert stressed the importance of public input.

“The families and businesses that live in and support the Cowichan Valley need to know that their voices are heard and that decisions made by council are not done without proper consultation and have the best interests of all parties affected in mind.

“The prospect of seeing more businesses closed, more people out of work and unable to support their families and companies being forced to take their business elsewhere is not something I care to see in the future.”

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