A controversial motion by North Cowichan councillor Bruce Findlay for council to provide a 24-month amnesty period for land owners whose properties were excluded from the municipality’s recently revised urban containment boundary to continue with their development plans was defeated in a 4-3 vote at the council meeting on Feb. 1
Findlay made the motion in an effort to assist those land owners who were looking to develop their properties before North Cowichan’s updated official community plan was implemented in August.
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But council received more than 100 emails and letters concerning the motion, as well as many speakers at the council meeting on Feb. 1, with the vast majority speaking against it.
Many of those who called for council to vote against Findlay’s motion said passing it would totally disregard the democratic 5-1 vote by the previous council to adopt the updated OCP, and ignore the public’s overwhelming support for the new OCP.
One writer said, considering Findlay is a land developer as well as a local businessman, they are amazed that he can present such a motion to council.
“The ethical thing for [Findlay] to do is to recuse himself from voting on anything pertaining to OCP amendments and development of projects,” the writer said.
“Surely there is some sort of code or guidelines governing members of council.”
But Findlay made it clear at the council meeting that he has no ownership or interest in any property that was impacted by the changes to the UCB.
He said he’s simply bringing forward concerns that were addressed to him from residents and to give them a voice they feel they hadn’t previously had, especially one with development experience.
“While some may believe this motion is controversial, I will say that I didn’t get elected to be a quiet mouse in the corner,” Findlay said.
“My views on housing, resources, taxation and many other issues was clear from the day I announced my candidacy, and I’m here to represent those who voted for me.”
Findlay said that during the municipal election campaign last fall, a number of land owners reached out to him who have had their development applications in process for up to three years.
He said others have purchased their properties years before the changes to the UCB with the intention of developing or subdividing their land in the future.
“In the [revised] OCP, the progress of in-progress applications are now halted for some, and over 350 other properties were intentionally removed from the OCP map that were in place since 2011,” Findlay said.
He said public engagement with the property owners to explain the changes to the UCB before the new OCP was adopted was insufficient.
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Findlay said the 24-month amnesty would give a reasonable time frame for property owners who had applications in progress before the OCP was adopted to complete the processes, and for those who were not consulted on the reductions in the new UCB to advise staff of their plans to subdivide their properties.
Coun. Chris Istace said there was plenty of discussion and public engagement during the four years that the new OCP was being developed.
“People still have the ability to develop their land and can come to council in a fair and engaging manner and show their plans and go through the process to have council decide,” he said.
Coun. Debra Toporowski said there was a lot of time and commitment put into the development of the OCP by the community.
“Did we have some challenges, yes, we had to figure out how to direct staff on how to communicate with everyone and make sure their voices were heard,” she said.
“There were flyers posted, ads in the newspaper and ample other opportunities to provide public input.”
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Coun. Tek Manhas said that to him, the issue is not about the scale of developments, but properties that he feels were down-zoned arbitrarily in the new UCB.
“Who decided which properties can be in or out of the UCB?” he asked.
“Many don’t make sense to me and many others.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said council has received a lot of feedback on Findlay’s motion, and the fact that the vast majority of the feedback spoke against the motion means the previous council got it right.
“My position is that we need to press forward with achieving our community goals and I think passing this motion would impede that,” he said.
“Changing the UCB was based on a systematic, multi-year process and the decisions were based on what citizens indicated they wanted and what made good planning sense.”
Coun. Mike Caljouw said he feels the shrinking of the UCB without allowing property owners who bought their properties with the understanding they could develop them provide input is unfair.
“We’re in the midst of a housing crisis and the only way out is to provide more supply,” he said.
“Whatever the process was, I don’t think there was enough engagement with the property owners.”
Mayor Rob Douglas said council has an ambitious workload ahead of them over the next four years, including updating the zoning bylaw, developing an affordable housing strategy and speeding up development approval times.
“If we start redoing and opening up work done by the previous council, there’s no way we’ll make significant progress on those projects,” he said.
Findlay’s motion failed, with Douglas, Istace, Justice and Toporowski voting against it.