April 2, 2024


BRITISH COLUMBIA – Applause was palpable from all sectors when Premier David Eby announced his 100 Day Housing Plan last year. Finally, a plan to overcome the self-inflicted, anti-development quagmire that discouraged developers, choked new supply, and therefore contributed greatly to the increasingly expensive price of housing.

Councils everywhere dominated by no-growth electoral groups were put on notice: Stop development and the provincial NDP would step in. B.C. needed housing, and it needed it right now, and nothing – including anti-growth-dominated councils and NDP-friendly union bureaucracies, could withstand the top-down directives.

Finally, something was going to be done. Even the development community was enthused.

The reality? Nothing. Another NDP announcement/pronouncement that has done absolutely nothing other than satisfy voters that something, finally, might be done. Except this is proving to be yet another chapter in the Lucy and Charlie Brown story, where Lucy pulls the football away just as Charlie Brown swings his leg, and lands flat on his back as he misses, once again.

If there was ever a project that fit Eby’s plan like a glove and cried out for his immediate attention, as a real-time opportunity for the Premier to step in and smack anti-growth councils down to allow an important development to proceed, it is the West Vista Terrace project in North Cowichan.

In 2018 John and Elaine Lichtenwald purchased 31 acres in the Bell McKinnon/Herd Road area of North Cowichan – across from North Cowichan municipal hall, and 500 feet from the under construction Cowichan Hospital.

It was a major investment, and the Lichtenwalds crafted the combination of much-needed 850 living spaces and commercial buildings to fit the award winning North Cowichan Local Area Plan (LAP) – and submitted it in 2020. LAPs are always developed after Official Community Plans (OCP), and are guidelines for developers. The housing alone would provide an immediate jolt to projections that North Cowichan needs 2,500 homes over the upcoming years, and walk-to abodes for future hospital workers.

Alas, North Cowichan changed the rules mid-stream in 2022, and came up with a new OCP, put forward by a council pushed in by anti-development group One Cowichan. The only apparent outcome of the new OCP was to rule the Bell McKinnon lands on which West Vista Terrace is situation were pushed into the never-land of “future development”, if or when council manages to “force” developers to build in-fill housing on lots elsewhere.

It was treacherous. The Lichtenwalds’ investment was handcuffed by the no-growth council. They were strongly discouraged about contacting councilors who opposed their plan. Conversations that would have identified objections and help them modify the project if necessary were never able to happen. There was an impassible moat around council.

On March 6, the Lichtenwalds made their second appearance at council, trying to persuade them to “do the right thing” and reinstitute the original LAP. A full house of supporters and nine individuals (including letters of support from Khowutzun Development Corporation of Cowichan Tribes and the lead trades provider on the West Vista project, RavenStone Construction, an Indigenous company) spoke in favour of West Vista. Mayor Rob Douglas and councilors Chris Istace and Chris Justice sat there, stone-faced. None of them responded directly to any of the presenters that evening. Instead, Douglas read out his prepared speech on why he objected to it. With one councilor recusing herself, the vote was 3-3 and was defeated. It was the second project in North Cowichan that has now bypassed significant First Nations employment opportunities – including the North Cowichan Hospital.

I have many friends in the development community who lament the difficulties of building in B.C., with costs driven up by bureaucracy, red tape and endless, needless bureaucratic largesse. I’ve offered to follow their process through to completion, suggesting that if they were able to highlight live-action dealings with the city, the spotlight would bring the issue to the surface. Bureaucrats would get nervous as their deeds would be exposed, showing the need to change. The project would go through quicker, with less hassles, because staff and council would be held to account, and it would then become an example that others could follow.

Alas, no company ever agreed to do that. Their reasoning? They knew the risks would be too great. What if it backfired? What if going public made it worse? They would never get another project through to completion, as they would be retaliated against in the best way known to bureaucrats – stalling. That’s the NDP’s preferred method of discouraging development: Delay, delay, delay.

The West Vista Terrace. Experience confirmed everything I heard was true. It happens in many other cities in B.C.

Letters were written to Premier Eby, Housing Minister Ravi Khalon and MLA Doug Routley, and were sent three times, urging them to respond, highlighting the fact that West Vista Terrace was EXACTLY what Eby said he wanted.

The response? Crickets. Not a single, solitary verbal response, phone call, or email conversation.

Absolutely shocking, but telling. Eby’s pronouncement was only words, backed up by no action.

Now what? The Lichtenwalds can sue, which would be right and just. However, the time and cost involved in doing that, especially with how a municipality can use bottomless taxpayer funds to cover legal costs, is daunting at best.

Or they could sell to First Nations interests, making it Indigenous property and they’d be able to build whatever they want without any input from North Cowichan or restrictions. And North Cowichan would be out the projected $60 million in tax revenue over a 25 year period from the development. Or they could wait until a new council is elected.

Sadly, Eby, Khalon and Routley have signaled they aren’t going to enforce Eby’s blustery 100 Day Plan.

Mark MacDonald is President of Communication Ink Media & Public Relations Ltd.: mark@communicationink.ca


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