by Danny Zanbilowicz
The issue right now concerns the two processes for dealing with a proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy- “standard” or “minor”.
An amendment is by default considered “standard”, unless it is specifically designated as “minor”.
The requirements for a standard process include consultation with the provincial Ministry of Municipal Services and Housing, and also all the affected local governments.
This would mean in the 3L case that in addition to the Ministry- Comox, Courtenay, and Cumberland councils, plus neighbouring Regional District Boards, would all be required to approve the amendment. If any of them do not approve, the amendment is stalled.
The “minor” amendment process only requires the approval of the Regional District Board.
This makes the “standard” process much more complicated and time-consuming. Alana Mullaly, interim head of planning at the RD describes the “standard” as a “more fulsome process”.
It is no wonder that 3L is so determined to avoid the standard process. It requires much more analysis and discussion, and provides critics of the proposal a lot more leeway.
After a recent Board vote which rejected the “minor” option, a technicality led to a subsequent vote on July 18, in which the Board reversed itself and recommended the minor option, to be decided at another vote by the RD Board on Tuesday July 24.
Board member Bob Wells, who voted for the “minor” option, said he was led to understand that either choice could include more or less the same procedures, except that the “standard” process required consultation with the Ministry, which Wells believed was not desirable- that the decision should be local. He says this was not a vote on the merits of the 3L project itself, only on the process.
A crucial consideration is whether the 3L project fits into the definition of a “minor” amendment. According to the Regional Growth Strategy, Section 5.2.3*, a proposal can be considered in the “minor” category if it:
“• is not to be of regional significance in terms of scale, impacts or precedence;” and if it conforms to the general principles of the Strategy.
The 3L proposal includes at least 740 new housing units, turning a rural area into a new “settlement node”.
On July 24, the Regional District Board will vote on two things- first, whether or not to proceed with the amendment, which will be determined by a simple majority. If it votes in the affirmative it will then vote on whether to pursue a minor amendment, which will require a two thirds vote in the affirmative.
3L desperately wants this to happen, because it will significantly improve the chances that the project will proceed. Opponents are just as invested in preventing it.
As a side note, Mullaly observes that ours is the only regional district in BC which allows a developer to directly propose an amendment to the RGS. In all other cases, he/she would have to go to a municipality, or Electoral Services Committee to submit an application for amendment on his/her behalf. There is currently an amendment proposed to change this, and make our RD the same as all the others.