Council Matters for September 21, 2021

Council met for about seven hours during our Regular Council meeting and Public Hearing on September 21, 2021. Here are some highlights from the meeting:

During my Mayor’s report, I spoke of a recent meeting between myself, CAO Ted Swabey, and Brad McRae, the government liaison with Western Forest Products. One of the items we discussed was the possibility of WFP moving forward on the “Benchlands” development on the old sawmill site as envisioned in the Chemainus Revitalization Plan. In my report, I also talked about the annual UBCM convention which was held virtually last week. The highlight for me was the keynote address from TV personality Rick Mercer, who called for more civility in society, especially in light of the divisions that have come to the fore in the context of the discussions around COVID, masks, and vaccines. As part of the convention, some members of our Council also met with Sheila Malcolmson, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, to discuss the need for more detox treatment beds in our region.

Shelley Cook and Bev Suderman of Cowichan Housing Association presented their annual report. They outlined how the dramatic rise in housing costs, lack of available rental housing, renovictions, the impact of vacation rentals, and discrimination have contributed to jumps in the number of homeless and people looking for housing. 270 people are currently on a waitlist for the 99 units of supportive housing that are coming to Drinkwater and White Roads. Two public health emergencies (COVID and opioids), plus the housing crisis, have been at the forefront of CHA’s work over the past year. In addition to the supportive housing units identified above, the CHA is also working on funding for additional “pod housing” options for this winter, and is engaged in a Rapid Housing Initiative in partnership with Cowichan Tribes.

Steven Armstrong, executive director of Vancouver Island Vipassana Association (VIVA) provided an overview of their permissive tax exemption request for their property located at 2359 Calais Road. He explained that the VIVA is a non-sectarian organization that teaches Vipassana meditation to the general public.

Consultants Erik Lees and Megan Turnock of LEES and Associates provided a presentation on a plan to restart public engagement for the paused Municipal Forest Reserve review. The plan, which was approved by Council, outlines a new timeline for the public engagement and concurrent technical review with the UBC Partnership Group. Opportunities for public and stakeholder input will be announced in the coming weeks.

Council gave first three readings to an amended Fire Protection Bylaw. This bylaw updates the responsibilities of fire department personnel, including the Fire Chief, along with the fire department organizational structure, fire inspections, and regulations around fires and open burning.

The Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw also received its first three readings. This change will waive the cost of name changes for Indigenous peoples when reclaiming their names changed by the residential school system. A portion of the fees we have been collecting for this have been forwarded to the federal government, and they’ve announced they’re waiving those fees per a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Two tenders were awarded: Tender Package 3 (interior steel stud and gypsum board) for the new RCMP Building was awarded to Dryco Systems Inc. for $1,143,000 plus GST. It is worth noting that up to this point, the various tenders for the RCMP building project have continued to come in under budget, allowing us to increase the allocation to our contingency fund in the event that future tenders come in higher than expected. The other tender involved some equipment for our fire halls: we will be purchasing new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for our firefighters after awarding a contract to Guillevin International for a total cost of $696,672 plus GST ($705,043 including interest).

Staff have been instructed to prepare an amendment to the Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw to include land and improvements at 2359 Calais Road and Wicks Road owned by the Vancouver Island Vipassana Association, all land and improvements at 3776 Gibbins Road owned by the Nature Trust of BC, and a full exemption for improvements leased by Duncan Dynamics Gymnastics Club and the Cowichan Valley Arts Council (both of these located within the Cowichan Community Centre).

We also adopted a new Consent Agenda Policy. This policy outlines the process to acknowledge receipt of reports or correspondence and to approve regular, non-controversial routine items.

Minutes from the June 14, 2021 First Nations Relations Committee were shared. Council endorsed the recommendation that North Cowichan endorse the Truth and Reconciliation nine “Calls to Action” that pertain to local government and instruct staff to work with the First Nations Relations Committee to develop a process, plan and budget to implement these. The Committee Chair will also follow up with the CVRD regarding a motion to consider renaming Hecate Park.

Two public hearings were also on the agenda. The applicant for the Kingsview Comprehensive Zone item asked for that hearing to be deferred to a later date so they could undertake more fulsome engagement with local residents. The second item to allow a second residential dwelling unit at 6353 Genoa Bay Road was carried.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 6, 2021, at 1:30 p.m.

Thank you for reading and staying informed!

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan
T 250.746.3117