Elected officials have again turned down an application from 3L Developments to subdivide and develop lands near Stotan Falls in Area C of the Comox Valley Regional District.
For about 13 years, the company has tried unsuccessfully to rezone the property. The developer had hoped to build 780 residential units. The main stumbling block has been the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), a document that guides land use in the Valley. 3L proposed to create a new settlement node — an electoral area designation that applies to Union Bay, Saratoga and Mt. Washington.
“Until such time as the Settlement Expansion Area lands are incorporated into the municipal area, and provide public water and sewer services, the lands have limited subdivision potential,” rural planner Jodi MacLean said at the Nov. 16 Electoral Area Services Committee meeting.
Area A director Daniel Arbour moved a staff recommendation to deny the application. Area B director Arzeena Hamir also supported the recommendation but Area C director Edwin Grieve was opposed.
Earlier in the year, the committee sought feedback about the application from various agencies. Courtenay, Cumberland and the K’omoks First Nation do not support it. Comox says the proposal does not conform to the RGS, and does not align with the Town’s densification plans. Comox, however, is interested in a process that would return Stotan Falls to public access and use.
“There is clear public interest in this application,” said Rob Buchan, a planner who spoke on behalf of 3L, which proposes to dedicate more than half the site for community use and ownership, and to create a network of public trails. “We have revised our plan, significantly.”
For instance, 3L has removed the proposed development off land north of the Puntledge River to fall within the core settlement area, defined as an urban expansion area. The revised plan also allows land for an agriplex and a farmer’s market.
The CVRD has received 89 letters supporting the application.
Arbour feels 3L’s “bait and switch” approach to the development has disrespected the referral process. Buchan said the approach is a response to public comment.
Hamir notes that non-market housing is a local priority.
“In the situation being proposed here, there’s no way to enforce that rents stay below a certain level,” she said, adding the proposal is not conducive to walkability.
Grieve prefers to consider the big picture, and to keep the conversation going in order to reach a compromise to put the lands into public hands. The district, he added, cannot bring 3L any return on investment with a nine-acre minimum lot size.
“Something has to give,” Grieve said.
Hamir said it is not the responsibility of the CVRD board to ensure a developer makes money, but to do what’s best for the community.