Printed in Focus Magazine, February 2010
by Leslie Campbell

Steve Sewall, VP, Community Planning with Couverdon, also spoke at the luncheon. Sewall has only been on the job about five months and said he’s still trying to wrap his mind around how much land TimberWest owns. On a helicopter ride, he was told, “everything you can see, we own.” For that reason alone, he noted, “We’ll play a significant role in how Vancouver Island changes.”

After lunch, Sewall told me that Island communities had been hit very hard by the recession and suggested that as there was unlikely to be any new industrial activity to replace the loss of forestry-related jobs, the best solution for a new economic driver may lie in developing housing on lands near communities.

When I ran Sewall’s idea by Dogwood’s Gordon O’Connor, his reaction was swift: “The truth is, building subdivisions makes some people very rich. But a few years later, people in the logging industry will be standing in welfare lines.”

His concerns revolve around what makes for sustainable communities- including their economies. “A sustainable forestry industry can keep people working for generations,” he explained. But that employment opportunity is lost if houses are put up, or trees not replanted for whatever reason. “That’s a very serious problem for the future of our economy,” said O’Connor.

His other major concern is urban sprawl. “Urban sprawl is disastrous for long-term community sustainability,” he stated, conjuring images of Mississauga here on the Island. Sprawl reduces biodiversity, makes people
more car dependent, and results in big box stores displacing small businesses.
Profits end up elsewhere; overall employment is reduced. “Urban sprawl is a disaster for the future of Vancouver Island,” he stressed. Urban sprawl were two words not heard at the UDI luncheon.

However, the words Official Community Plan were heard a number of times. As in: “We would hope for Official Community Plans that are flexible enough that we could bring forward ideas so we can have open discussions with the public. We understand we will have to give back amenities to get development rights,” said Sewall. And also-greeted with sympathetic, knowing chuckles from some in the audience- “Unfortunately, what we’re finding is some OCPs are lacking flexibility.”Sewall hopes that, overtime, there will be greater flexibility in local regional growth strategies, as well.

To their credit, Couverdon and TimberWest’s representatives seem genuinely determined to make their visions work for communities, as well as themselves. But that might not always be possible.  Communities will have to get very clear about what they want, need and cherish. They will probably be presented with some difficult choices:  rezone adjacent lands for development or see these areas-often used informally for recreational purposes-clear cut. As Sewall pointed out, “With no dialogue, all that’s left for us is to harvest trees.” And with no mills, export them and the jobs that once went with them.