Thornhill residents have their say on new community plan

A draft of the plan is expected this summer, according to the regional district

Thornhill resident Debbie Bailey fills out a survey to help district planners come up with an initial direction for a new official community plan. The survey period closed June 15 and a first draft of the plan is expected this summer.

Thornhill is closer to knowing what its new community plan will look like after a full week of events seeking opinions from residents on the matter was hosted by the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.

District planners recently held an open house at the Thornhill Community Centre where they showed off the ideas, suggestions and concerns raised by residents over the course of several workshops and other events.

There was also an online survey for the community plan available until June 15.

“We thought it was time. We’d do the plan and be prepared when the growth comes,” said district planner Ted Pellegrino at one open house.

The growth that Pellegrino referred to is the presumed economic benefits that’ll come to Thornhill and elsewhere based on the construction of energy projects now in the planning.

“Now that we’re seeing some potential growth out there – some potential growth through these LNG projects – we want to be prepared for that growth so we’re doing a review of the plan,” Pellegrino said.

On large poster boards at the June 2  open house held at the Thornhill Community Centre, planners had outlined several community engagement themes they had learned over the course of speaking with residents and said those themes would be essential to consider when going forward with a first draft of the plan.

Based on resident feedback on the poster boards, the initial direction of the community plan might focus on maintaining Thornhill’s quiet, rural feel while making sure the option to expand and grow the community’s tax base is there.

Generally, residents expressed how Thornhill’s lower taxes, limited regulation and bylaw enforcement, and reasonable cost of housing, were some of the things they liked best about the area. A lack of sidewalks, a disconnected sewage system and a limited number of commercial businesses were noted as areas of improvement by some.

According to Pellegrino, all things will be considered when a draft of the community plan is formalized in the next few months.

“I think that the people were supportive of us reviewing the community plan,” Pellegrino said. “Nothing was really off the table in terms of what people wanted. We were coming from the perspective that we were engaging the community, we wanted to do a community plan that was driven by the community that’s a vision of a grassroots community plan.”

Thornhill first adopted an official community plan on Nov. 15, 1981, but there hasn’t been a full overhaul of the original document like this since it was first created.

Although the community plan can’t actually compel Thornhill to undertake any project or suggestion the document outlines, it can help guide the district in drafting laws, bylaws and policies going forward.

“The community plan establishes policies and envisions how the community is going to develop. It sets out a kind of a framework for when the different land uses are going to occur. Out of the community plan comes the regulatory documents which we’ll work on next: the subdivision control bylaws, the zoning bylaws, and those come out of the new community plan – those are the ones that we would enforce,” Pellegrino said.

Throughout a week of contact, district planners visited the Thornhill pub, fire department and schools to let residents have their say about the community’s direction.

By June 15, 338 residents had filled out the survey, either in-person or online, that looked at the quality of life in Thornhill.

A preliminary look at the first 131 people surveyed showed that 42 per cent ranked the quality of life in Thornhill as “good” and 38 per cent would describe it as “very good.” 15 per cent felt “neutral” about the quality of life in Thornhill.

Pellegrino said many residents touted Thornhill’s relationship to nature and the number of outdoor activities, such as hiking, they had access to. “Some said they had lived in Thornhill for a longtime and they enjoyed the lifestyle that they had here,” Pellegrino said.

But he added that many residents agreed the community needed more services, such as sidewalks, parks and a more robust sewerage system.

Fully half of those 131 respondents said Thornhill should have a sewerage system that is more interconnected and 43 per cent specifically said they’d pay an extra $300 per year to fully connect Thornhill’s sewage system.

Thornhill, under direction from the regional district, recently completed the second phase of a sewer project that provided services to upwards of 48 additional parcels of land in the area. A third phase in the sewer project, based on input from the community plan, could potentially extend a connected sewage system to the rest of the community.

Thornhill’s current system, which is a septic tank system that pumps waste to a plant on Queensway Drive, goes along Highway 16 and ends at the intersection of Desjardins Avenue and Clark Street.

Less than half – 44 per cent – of those initially surveyed said they would accept a tax increase if it provided more general services. While the recent week of community input events will lead district planners toward developing an initial direction for the plan, a first draft is not expected until September.

“It’s one of those questions where we want to engage the community about the level of services, the other kinds of services that they want – more bylaw enforcement, less bylaw enforcement, more rules and regulations, less – so that it’s sort of part of seeing what the folks in the community really want to have,” Pellegrino said. More data and stats collected from the surveys are expected to appear in the coming weeks that will give a fuller picture of the shape the community plan might take.

A final draft of the plan is expected at the end November of this year.