The New Comox Valley Hospital Location

Well it was finally announce last week – the location of the new and much-anticipated hospital in the Comox Valley.  The site selected from amongst 21 possibilities is located on an undeveloped stretch of Ryan Road somewhere between the new Costco, Home Depot and Car Dealerships and the Entrance to the Comox Air Force Base.

The timing of the announcement coincided with the completion of an international design competition that had competitors re-designing the places where they live such that they comply with the standards set out by the Living City Challenge.  I was a member of a team that participated in this competition and over a period of two months we grew to see our place in the Comox Valley in a whole new light.  The design standards are based on the Living Building Challenge, an advanced green building program of the International Living Building Institute.  They are organized around seven “petals” that cover a broad spectrum of ideas and concepts that come together to challenge designers to “imagine a visionary path to a restorative future.”   Each petal contains one or more “imperatives” and there are twenty imperatives in total.  Every project must meet the requirement of every imperative.  It is through the filter of the Living City Challenge that I provide this critique of the chosen Hospital site.

SITE petal

01 Limits to Growth – Based on the premiss that we have already gobbled up far more land than we need, new projects such as the Hospital are only permitted on greyfield and brownfield sites, and NOT on land adjacent to sensitive ecological habitats, prime farmland, and flood plains.  The chosen Hospital location is a greenfield site, never previously having been developed and it is located immediately adjacent to one of the most productive pieces of farmland in the Comox Valley so it does not meet imperative 01.  It should also be pointed out that the selected site is a very important part of the hydrology of the Comox Valley, critical to the re-charge of our underground aquifers.

03 Habitat Exchange – not specifically a critique of the selected site, it should be mentioned that this imperative requires that for every development, either half of the site shall remain undeveloped under covenant, OR, undeveloped land must be acquired of equal size and donated to a local land trust and remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

04 Car Free Living – every new project should contribute towards the creation of a walkable, pedestrian oriented community.  The selected site is virtually in the middle of nowhere in terms of pedestrian access and is located fronting an 80 km per hour arterial.  While this may be appropriate for the occasional high-speed ambulance, no one can walk to the proposed site which means that everyone, including patients, medical staff and administration must all come by car to get to the hospital.  Transit is possible alternative but sustainable transit only comes with much higher development densities and the Comox Valley is decades, if not centuries away from achieving this, and projects located like this one are taking us away from transit sustainability, not closer.  As I understand it, the site is 15 acres in area and well over half of this is required for parking.  I will address this under another imperative.

WATER petal

05 Net Zero Water – I will use this imperative to discuss the infrastructure required for the project.  It is highly unlikely that the City of Courtenay has installed water and sewer infrastructure out into the middle of nowhere so it is assumed that the existing services are going to require extending, at significant cost, to reach the new site.  A more appropriate site would have been where services already existed, and even where services were older and were due for replacement and the project could “kill two birds with one stone.”  I will point out that a Living City Building would not require this infrastructure as they are required to be self-sufficient in terms of water use, either through the collection and harvesting of rainwater, or by using a closed loop system.  In addition, a Living City Building must treat and make use of its own waste without combustion or use of chemicals.

06 Ecological Water Flow – I mentioned earlier that the chosen site was important to the local hydrology.  A requirement of the Living City Challenge is that 100% of the rain that falls om the site must be managed on site to feed the projects demands while at the same time not changing the pre-development water balance.  Water moves around above and below ground, and across property lines, so the aquifers and surrounding farmland cannot be impacted by development of the selected site.


07 Net Zero Energy – A Living City must provide all of its own energy.  Currently the power generated by the Comox Lake hydro facility provides only about 20% of our local power supply.  We have shown in our competition work that the more a City sprawls, the greater its energy requirement gets.  Conversely, the more compact a community gets, its energy requirement drops and more economic opportunity for exploiting waste to energy results.  This site is certainly taking us away from a compact community adding to our energy consumption.  Opportunity will be lost as the waste energy from the new heating and water systems will be too far from other facilities that would be able to use it.


16 Human Scale & Humane Places – All projects must be designed to create human-scaled rather than automobile-scaled places.  A 15 acre site is far larger than the size of the new Hospital so it must be assumed that a large portion of the land will be used for surface parking for the large numbers of users of the facility.  The massive parking areas that we seem to be getting more and more of like the Driftwood Mall, Wal-mart, Canadian Tire, Superstore, Home Depot and now Costco are extremely detrimental to our culture, our sense of place, our humanity.  They are not what we love about the Comox Valley and they are not necessary to our daily rituals and routines – before we head off to the places that we do love!  Hospitals are possible without oceans of asphalt, where they are fit into the existing fabric of a community.


20 Inspiration & Education – A Living City project celebrates its performance and all that is good about it, sharing it with the public and motivating others to follow suit and make change.

What will we learn from a new Hospital on this site?  Will we learn that it is OK to bulldozer raw land on the periphery of our towns?  It is OK to sprawl well beyond our local infrastructure because the engineers can do it and our resources our allocated for this purpose?  That we should not worry about the price of fuel rising in the future and that we will always be able to jump in our car and drive to work, or visit a sick friend?  That cheap land always trumps walkability and transportation?  Five of the seven petals of the Living City Challenge have a direct connection with the selection of a project site.  I think that they demonstrate that there is lot more that needs to be considered when making such important decisions in our communities.  I hope that these ideas resonate with your way of thinking, or that they move you at least a little closer to a more complete way of seeing the world.  In a follow-up blog post I hope to make some suggestions for some alternative sites for the new Hospital.  I might even know by then which other sites were considered.


9 thoughts on “The New Comox Valley Hospital Location”

  1. Are you for or aganst the site? I assume you do not agree with the proposal – just whatdo you propose – we have had enough negativism in this valley on this project to last decades…

    1. Thanks for the comments Ted. I plan on a follow up to this blog post with my thoughts on other possible sites for the new Hospital. I hope to first find out what other sites were considered. I heard that there were 21 locations evaluated. What do you you think of the proposed location?

      1. I really do like the proposed site. It was an area that I personally considered some time back and had no idea it would come to some kind of fruition. I agree that it is not a perfect choice, but I dont think ther are any perfect choices. I would also have been happy with it at the junction of Piercy and the new island hwy or the Connector and the new island hwy. Our community is growing, the dynamics of the community will change along with this influx of new people. This growth is inevitable particularly with such an awesome community such as ours here in the Comox Valley. From the perspective of my good wife, who is a retired operating room Nurse at St Joseph’s and myself it is great to be moving more resolutely towards a ground breaking ceremony.

        1. Thanks for sharing Ted. Behind every successful community I’ll bet you find strong, open and respectful communication. My hope is to engage as many of the residents in a dialogue about our important issues. The people should have a voice in getting what we want for our community and this starts with open dialogue where people are free to share their thoughts and ideas.

          This new hospital has been a wee bit divisive to our community, largely in part to the process of public engagement, which typically, these days anyways, reads more like public enragement. I am sure that it will be going ahead as planned, regardless of the where the dialogue of citizens goes. My hope is to raise awareness of a more full accounting of all the issues needed to make sound, long term, important decisions about the future of the Comox Valley. There will be another big decision to make soon enough.

  2. I hope that the criteria for selecting the hospital site will now be made available – along with a list of the other 20 +/- sites considered.
    We need to have this discussion – even though, in this case, it is a done deal. We keep making decisions that will have long lasting consequences … and I don’t have much confidence that ‘we’ understand the implications of those decisions.
    Despite whatever rhetoric exists in the various planning documents in the Valley we keep making decisions that are pro-car and anti-people. Lots of the changes that I’ve seen here, even in the relatively few years I’ve lived here (15), are down right unpleasant. Here is just one small one example: try crossing Cliffe Ave to get to the wonderful estuary walkway … safer to drive there!

  3. First of all I have lived in the valley for almost 22 years now, and have seen some major growth in the valley over the last two decades. Some good, some bad. I support the current location much more so than the previous location initially proposed on the highway. (Would involve many more car trips I think) For me, that would have been more difficult to get to than the one on Ryan Hill. Ideally it would be wonderful to have all the amenities mentioned in the petals above, but who is to say that can’t be done at the proposed location. I think that we might be putting the cart before the horse. The Living City Challenge has been a pleasure to watch evolve, and maybe the ideas from it can be worked into a viable solution with the hospital location as well as others. There has been so much controversy over the years for why things should be here, things that shouldn’t be, we need this green space, and yet we need to increase density in other areas. The decision making process – even to get to where we are finally at for the hospital – has taken years of wrangling back and forth. I think it is time we get it built and start worrying how to fix the existing health problems that we all experience now (i.e. lack of physicians and specialists, wait times, health of the hospital, etc.) No one has seem to outwardly complain about our current hospital location (I guess because it has been there a great deal longer than most of us). Lets get this hospital built, and then take some, if not all the ideas, from the Living Challenge and put them into place. It may come down to compromise and cooperation, but we could all end up with a healthier community because of it

  4. In the five years I’ve been here, every new development of any size seems to include a LOT of paved parking. Is there a reason for not requiring underground or above-building parking to lessen this? That kind of design would mean some of these larger projects could be placed closer to city-centres and bus routes. A downtown hospital has proved to be a boon to the neighbourhood residents and businesses in many other municipalities.

  5. A great big parking lot is indicative of only one thing: we are a suburban (read sprawl) community! Obviously land – at least on the edge of town – is cheap enough to fill it with cars. This, like finding tattoo parlours, dollar stores and/or boarded up stores, downtown, is a bad sign.

  6. In case you are just tuning in to the ongoing saga of the proposed Comox Valley Hospital, the site mentioned in this post is no more. Due to height restrictions of the nearby Comox Air Force Base, the chosen site was deemed unacceptable and a new site was chosen closer in to town on the corner of the the property owned by North Island College. The site was cleared of the existing forest, fenced and landscaped in early 2013, where it now sits awaiting construction to start. Approval has been given by the City of Courtenay for the proposed new facility. Check out the Facebook page “Comox Valley Hospital Precinct” for more information and debate on the site and the surrounding community.

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