Advisory Planning Commission votes to send Potlatch Density Transfer application to next stage in process

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 28 2017

The Potlatch Density Transfer bylaws should move to the next stage, according to the members of the Advisory Planning Commission (APC).

The APC had Bylaws 289 and 290 referred to them by the Gabriola Local Trust Committee for comment.

The application, if approved, will see 300 acres of parkland donated to the community in trade for transferring 25 densities (individual lots) to the forested land between Cox Community Park and the Village Core. It will also see a road built connecting Spruce Avenue and Church Street, a connection that emergency services have long lobbied for.

There are also 40 acres of parkland planned as a donation to the Gabriola community within the subdivision of the receiver parcels.

There are two sections to the application. The first will see the forestry-zoned properties (known as the receiver parcels) south of Cox Park rezoned as resource. The second stage will see the forestry-zoned properties (the donor lands) between the 707 Community Park and Coats Marsh Regional Park donated to the Gabriola community as parkland, and the densities from those properties transferred to the re-zoned properties south of Cox.

The APC’s primary role at this stage is to provide the critical input on whether the bylaws are sufficient to consider third reading, or if they should be a “proceed no further.”

Islands Trust staff clarified at the APC meeting this past Wednesday night that if the bylaws are passed, the donor lands would immediately move to being community parkland.

The parkland in the receiver parcels would not become parkland until the receiver properties are subdivided. Brian Henning, one of the applicants, said his intention is to apply to the Transportation Ministry for the entire subdivision of the receiver parcel at once - even if only the fee-simple lots east of Church-Spruce are the ones being built at the time.

“We’re talking about fee simple on the bluff [east of Church-Spruce] and strata on the other portion - I’ll apply for the whole thing.

“I don’t have a problem dedicating that park. We’re still going to phase [the build], but if I have a preliminary approval for the whole thing, the areas will be defined.”

APC members questioned whether a covenant putting restrictions on the receiver parcel to 25 densities would be included as part of the bylaws when they are approved.

Trust staff said the covenant is a separate document. 

There is wording within the bylaws stating that the receiver lots are restricted to only 25 single-family dwelling lots.

Each of the APC members had comments to make on the application. Bob Andrew approved of the parkland completing the area between the 707 and Coats Marsh, but suggested that rather than a recreational area, the park should be treated more as an ecological reserve - as Coats Marsh already is.

Trust staff said that is something the Regional District of Nanaimo can consider as part of creating the Management Plan for the new park area - which involves public input.

Andrew said he would have liked to have seen that if the RDN was unable to take on the Mallett Creek pond and dam, then another public body may have been able to do so.

Currently the Mallett watershed will remain private property, as part of the strata development west of the proposed 40 acre park.

Andrew also said he was disappointed that the parkland in the receiver parcels would have to wait until subdivision is done.

“I appreciate why that is. My experience is that area could be created, if it could be subdivided.

“My concern is I’ve seen developments, parkland put up, and years have dragged on - it would be nice to know the community was going to get that park. I appreciate what the applicant wants to happen. But if you put it in writing, it’s going to happen.”

Positive parts of the application, according to APC member Anne Landry, is that it increases the protected land ratio on Gabriola from 9.2 per cent to about 12 per cent.

“Lower than most Gulf Islands, but it is higher. The fact that the parkland is contiguous to existing parkland - the continuation of the wetlands around Coats Marsh is important and valuable as well as the social benefit of the trails. People say we have the 707,why do we need more. but as time goes on, it will become more and more valuable. 

“There is a perception that because we’ve had access that it is ours - but it is not. There is other land on the island that we think is ours that is not.”

She too was disappointed that there would not be public access to Mallett Creek - currently the liability of allowing public access has meant the applicants are not planning on having public access to the pond or creek.

Landry said she still struggled with the issue of whether the new subdivision would have an impact on the water supply for neighbouring properties.

The applicants, the covenant and the bylaws will require each household to have 5,000 imperial gallons of rainwater catchment built when primary homes are constructed to offset the impact that well usage will have on the water supply.

Landry said, “I appreciate the lengths the Trust Committee has gone through to make sure the information [in the water study accompanying the application] is sound. I support the idea of having cisterns as a requirement.”

She also added that in an ideal world, affordable housing could have been worked into the application.

“I still wonder if there’s a way at least one of the lots [could be] available for some kind of alternate or affordable housing on Gabriola. It is a high and pressing issue that we need to start facing.”

Kees Langereis said he was in favour of the proposal, though he still disagrees with how the LTC is calculating average parcel size, as it does not directly correlate with how the Gabriola Official Community Plan would calculate parcel size. According to Langereis, the applicants are getting two more densities than they should be getting.

“I can’t let that one go personally, because I don’t understand why it couldn’t achieve the OCP process.”

APC member Jim Prunty said he has strong support for the project, for the park being donated and the potential park in the future.

APC Chair Madeleine Ani said she was in favour of the application, that there are portions such as the parks and the requirements for cisterns that she approves of.

“However, the fact remains this will be an exclusive development, people with a lot of money who will purchase these homes. It is not reflective of our population here. Some people might feel left out. That furthers the idea of this being an exclusive enclave.

“I know in Vancouver they have buildings where portions are dedicated for people with lower incomes; I would like that kind of policy to be looked at.”

Ani said she likes that the development is going in close to the Village.

“And it’s 25 lots, that’s not extreme. I like the way you’re going forward.”

APC member Stuart Denholm said he is more pessimistic than the rest of the APC members.

“I didn’t really support this at first. I thought, as strange as it may be to turn your nose up at a 300 acre parkland, do we need a 25 lot subdivision in the Village? 

“Are we doing okay without it? Would the proponent manage with the existing densities?”

He said he would not only agree with pursuing the idea that it be less of a park, more of an ecological area, but would go so far as to strengthen something to create more forestry opportunities.

“You can have sustainable forestry in concert with habitat conservation.”

He said the water issue still needs to be addressed.

“The most recent assessment was not based on current data. People in Burns and Lockinvar, these lots are stressed for water, their wells have been diminishing over time, and they are concerned with the water coming out of this proposal.

“In the subdivision stage, I’m glad you have to drill for water. Could it not be part of the bylaw application, does it have to happen at subdivision?

“Could there be a test well drilled to know what the water situation is?”

Ani asked if APC members had any more comments.

Andrew said, “One of my favourite hobby horses, gentrification. That’s a general issue I have not with this proposal, but the direction the island is going. It concerns me. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do, but it is not a wealthy/non-wealthy thing. 

“I just mean a disproportion of wealthy and non-wealthy, where we don’t have a diverse community. It happened on Salt Spring Island and in Whistler; I don’t want it to happen here. I appreciate everything the applicant is doing to create a good proposal for the island, but on a bigger scope, that’s the concern of mine.”

Andrew said ideally he’d like to see the application address affordable housing, “but we’re not.”

Prunty asked applicant Henning who he saw as the purchasers of the properties.

Henning said, “I don’t know - I don’t follow the real estate market. I know from what I’m told, there are not a lot of properties on the market on Gabriola - so who’s going to buy it?

“There’s a lot of discussion on affordability that is beyond this application; I have ideas, but it is not for me to speak to.”

Andrew, Landry, Prunty and Ani voted in favour of Bylaws 289 and 290 moving forward to the next stage. Denholm and Langereis voted against it.

A public hearing for the bylaws is scheduled for this Wednesday, March 29 at 7pm at the Phoenix Auditorium at the Haven.