Calculation of density key concern for Potlatch critics

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, June 28 2016

Members of the public are questioning how Islands Trust staff are calculating the number of densities that can be put on the receiver parcels for the proposed Potlatch density transfer.

If it were approved in its current form, the proposal would see 17 densities transferred from properties between the 707 Community Park and the Coats Marsh Regional Park to properties between Church Street and Spruce Road, also bordered by Taylor Bay Road.

The end result would be 25 private properties on the receiver parcels, with average lot size just under five acres. Six of the most eastern properties would be over five acres in size.

It would also see a public road connect between Church Street and Spruce Avenue - an emergency access route the Gabriola Fire Department and Gabriola RCMP have both publicly supported.

Thursday, June 23, the Gabriola Local Trust Committee and Trust staff held a Community Information Meeting to answer questions and hear opinions on the application.

To start with, Trust Planner Rob Milne explained there were actually two applications involved in the proposal.

The first involves rezoning one of the receiver parcels from Forestry to Resource. This would be the parcel which included the Community Health Centre five acres.

This has to be done - from the proponents point-of-view - for the property to be able to receive the number of densities proposed.

The end designation will be a new zoning, Resource Residential 2, to allow for the lots to be smaller than currently allowed under Resource Residential 1. The applicant has said any requirement to make the lots bigger will mean taking more land back from what is intended to be public park in the receiver parcels.

Milne said the applicant is donating more park as part of the proposed subdivision than is required.

The second application is the transfer of the density from the donor parcels to the receiver parcels and the donation of lands to the community for parks.

Milne said typically an applicant would go through the first re-zoning application, and then apply to do the density transfer.

He said that to save time and cost, and in the interest of transparency, the applicant has put both applications forward to be run in tandem.

During the question period, the Trustees and staff were asked why the receiver parcel was not being calculated in accordance with the Official Community Plan policy. Repeated questions as to why the receiver parcel was being treated as a resource zoning - rather than forestry - were put forward by members of the audience.

Milne’s answer was essentially that the calculation was coming from the application being put forward.

Any application, Milne said, gets to have its day and is put through the public process. So far, staff have recommended the Trustees move forward in considering the application.

Concern was also noted as to how public access would be maintained to the roads and trails being proposed in the receiver parcels’ subdivision.

Within the application, the proponents are clear in saying they want the roads to be strata, rather than Ministry roadways.

The trails are not marked as public rights-of-way.

The concern of those questioning the proposal is that at some future date, the property owner(s) could put up gates and cut off access to the roads and trails - be that the proposed connection between Church and Spruce, or the proposed trails connecting Burnside and Lockinvar to Cox Community Park.

As one member of the public pointed out, there are already issues on Gabriola with people building fences and buildings and cutting off public rights-of-way to beaches.

Milne said the first step for that would be through bylaw enforcement. The second would be to have final approval of the application contingent on the property owners signing covenants that the roads and trails would be kept open as public.

Milne was asked if there was any study being done to consider the effect the homes on the proposed 25 lots would have on the water supply of Gabriola, in particular Phase 4, if the application is approved.

Milne said no study has been done to estimate that. It may be possible. 

“Those types of studies happen through the Trust Council who would provide the money to do that, as authorized/requested by the LTC.”

Milne was also asked if the Mallett watershed had been mapped and designated within the Riparian Areas Regulations (RAR) Development Permit Area (DPA).

He said due to the extensive work done in recent years around RAR, it is likely the area has been mapped, but it has not been designated as part of the RAR DPA.

He was questioned why the donor parcels were not being labelled as parks in the proposal.

Current, Milne said, the Regional District of Nanaimo has not actually said it would accept those properties as parks. As such, the Trust uses caution, in the event The Nature Conservancy or other agency ends up taking ownership, and does not want the zoning to be Park.

Howard Houle, RDN Director for Gabriola was present and said that taking ownership of the parks would not be free.

Currently, he said, Gabriola spends $180,000 a year to maintain the parks on Gabriola.

Were the new properties to be taken on, he said, “this would mean an increase of $80,000. Around $8.50 per $100K of your home value. Consider that with this.”

Part of the area by Taylor Bay Road that would become parks includes an earthen dam and the pond which is part of the Mallett Creek watershed

 Milne and Houle both confirmed the RDN has concerns about taking on the liability of the dam - pointing to the risks of what would happen in the event of an earthquake.

Houle added two other objections to the proposal.

“Gabriola does not support zoning for amenties. At all.

“Rainwater harvesting as a drinking water source is not supported by the Island Health Authority.”

Milne said he had conversations with representatives from Island Health, through the Courtenay office, and with the proper filtration and other systems in place, rainwater can be used.

Houle said, “the RDN has legislation in front of the provincial government with regards to rainwater collection. Presently they [the Province] do not allow it. Period.”

Members of the audience spoke in favour of what was being offered to the community, beyond the road connection between Spruce and Church.

Supporters pointed out that the lands adjoining the 707 presented an opportunity that would no come forward again - if the community turns it down now, it will not be a forest forever.

Residents of Spruce Avenue said they were worried about increasing the traffic through their area if the road connects through to the village core.

Being as Spruce is narrow, with tight corners, and primarily dirt and gravel at the dead end, Milne was asked what recourse the residents might have to know the road will be kept safe and possibly paved if there is an increase in traffic.

Milne said that would be the responsibility of the Transportation Ministry.

Fire Chief Rick Jackson was present, and said his understanding was the Ministry assigns road upgrades based on traffic - if there is an increase in traffic on Spruce, the Ministry should take that into effect.

He said he knows there are people who don’t like the idea of the road connection between Spruce and Church.

But, as he pointed out, there are still 70 lots to be developed in the Phase 4 area already.

“A significant number of lots are there - people could show up tomorrow, buy a permit, and build a home.”

A road connection between Spruce and Church may not be what causes more traffic in Phase 4. Regardless of the connection being built, if/when those 70 lots are developed, the traffic will be increasing, and heading down Norwich.

“The sense I get is most people are worried it is going to be more through traffic - it’s my gut feeling is it will average out.”

The proposed subdivision (as it is currently designed) - The blue square is the five acres of property around the Gabriola Community Health Centre at the dead end of Church Street. The white line running north is the proposed connection through to Spruce Ave. The darker green is the roposed park donation including the park corridor to Taylor Bay Road for the Mallett Creek watershed, and trail connections to Burnside and Lockinvar. In lighter green are the existing RDN parks Cox Community Park and Descanso Bay Regional Park. In yellow are the 25 proposed lots, including one on Descanso Bay.