Coats Marsh once again eyed for deposit into density bank

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, August 28 2018

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) is looking at figuring out how to resolve the issue of rezoning Coats Marsh Regional Park to “park,” while potentially depositing the densities from the property into the Gabriola Density Bank.

The problem, as it has been since the Regional District created the park, is that the Nature Trust opposes the use of those densities and wants them extinguished with the rezoning.

This has been the stance of the Nature Trust throughout the last three terms of the LTC - involving the two current Island Trustees as well as former Trustees Deb Ferens, Gisele Rudischer and Sheila Malcolmson - who were on the LTC to create the density bank.

The park came into being almost 10 years ago, just after Rudischer was elected RDN Director.

Because there was a tax benefit to the previous property owners of the Marsh, the Nature Trust says by utilizing those densities for anything changes the value of the land, and as such, could have tax implications.

As Trustee Heather O’Sullivan said this past week, she knows this is not the first time the discussion has happened this term at the LTC table.

“In 2015, the Nature Trust very much opposed the transfer of the densities. The RDN at that time was ambivalent - I’m trying to understand if the Nature Trust does actually have a say in this or not. I know they have strong feelings.

“But I don’t understand if they have a legal right to determine what happens with those densities or not.”

Trust staff said the LTC has full authority to zone land as it sees fit. However, there is some case law around down-zoning when the result would be no economic value to the property. 

The difference with the Regional Park is that the land is to be specifically designated as park, and to protect that property in perpetuity. 

Staff is of the opinion that rezoning that property would be in keeping with the direction of the RDN.

Staff said the density bank is more set up to keep track of densities.

Trustee Mamoser said her concern is that beyond the discussion of whether the Coats densities should be added to the bank, there is no mechanism for actually making a deposit.

“We have the existence of [the bank], but it was never followed through on the process for adding densities to it.

“My recollection was that they couldn’t extinguish the densities - even if landowners didn’t want us to use densities - they didn’t have the legal right to do that.”

She said she also understood that the LTC has the ability to increase densities, just to create them and add them to the overall number of densities on Gabriola.

“We don’t do it - but we could. That’s my understanding.”

Howard Houle, RDN Director for Gabriola, said he had spoken to RDN Parks staff, who were going to delve deeper into the issue.

The issue, he said, is that when the park came into being, there was a tax receipt issued.

“Changing densities could impact that.”

He said according to the Trust staff report in the LTC agenda, RDN staff had been talked to about the transfer, “and they were happy with it. But I haven’t found anyone that was talked to.”

The only person he hadn’t talked to was the head of the parks department, but that person was on holidays and Houle couldn’t verify if he had been spoken to.

Trustees passed a motion requesting Islands Trust staff to liaise with RDN staff regarding the potential transfer of densities from Coats Marsh Regional Park.

Mamoser made a second request of staff, to define the mechanism of adding to the density banks.