Islands Trust approves RDN  request for Huxley Park variance

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, May 22 2019

The Regional District of Nanaimo has received Islands Trust approval for the variances requested to construct the parking lot and skate park at Huxley Community Park.

The RDN had asked for the Islands Trust to allow the lot coverage by structures to increase from the existing 24 per cent to 35 per cent. Zoning on the property allows for up to 20 per cent. The Huxley property was already at 24 per cent when it was rezoned as Active Park (P3) by the Islands Trust.

The RDN also asked for a variance to have the setback along North Road and the eastern property line be reduced.

Conditions placed on the permit being issued will include the RDN having a tree-planting plan in place to replace the trees removed at Huxley with trees planted on other RDN properties on Gabriola. There will also need to be a reduction in the number of parking stalls planned for the redeveloped and non-paved parking lot - to reduce the number of trees removed for the lot. (The current design has twelve spaces, two of which are intended to be accessible.)

Over 100 pieces of correspondence were submitted for the application, all of them are available for reading on the Islands Trust web site for Gabriola, under Current Applications.

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee debated for almost an hour over the decision on the variance - focusing almost solely on the increase in lot coverage.

Trustee Kees Langereis, said the application has not been an easy one for him to go over.

Langereis pointed to the application correspondence - acknowledging the community work and importance of skateparks. But, he said, from the Islands Trust perspective, the Preserve and Protect mandate, the Trustees need to consider the environmental impact.

“The litmus test is what impact does this have on the environment? For me, it is the issue of tree removal. I struggle with the impact.”

Trustee Scott Colbourne said a lot of the correspondence falls outside of what the LTC had to discuss and consider. He acknowledged the importance of Huxley Park as being what the RDN has said is the best place to do what the community wants.

Colbourne pointed out that the RDN has other parks on Gabriola. Huxley Park does no exist on its own. 

“This park [Huxley], where it is situated - the level of activity will be higher than anywhere else on the island.

“This site, the lot coverage, calls for more intensive human activity. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to mitigate that, it’s a holistic system, all the parks on this island are a cohesive unit.”

Colbourne suggested what was needed was a way for the RDN and Islands Trust to say if a tree is being taken down in one park, a trees should then be planted in another park, to offset the impacts of the loss of the forest.

He said he was not in favour of deferring the decision.

Langereis asked if there was a way to reduce the size of the skatepark.

RDN Parks staff were on hand at the meeting to answer LTC question.

The answer was that at the skatepark is already quite small, essentially at the smallest a functional skatepark can be and still have the elements critical to making it a successful piece of recreational infrastructure. Langereis asked if instead the parking lot could be reduced. Parks staff said they could look at reducing the number of stalls - but cautioned that may mean spillover from users of the park into the roadway and commercial parking lots which neighbour Huxley Park. Langereis said in voting to approve the variance, that the conditions on the permit were quite wide in their discretion.

“We’re working on an element of trust. I can to a degree accept that.

Both he and Colbourne pointed out the RDN and Islands Trust need to take a much more coordinated approach to park planning on Gabriola.

Colbourne said the overall approach to using zoning as a tool to keep forests intact on Gabriola, “has failed the trees. It’s a huge thing we’re going to deal with.”

Colbourne quoted a letter of correspondence from Jeff Alexander which stated, “we need things for all age groups. We are a loving and supportive island. I hope we can all work together for YOGI [Youth On Gabriola Island]. It was here before most of us, and will be here after us.”

The Gabriola Island Local Trust Committee voted unanimously to approve issuance of the RDN’s variance permit, which will reduce the setback for the construction of a skate park structure from 6.0 metres to 3.0 metres; reduce the setback for an existing playground structure from 6.0 metres to 5.5 metres; and; increase the maximum combined lot coverage by buildings and structures from 20 percent to 35 percent of the lot area.

The variance permit will be issued by Islands Trust staff once RDN staff have provided plans meeting the conditions requested by the LTC members.

The next step for the skatepark, and the rest of the redevelopment of Huxley, will be for the RDN to secure all of the funding needed. Applications have been submitted to federal and provincial grant programs, and the RDN expects to hear back from those applications prior to the federal election this fall.

If anyone has further interest in the project, the Gabriola Skateboard Fundraising Association members will be hosting their Annual General Meeting at 6:30pm at Huxley Park in the Sport Court on Thursday, May 23. All are welcome, and are encouraged to bring a chair, and if so desired, their skateboards.