Islands Trust taking issue with specifics of ferry development plans

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, February 5 2020

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee and staff have three concerns with the BC Ferries application around redevelopment of the Descanso Bay terminal.

Namely - loss of public parking in the terminal parking lot; the use of an electronic screen as signage outside the terminal building; and the inclusion of a commercial retail space in a terminal which is already making accommodations for a limited space.

As discussion at the Jan. 23 LTC meeting continued, Trustee Scott Colbourne added a concern that there was no attempt made to accommodate workforce housing into the terminal plans - even as an allowed (but not developed) use within the regulations.

Brian Green, BCF Terminal Development Manager, was present at the LTC meeting and spoke to the Trust concerns.


Staff said with regards to the parking, they feel the application was misleading to the public in stating how many parking stalls would be available. While there will be 21 stalls designed into the proposed terminal, 14 of those stalls will be reserved for BC Ferries staff. Of the seven remaining stalls, one will be designated for accessible parking, leaving six stalls for public use. There are currently 18 public stalls in the terminal. Staff pointed out that the terminal is one of the most congested areas of Gabriola Island.

“It is very problematic for anyone with mobility challenges; the only other public parking lot is difficult to access due to steepness of the entrance.”

Green said the site is very small, and said BC Ferries had consulted with the Ferry Advisory Committee on the proposals.

“We were asked to prioritize for the GERTIE bus, we wanted to ensure the bus could come into the terminal and be outside the building, directly at the lounge. And we had to prioritize passenger drop off. On a regular day now it’s a gong show. We were trying to prioritize areas for drop off.”

The result of this meant there would be a reduction in the parking lot size. Compounding this, he said, is the plan to have two vessels servicing the route - which means more crew. Union agreements require BC Ferries to provide parking for staff. Based on the size of the vessel crews, that will require 14 spaces on the Gabriola side of the route.

Green said that may change when the schedule for the two vessels is in place, once the three crews are in place, and one vessel is based in Nanaimo Harbour (with crew for that vessel potentially living in Nanaimo).

“At that point we could have a more flexible use of those stalls. We are constrained by the site. We didn’t want to push the terminal out into the sea.”

He pointed to the off-site paid parking lot, operated by Robbins Parking, beside the main Skol Pub parking lot. 

“We also want to limit parking; providing more parking stalls will encourage more people to drive.”

Commercial retail use

As staff pointed out, BC Ferries is insisting on there being space designated for commercial retail use. Whether this is for a coffee shop, or souvenir sales, or any other commercial use is not clearly defined.

Staff said given the space constraints and concerns around providing sufficient parking space for bicycles and vehicles, and for drop off locations, every square foot is needed.

“We have provided for the commercial space in the zone - we are anticipating lots of input on this.”

Green said there is a call for limited retail uses within the concept master plan BC Ferries has for the terminal.

“For the conceptual building design, we do have a space for a small vendor mart. We get requests, people want to sell goods, or First Nations selling art at the terminals. This would be allowing that use to take place - just like many terminals where it’s not a permitted use.

“They [BC Ferries terminals] all have something at the terminal - so this is trying to formalize what already happens at those terminals.”

Electronic signage

Roughly a year ago, BC Ferries installed an electronic reader board above the Descanso Bay terminal. Even if it was only used to tell passengers when a ferry is on time or late, the use of an electronic sign contravenes the Gabriola Land Use Bylaw.

Staff said unless there is a complaint registered, bylaw enforcement won’t do anything about it. As of yet, there has not yet been an official complaint.

As a rezoning is taking place however, and a new terminal built, it could be at that time the sign could come down and not be put back up.

Staff said the applicant has said the sign is needed for notifications. The sign is also used for commercial purposes, advertising BCF vacations, and could potentially be used to sell and display third-party advertising - which is also in contravention to the Gabriola LUB.

Staff said they have informed the applicant that is not permitted in the LUB, and have suggested that if the sign is specific to walk-on passengers (it is too small to be functionally used by vehicle traffic), it could be installed inside the terminal.

The applicant has stated that it be included as a permitted use on the outside of the building.

Green said, “When we want to inform our customers of when there are cancellations or where the current vessel is, particularly in the unstaffed terminals - there’s a need for that sign to provide that information.

“We think the signage is appropriate, and pedestrian-scaled in nature. It is not above the building or for vehicle drivers.

“Apparently that sign was installed without a permit - someone did that without a permit. 

“It is what it is, we’d like to rectify that and have a sign that continues to be there.”

Trust staff said despite the concerns voiced to BC Ferries, the bylaws are consistent with the Trust policy statement, and staff is recommending both amendment bylaws (OCP and LUB) be referred out to the appropriate First Nations communities; the Gabriola Advisory Planning Commission; the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee; the Regional District of Nanaimo; and any other relevant agencies.

While BC Emergency Health Services (BC EHS); the RCMP; and Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department utilize the adjacent Descanso Bay emergency wharf, the referral will not go to those agencies, but instead will go to the RDN as the owner of the wharf.

Trustee Scott Colbourne brought the discussion around to workforce housing, asking if that had been considered for inclusion in the rezoning as an accessory use.

Trust staff said they had advised BC Ferries of that opportunity, saying this would be the time to insert that kind of language, but BC Ferries had no interest in pursuing that.

Colbourne asked if the Trust could include that kind of language.

Staff said they could, but it would not force BC Ferries to build it.

Colbourne said that considering the response, and the need to include a small commercial space, “it comes back to how they are governed, they look for minor ways to make money instead of the public interest. I find their approach is problematic. I hope that comes up in discussions.”

Green said it is worth pointing out why BC Ferries had to submit this application. 

He said in advance of the application to the Islands Trust, BC Ferries created a long-term redevelopment plan, with what Green called an extensive public engagement.

Through the process, two bylaws were found needing to be updated.

He said back when the current terminal was developed, “it was not zoned in the OCP as BC Ferries was a Crown Corporation - we just did what we did.

“In 2003, BC Ferries became a private company - we have to now comply with bylaws.”

Green said while the hope had been to develop both of the terminals for the Gabriola route concurrently, BC Ferries will be moving ahead with the Nanaimo Harbour terminal redevelopment in late 2020/early 2021. The Gabriola redevelopment timing will be dependent on the application before the Islands Trust. Public consultation meetings for the Nanaimo Terminal and Gabriola Terminal are respectively scheduled for February 26 in Nanaimo, and February 27 on Gabriola. See the Feb. 12 Sounder for details on those meetings.