POSAC members recommend RDN accept proposed park and trails beside Cox Park

Sounder News

Tuesday, August 1 2017

The Gabriola Parks and Open Spaces Advisory Committee (POSAC) has recommended the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) accept the parkland dedication and trail rights-of-way as proposed in the Williamson & Associates Density Transfer Application (also known as the Potlatch proposal).

The parkland being discussed was the proposed park between Church Street and Spruce Avenue, bordered by the Cox Community Park and the ends of Burnside and Lockinvar Lane, which are part of the “receiver” lands in the overall density transfer.

The park being proposed does not include Mallett Creek or the pond created by the earthen dam on the former Peacock property.

The POSAC committee had, at a previous meeting held earlier this year, recommended the RDN accept the density transfer parkland from the “donor” lands, which includes all but five acres of the properties between the 707 Community Park and Coats Marsh Regional Park.

Because the receiver lands park is being formed through the subdivision of the receiver lands and not through density transfer, there is no requirement for the RDN to request that the Islands Trust zone it as P2 (passive).

The decision to accept the receiver lands parkland was not without some debate, as some POSAC members were not willing to have the RDN take on the parkland unless the developer would be required to bear the costs of developing trails through the park which allow for connections from Cox and Descanso Bay parks through to the Village Core.

Among the trail improvements will be a pedestrian bridge to allow people to cross the Mallett Creek watershed which falls within a riparian areas regulations Development Permit Area.

Kyle Clifford, POSAC member, said that he believed it was reasonable to make acceptance of the park contingent on the developer putting those trails in.

“Instead of the Gabriola ratepayers accepting the responsibility...this is an opportunity. Make sure those accesses become part of the overall development.”

Howard Houle, RDN Director for Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy islands), chairs POSAC and is a voting member as well.

Houle reminded POSAC members there is no amenity zoning on Gabriola, so there is nothing to compel the developer to put in those trails.

Clifford said he could not support the proposal without the developer bearing those costs, saying it is unfortunate that each time someone develops a property, there is a lost opportunity for community benefits.

“If my only option is to not accept that, I won’t.”

When it came to the initial vote on the recommendation to accept the parkland, the POSAC members were split, with Clifford and Glenna Borsuk voting against the recommendation, and Houle and Derek Kilbourn voting in favour of it. With a tied vote, the recommendation was defeated.

The second recommendation requested of the POSAC members was whether or not the RDN should accept the four rights-of-way trails that would connect through where the homes in the proposed subdivision will be. 

POSAC members were unanimous in voting in favour of the RDN accepting those rights-of-way trails.

The third recommendation was asking the POSAC members if the RDN should set a budget for development of the park, which would then be inserted into the overall work plan for the Area B Parks. RDN staff said the recommended budget was $186,000.

RDN Park Planner Elaine McCulloch said that budget was a “worst case” scenario, where all development was done without the use of grants or volunteer work.

It included the development of a parking area, as well as the trails through the new park to Cox Park (including the rights-of-way) and the pedestrian bridge over the creek.

Trails would be developed and maintained to the same standard as those in the 707 Community Park.

As the committee had voted against acceptance of the park, McCulloch said the budget would be readjusted to roughly $30,000 to develop just the rights-of-way trails that POSAC had recommended accepting.

Kilbourn asked Houle if prior to voting on the budget, could the committee reconsider the first recommendation.

Houle said only someone who voted in favour of the first recommendation could bring it back to the table, which Kilbourn said he would do.

Kilbourn said, “We’re now talking about setting a budget for developing trails, which we’re apparently willing to accept, but we’re willing to accept the rest of the parkland. 

“Members voted against accepting the park on the principle of the developer paying for trail development. I think if that’s the principle being debated, we’ve voted against the wrong recommendation.”

Houle and McCulloch were asked what could happen if the POSAC recommended against accepting the park.

Houle said the recommendation would be part of what would go before the RDN Board when that Board made its decision to accept the park.

“Recommendation from POSAC is quite high on the RDN Board’s consideration.”

He said though that the RDN Board could go against the recommendation and still accept the park.

Clifford reiterated his belief that the RDN should not accept the park without a requirement for the developer to cover the costs of the trail development.

Houle said that recommendation from POSAC is quite high on the RDN Board’s consideration.

McCulloch said, “At this point, it is not a possibility for us to make that request.”

Houle said POSAC members have to trust staff to work with the developer where possible to ensure that those trails, particularly the rights-of-way trails, are done when the rest of the development goes through.

The change which Clifford was asking for though, according to Houle, would need to be made in the Gabriola Official Community Plan, a responsibility of the Islands Trust.

“If you want that to be in our OCP, it is not going to do us any good at this time. You need to go after the Trustees and lobby them for a change.”

Previous developments, which resulted in parks such as the 707 Community Park, were accepted without requiring the developer involved to cover the costs of developing the park.

Planning staff from the Trust were present for information purposes, and pointed out that the community was already getting more than was required from the developer.

Under provincial dedication rules for subdivision, only five per cent of the property being subdivided needs to be dedicated for park. In the case of this proposal, that would amount to four hectares (just under 10 acres).

The proposed park area, however, is 16.4 hectares (40.5 acres), representing 25 per cent of the subject property.

Kilbourn said, “I don’t disagree with the idea that we want to see more financial involvement from developers when we take on parkland like this. But at this point in time, our OCP does not allow us to require it, and I don’t think this is the right hill to take a stand on, when we have an opportunity like this parkland being put forward.

Clifford said he did not want to see additional park dedicated on Gabriola without the changes requiring developers to bear the costs.

“I think I’ve made my point, and been heard. As long as my concerns are noted and it can be discussed further and go back to the Islands Trust...so this doesn’t become a question beaten on each time.”

The POSAC members re-voted on the first recommendation, which passed unanimously.

The second and third recommendations were also passed, accepting the rights-of-way trails and directing the RDN to plan on a budget of $186,000 to develop the new park through a management plan process.