RDN Director’s Monthly Report

Vanessa Craig

Director, Electoral Area B, Regional District of Nanaimo

Wednesday, March 4 2020

As I reported in an earlier Director’s report, the RDN has been completing a parks bylaw review. This week the Board supported the new bylaw with its focus on parks protection. Among other changes, including a total ban on smoking in parks, it allows the RDN to regulate homeless camping. Unfortunately, there has been a misunderstanding about the intent of the bylaw. Some discussion seems to suggest that the RDN is encouraging or allowing homeless camping in our parks – that is not the case. The bylaw change is to align our regulations with BC Supreme Court rulings that uphold the right of homeless people to erect shelters in public spaces, including parks. The ruling indicated that, although a local government can’t ban homeless camping, it can regulate it. This new bylaw attempts to balance the rights of the homeless while maintaining our public enjoyment of parks by restricting where and when homeless camping can occur. The purpose of our parks is both to conserve nature and to provide spaces and amenities where we can recreate and enjoy nature – including in walking trails, playgrounds, sports courts and ball fields, and using picnic tables, benches, parking areas and other features. The RDN bylaw ensures that homeless camping remains at least 30 m from any park amenity, conservation area, or neighbouring residential property. This prohibits homeless camping in 77% of RDN parks. In the remaining parks, the 30-m restriction still applies and the bylaw limits camping to between 7 pm and 9 am the next morning when they must pack up all of their belongings and vacate the park. 

Homeless camping is occurring in parks on Gabriola and elsewhere. Prior to this bylaw there were no limits on when or where a homeless person could camp and the RDN had limited ability to regulate this activity. The bylaw sets limits and provides tools for enforcement, if needed. Homelessness is a complex issue intertwined with issues of mental health, addiction, and affordable housing. The RDN is developing a regional housing strategy and investigating support/tools for affordable housing, and our neighbouring municipality the City of Nanaimo is also actively addressing the issue. Please continue to engage with all levels of government to support funding and services for mental health, addictions, and homelessness.

The RDN partnered with the Gabriola Local Trust Committee and three other local governments to submit a provincial grant. The grant will support development of a social needs assessment and strategy focusing on the well-being of families, youth and children, and social supports. I’m happy to see this expansion of the relationship between the Islands Trust and RDN for a project such as this, and thank Trustee Scott Colbourne for his work on this project.

The RDN is considering implementing Development Cost Charges (DCCs) as a way to address funding for parks. A DCC is a fee that is charged when a property is subdivided to create single family lots or when a multi-family dwelling building permit is issued. The DCC recognizes that an increasing population puts added demand on parks, and shifts some of the costs from existing taxpayers to the developers. A DCC program must meet specific requirements set by the provincial government, and fees to developers can only address projects anticipated to meet population growth, not current requirements. The DCC project will come back to the Board prior to consultation with developers and the public.

All of the documents I mention above are available on the RDN website on meeting agendas. If you have trouble finding them, please contact me and I can email them to you.

Upcoming: 

• I will be holding drop-in office hours at the front office of the Islands Trust building on Monday March 9th between 10 am-noon, and on Wednesday March 25th between 2:30-4:30 pm.

• The Electoral Area Services Committee (starting 1:30 pm) and Committee of the Whole (starting 3 pm) upcoming meetings are on March 10th and April 14th at the RDN Building in Nanaimo/online.

• The next RDN Board meetings are on March 24th and April 28th at the RDN Building in Nanaimo/online starting 7 pm.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me at Vanessa.Craig@rdn.bc.ca