Letter: Potlatch development: response to staff report

Tuesday, August 9 2016

As the Potlatch proposal is complex, the Trustees called for a public information meeting on June 21. At that meeting, questions were raised which the Island Planner sought to answer by a staff report delivered to the Trustees on July 21. This letter is a comment on the staff report.

Much of the information meeting and the staff report were concerned with procedure. The discussion was technical and difficult for some of us to follow, and the Trustees have taken legal advice on the proper way to proceed. The staff report did not mention a more fundamental question asked at the information meeting: Is this development right for Gabriola?

The proposal is to develop 25 residential building lots. Six or seven of those lots - it was not clear how many - will also support a second smaller residence, or cottage. Thirty-one or thirty-two new residences constitute a large development that is inconsistent with the rural character of Gabriola. We were also told at the information meeting that the development will be “gated,” with strata-title ownership and town houses. That describes a suburban development, perhaps appropriate for Burnaby, but not for Gabriola. A gated development, considered important for security in parts of America, is inappropriate on Gabriola.

The Island Planner was asked at the information meeting what effect the proposed development would have on the island’s water supply. He did not know then but wrote in the staff report that rainwater collected in cisterns “could” meet the problem. This would fall under the jurisdiction of Vancouver Island Health, who would not approve a cistern for more than one household. It follows that a cistern would not be approved for a house and cottage, and might not be approved for the development at all. At this time of increasing drought, the absence of a proven water supply that does not affect other uses casts serious doubt on the entire proposal. The Trustees responsibility to preserve and protect our island, including the trees dying in large numbers from lack of water, should lead them to reject any proposal that might endanger our precious but fragile water supply.

The Planner argued in his staff report that six or seven cottages could help relieve a shortage of rental housing on Gabriola. That is possible but unlikely. There have been complaints elsewhere in the province of houses being moved from the rental pool to Air B&B. There is no reason to think that landlords on Gabriola will not follow that trend and, if the cottages are built, list them on Air B&B, to the detriment of existing B&Bs on Gabriola and no increase in the rental pool. 

Under the proposal, Potlatch will apply to move densities to a large parcel zoned “resource” near the clinic, and apply to rezone the large parcel for subdividing into building lots, contravening a policy to maintain large resource parcels intact. The policy and its reasons were discussed by the Island Planner in another staff report also delivered on July 21 and referring to another proposal, and were relied upon by the Planner in his advice to the Trustees to reject that other proposal; he overlooked mentioning the policy in his staff report on the Potlatch proposal. 

~ Jamie Lawrence