Letter: Response to Nick Doe’s Dec. 20 letter

Tuesday, January 24 2017

I’d like to respond to Nick Doe’s excellent letter in the December 20 issue of the Sounder in which he elegantly points out that the Potlatch properties density transfer proposal is not a “100-to-0 contest,” whichever side of the proposal you happen to support. Nick’s letter illuminates an essential truth – there are legitimate pros and cons which the Trustees must thoughtfully consider before ultimately deciding whether to accept or reject the Potlatch proposal. 

I believe the pros outnumber the cons, and have actively demonstrated my support for this proposal by writing to the Trustees, speaking at a public meeting, and writing a previous letter to the Sounder. However, consistent with Nick’s portrayal of those on the “yeah yeah” side, I haven’t publicly acknowledged that the increased vehicular traffic resulting from the Church-Spruce Roads connection will almost certainly be annoying to some local residents. Nor have I publicly acknowledged the valid concerns raised by some people that higher density and new wells may have negative impacts on the supply of well water to existing houses in the vicinity. In other words, I’m guilty as charged, as are many others on the “yeah yeah” side of this issue. 

On the other hand, those on the “never in a thousand years” side have not publicly acknowledged that local businesses might actually benefit from the increased sales that a small increase in island population might generate. To my knowledge, few of the dissenters have acknowledged that water concerns might be largely alleviated if it were mandated that all new house construction in the proposed development include an approved rainwater harvesting system that provides a high quantity and quality of water. In my case, a 14,000 below-ground cistern (installed when we built our house), along with good water treatment, provides all of my yearly water requirements without any supplemental well water. 

I’d prefer it if our community could enjoy the benefits of: 1) added parkland adjacent to the existing 707 Community Park, 2) enhanced protection of Coats Marsh, 3) connecting trail corridors between Cox Community Park and the Village Core, and 4) public access to, and protection of, the beautiful Mallett Creek corridor, without any further property development or re-zoning. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough government or taxpayer money to purchase these benefits in today’s world. The density transfer provision in the Official Community Plan is the most realistic way for Gabriolans to acquire these benefits, but to do so we must be prepared to give something up in return. 

A successful development project will ultimately provide a “win” to both the developer and to the community. The developer will make a profit (after assuming substantial financial risk) and the community will benefit from the acquisition and/or protection of valuable assets or amenities which will ultimately enhance its quality of life. It’s the prerogative of the community and the Trustees to push for as many concessions as possible during the public consultation and approval process. As I understand it, the Potlatch developer has “sweetened the pot” considerably by agreeing to provide public access to the cliff viewpoint and by providing a trail connection to Horseshoe Road. The developer has also agreed that the trail connections between Cox Community Park and the Village Core should be assigned full park status. 

In my opinion, we’ve likely pushed far enough. For example, I don’t think we should insist that the access road from Taylor Bay Road remain ungated. The property is already tastefully fenced and there is in fact a Gabriola precedent for an access gate to this type of residential development (at the end of Ivory Way). Frankly, I don’t believe that signage alone will prevent non-resident vehicles from using the proposed narrow and winding private access road, which presumably has been specifically designed to preserve as much of the natural landscape as possible. It will essentially be a driveway, so why should it be treated any differently from the countless existing gated driveways on Gabriola Island? The proposed low-density strata development has virtually no similarity to “gated” communities in large urban areas.

For me, the important issue is that the developer has agreed to allow public pedestrian traffic on the access road, and also along the Mallett Creek corridor. 

As Nick Doe suggests, the Potlatch proposal “is a very reasonable, fair-minded offer, which we are free to accept or reject.” I believe Nick’s polite rebuke of those on both the “yeah yeah” and “nay nay” side is also reasonable and fair-minded, and I’ll certainly try to remember that when voicing my support for the Potlatch proposal in the future. My hope is that we can all agree to take Nick’s wise advice and wrestle with the pros and cons in a balanced and thoughtful way.   

~ Rob Brockley