Letter: The Potlatch proposal

Tuesday, February 7 2017

Lately I’ve been wondering why I feel so offended by the Potlatch application and I’ve come to the realization that the feeling stems as much from the process as the content. I can’t count how many times in staff reports, newspaper articles and Facebook posts we were told that the Potlatch proposal was density neutral. Now that the increase in density is recognized we’re being told that “density neutral” was an “unfortunate choice of words.” 

This means the entire process was based on a falsehood. Right from the outset, “density neutral” was a fundamental claim; no increase in density beyond what is currently allowed. When challenged at the start of the process, staff told us there was no increase because the density was partly based on the rezoning of the Church St. Forestry parcel to Resource; a rezoning for higher density that never happened.  

Why does this matter? It matters because we all know how sensitive an issue density is on Gabriola. Our OCP may be 20 years old but the issue is still relevant. 

It’s no coincidence that “no increase in density” was front and centre in the affordable housing survey the LTC recently undertook. It was a main theme in responses to the last such survey six or seven years ago. 

Gabriola has the highest density of all the Islands Trust areas (higher than Salt Spring) and we have approximately 600 empty lots waiting for new residents. Our OCP doesn’t permit any increases in density except for Seniors and Special Needs Housing. Density transfer is the only avenue there is to increase density beyond the current zoning. 

Once “density neutral” was accepted as truth there was no need to discuss the density limit in our OCP or the requirement in the Islands Trust Policy Statement that OCP limits be respected. This initial falsehood kept us from having any informed discussion of the issue. We should have been asked directly if we wanted to change the density limit policy in general or for this particular application. Instead we were informed that there was no increase. 

Islands Trust lawyers concluded that the proposal is not in conflict with the OCP because although contrary to numerous policies, in the end it is in line with the OCP when taken as a whole. 

The density transfer policy only allows an increase in density when Forestry land is donated in return. The deal is one lot created for every 19.76 acres of Forestry land donated. Titles to the donated land are transferred concurrent with the up-zoning. 

In this application two of the extra densities are attributed to the Church St. Forestry parcel as part of the application but there is no donation of Forestry land included in the zoning. The density transfer policy requires 39.5 acres of Forestry land in return for those two densities. 

Interestingly enough that’s almost exactly the same acreage that the applicant proposes to give us as a “gift” at subdivision. They must be connected. There are two possible explanations: the extra density is given for nothing in return or it is given in return for a 39 acre “gift” at subdivision. The attitude seems to be that in the end the result is the same, so it’s a wash. I find this view offensive for two reasons: 

Firstly, the bylaw requires that park in return for density is donated when the applicant gets the rezoning, not later when the subdivision is approved. The Islands Trust has no control over subdivisions. Here’s an example of what can happen: James Island was up-zoned twice without any subdivision occurring. Before the first subdivision plan was approved the island was sold and the new owner received another up-zoning. As part of the new zoning a gift of $1,000,000 was required but not due until the subdivision plan was approved. More than 10 years later there is still no subdivision and no million dollars. How long will we be waiting for the “gift” of parkland that should have been donated when the applicant got the up-zoning?

Secondly, I resent being told the community is receiving a gift of 39 acres when it should have been required at rezoning in return for the density increase. Why should the applicant receive the good will associated with a gift when it is only what the community would have received if the OCP provisions had been followed? And why was all this obfuscation necessary? Because the proposal doesn’t really fit the OCP and density is known to be an issue. 

It seems the 39 acres at subdivision is the “gift” required for acceptance of an application that disregards OCP policies and proper processes. It’s as if someone said “it’s fine if in the end the community gets the same amount of land however it’s achieved and whatever the consequences. Just focus on the end result.” 

I’ve been advised that I should stop arguing; that I should attempt to be more productive and to forget past misunderstandings and just move on from here. I’m afraid I can’t agree with a process that is anything but transparent and that leaves us open to more such processes in the future. In my opinion the end doesn’t justify the means.

~ Gisele Rudischer