Letter: The Potlatch/Henning Density Transfer Application

Tuesday, December 13 2016

Please accept this submission on behalf of the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust (GaLTT) in response to the bylaw referral package received from the Gabriola Island Local Trust Committee of the Islands Trust regarding Bylaw Nos. 289 and 290. 

Overall, GaLTT is strongly supportive of this density transfer application.

Summary:

We have been involved since 2015 in providing feedback to the applicants from GaLTT’s perspective, and feel that our input was used to improve both the conservation and community connectivity (trails) components of the proposal to date.

The application aligns strongly with GaLTT’s mandate “...to secure, develop and sustain a network of parkland and trails on Gabriola Island for the benefit of the public, and to preserve sites of environmental, historical, and social importance.” And while doing so GaLTT will “support the objectives and policies of the Gabriola Island Official Community Plan (OCP);”

We have worked to keep our approximately 200 members informed, listened and incorporated their feedback in our response and encouraged them to respond directly to Trust as well with their approval or concerns. The GaLTT table at the weekly Farmers’ Market responded to many questions from members and the public on the density transfer process in the OCP and the application details throughout the summer. 

We have provided recommendations to the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) through the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee (POSAC).   Regarding POSAC’s assessment of the Proposal for “matters that pertain to RDN Community Parks and Trails” (RDN website), the GaLTT Board strongly recommended the following improvements to the implementation of the application:

• That the RDN establish all the “connecting trails” in the Receiver parcels as “Linear Parks” as soon as feasible (between the Village Core, Taylor Bay Road area, Cox Community Park, Spruce Ave, the Community Health Centre and Horseshoe Road).

• That the detailed surveying of the parkland along Mallett Creek from the pond to Taylor Bay Road provides for a trail beside Mallett Creek that is located far enough back from the streambed to meet Riparian Area Regulations, but still within the parkland. 

Discussion:

The Gabriola community has increased the amount of protected open space (parks, nature reserves, conservation covenants and other forms of ecological protection) dramatically since 2000, but we still have less protected land (9.2%) than most other Gulf Islands (average is 17.8%). Only Mayne (4.3%) and Thetis (3.2%) have less protected area than the Gabriola Local Trust Area. By comparison, Saltspring is at 19.9%; Bowen 14.6%; Denman 24%; Galiano 21%. Saturna has the most protected land at 45%. This Application would raise the amount of protected open space on Gabriola to about 12%. 

GaLTT does not claim to have systematically studied all of Gabriola for the best lands to achieve the Island Trust’s preserve and protect mandate, but the Potlatch/Henning application Donor Lands have been evaluated by board members who have professional training in conservation ecology, forestry, and geology. Several board members have career experience working with national, provincial and local parks agencies. It is the board’s considered opinion that the Donor Lands are of very high value for increasing the protection of the endangered dry Coastal Douglas Fir Zone. It is noteworthy that the work done by the Island Trust Fund in mapping the Ecosystems of Gabriola classifies essentially all the Donor Lands as being Sensitive plant communities.

Approximately 300 acres of the Donor Lands will adjoin the current boundaries of the 707 Acre Community Park and the Coats Marsh Regional Park, including the head of the large marsh pond.  This will create a very important large contiguous area (approximately 1050 acres) of protected forest land for wildlife conservation, for ground water retention, and for wilderness recreation. The addition of the Donor parcels will protect the critical watershed east of Coats Marsh and allow for an integrated trail network.

GaLTT also has a keen interest in having the approximately 18 acres remaining of the Coats Marsh drainage area secured as park or nature reserve and intends to explore potential options.

The approximately 40 acres of protected forest land/park in the vicinity of the Community Health Centre will provide welcome future green space near the village core, and will adjoin Cox Community Park. 

The proposed trail corridors in the Receiving Lands are consistent with GaLTT’s keen interest in improving neighborhood connectivity.

New environmental protection measures will be afforded to Mallett Creek and Peacocks Pond, adjacent to Cox Community Park. 

And we support the following measures:

• Establish the proposed connecting trails as RDN Linear Parks

• Establishing Linear Parks to place those trails under the control of the RDN Parks Department, and remove any doubt as to who is responsible for trail maintenance. This approach would also advance the beginning of public access to these trails as much as possible.

• The development of connecting trails aligns strongly with GaLTT’s keen interest in improving neighborhood connectivity. 

• These trails would provide both recreational opportunities and easy access to services in the village core for the north-west end of the island without the need of a vehicle, and would support GaLTT’s longstanding objective of having trail connections from Descanso Bay to Drumbeg Park.

• Establishing a viewpoint over the Strait of Georgia from the top of the bluff, approximately at the north end of Lot 7.  From there a trail would go down the steep road cut to the valley floor, across the base of the cliff to Lot 1 and out to Horseshoe Road.

• Establish a public access trail in the proposed Mallett Creek parkland

• The stream valley of Mallett Creek from the pond to Taylor Bay Road would be protected as parkland and as a riparian area. 

• A trail near Mallett Creek would be a very valuable trail connection from Taylor Bay Road to the Village and to Phase 4.

While not within GaLTT’s mandate, this application also furthers the transportation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction objectives contained in the OCP. 

In closing, the density transfer process is a very useful planning tool available through the Islands Trust legislation and regulations and can help to achieve the preserve and protect mandate. No new densities are being created by this process, while concentrating development is fully recognized as an environmentally sound approach to future development.

Thank you for including GaLTT in the Non-Agency Referral list, and for considering our recommendations.

Sincerely, 

Norm Harburn

President, Gabriola Land and Trails Trust