Letter: We need to ask if the development proposal is right for Gabriola

Tuesday, June 14 2016

I understand that the development proposal reported in your May 31 issue will be discussed at a public meeting on June 23. That meeting is promoted as an information meeting, presumably for the developer to speak to his proposal, but it will also give Gabriolans an opportunity to discuss important questions raised by the proposal.

The first question asks the place of a new 25 home residential development within the Gulf Islands Trust Mandate. The Islands Trust was created to protect the islands from development, but perhaps we must recognize that development is here. What we called the Village could now be called the Central Business District. Commercial development asks for more residential customers who in turn ask for more commercial services. That may be within the Trust mandate as it develops, but we should know where we are headed and not just drift on. The question could be referred to the Advisory Planning Commission to consider the wishes of Gabriolans in the context of the mandate of the Islands group to which we belong. A 25 unit development with rezoning and density transfers is a major proposal that will influence future proposals and should not proceed until we know where we are headed.  

The second question asks, quite independently of the first, if this proposal is right for Gabriola now. I believe it is not. Gabriola Island is feeling the drought that afflicts all western North America. There are anecdotal reports of wells drying up last summer, and another hot dry summer is forecast. There are signs that the water table may be dropping. Californians have been told that their drought is the worst in 1200 years, but I have not heard any estimate of how long it may last.

The drought on Gabriola will end sometime, but while it is with us the “precautionary principle,” otherwise known as common sense, should lead the Trustees to discourage any activity that might increase water usage. Residential development is a heavy water user, and a new 25 lot subdivision is unacceptable now. The Regional District, which issues building permits, might be asked to cooperate in protecting water.

The developer’s proposal involves building on land now zoned forest. That is also unacceptable. Forest is the best conservator of water, and water conservation is the principal reason for forest zoning. Our forest land must be preserved. Some forest parcels may have been already cleared of trees, but that is no reason to change the zoning. Trees will grow back and the time taken for trees to grow is a very short time in the life of the island we are mandated to protect.

We assume, although the Sounder report does not expressly state, that the land adjoining the 707 and to be offered as park is now zoned forest, and that the developer hopes to take advantage of a provision in the OCP allowing new densities to a landowner who is permitted to rezone from forest to park. That provision in the OCP dates from a time when Gabriola had plenty of water and plenty of forest land, and needed to encourage the creation of parks. The situation is now completely different. We have had extensive parkland since the 707 and Cox Park were created, and we face a serious water shortage with threats to forest land. The Trustees should not countenance rezoning forest to park and should consider repealing the provision under which it is done. More parkland is always a nice thought, and parkland does to some extent protect the water table, but not as well as forest.

The public meeting will also wish to discuss access other than by Taylor Bay Road to the area Twin Beaches/Berry Point/Norwich Hill and the land above Norwich Hill for emergency evacuation and for police and fire calls. The developer will not dedicate a Church/Spruce connector without approval of his potentially damaging proposal, which leads us to wonder if there may be another route involving another landowner who might be less intransigent. The rough road from the top of Norwich Hill to Daniel Way comes to mind. The upper part of that road is said to be already gazetted road allowance. For those of us who live on the unpaved part of Spruce Road, access to the clinic and the fire hall would be more convenient by a Church Road connector, but for those on or below Norwich Hill, Daniel Way could be as or more convenient. Those who object to increased traffic on the residential sections of Spruce and Chelwood might prefer Daniel Way. There may be other routes also that do not surrender our precious water.

~ Jamie Lawrence