Letter to Bowen Island Municipality, Attention: Michael Rosen, 81 Artisan Lane, Bowen Island BC V0N 1G0 dated February 11, 2009
Re: Cape Roger Curtis – Neighbourhood Plan – September 2008
The Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society has been asked to comment on the development options for the 631-acre Cape Roger Curtis Lands (“CRC”) entitled Neighbourhood Plan (“NP”), dated September, 2008.
CAVEAT: The Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society has always worked in the hope of preserving all the CRC Lands from development in the belief that this is a unique, regionally significant coastal/marine area and that not preserving it as a park will have serious consequences for future generations on Bowen Island, and that its loss to development of any kind seriously compromises the “preserve and protect” mandate of this island.
Our overall goal continues to be to preserve as much of the CRC Lands in their current wild state as is possible. In recognizing the determination of the current owners to put housing onto the CRC Lands, we continue to argue for preserving as much of the property in its wild state as is possible. At a minimum, we look to retain 50% of the land as wild, contiguous, marine-based forest; this would most likely be in the form of a park and/or eco reserve.
We consider that many of our ecological concerns and recommendations, put forward in our last referral response to council dated January 29, 2008, have still not been adequately addressed, leading us to repeat many of the same concerns that we expressed at that time.
Our main concerns are the following:
1. Development Permit Area & Preserve and Protect Mandate
The Official Community Plan (“OCP”) has designated the CRC Lands as the CRC Development Permit Area (“CRC DPA”). The special conditions, taken directly from the OCP (Section 6.1: Special Conditions), that justify the designation of the CRC DPA are quoted below:
”Cape Roger Curtis has special areas of wildlife habitat, sensitive vegetation and other areas of fragile flora and fauna which require protection in order to maintain the natural environment. Sensitive vegetation is most prominent along the rocky coastal fringe as well as on the inland steep rock and hummocky terrain. Wildlife is varied with significant populations of deer and bird life. There are also areas of water, resource value, both for aquatic habitat and for potable water supply that must be protected. Cutthroat trout are found in area streams. Sensitive terrain and steep slope characteristics in certain areas must also be managed to protect development from potential hazardous, such as flooding, erosion, and rock fall.”
Considering these very clear warnings in the OCP about the potential for environmental degradation and destruction and considering, in addition, the very clear mandate that Council has under the Islands Trust Act (the “preserve and protect” mandate), Council should be extremely cautious when approving a development of this magnitude. The possible impacts of even 200 residential units on the rest of the island, as well as on the immediately surrounding CRC terrestrial and marine habitat and its wildlife, will be huge. The impact on ferry capacity, the road system and the island’s overall potable water supply must be given due consideration. Our concerns about the Cape water supply are:
(a) Given that there is an insufficient amount of water stored beneath the Cape lands and given the lighter rainfall in this part of the island, therefore, there is probably insufficient water for a project of this size.
(b) Is the lens of water found under the Cape continually replenished over time from rainfall, or is it a closed system?
(c) There is a possibility that blasting for construction could alter water courses resulting in less water reaching the fragile coastal flora in particular and may affect the replenishment of subterranean water.
(d) The substandard nature of the water will require costly treatment to make it potable.
2. Coastal Buffer Zone
Widening the coastal buffer zone is essential. Now that we know where the current proposal sites the trails and houses, the narrowness of this buffer would result in human and canine impact on the easily disturbed marine wildlife, particularly in the winter months. We note that no marine study was carried out which would have highlighted these harmful effects.
Thinning and/or removing trees in this zone to create views is also unacceptable. The corridors thus created would enable winds to gain access to the rising land immediately behind the coastal zone. Wind accelerates when it encounters rising land and causes damage such as that seen in Stanley Park two years ago. Therefore, the concept of keeping as much of the land as a contiguous whole (unfragmented), should also encompass the adjacent coastal waters.
3. The South Terrace
We understand the developer’s intention is to commence building on the area known as the “south terrace”.
If or when any development occurs, we would prefer that it start in the northwest corner (up to 35 houses) with access from Whitesails Drive (we understand that the people of Whitesails have said they could live with this amount of traffic) because we requested a covenant be placed on the South Terrace for 3 years which would give The Land Conservancy the time to help us raise the funds to buy it, thus reducing the footprint of the development by about 40 single family houses. However, due to the downturn in the economy, we would like this covenant to be extended to at least 5 years.
4. There are still too many buildings/facilities proposed for this land.
Senior’s campus of care – The model used here depends on a pricey, high end purchase which would be beyond the reach of many of Bowen citizens. We also question the location and continue to believe that this should be in the Cove.
As the word “campus” evokes images of green well-kept lawns, flowerbeds and spaced well-pruned trees to let in the sunlight, was this the owner’s intent? This type of green space, like a golf-green, would require a large amount of water to maintain which the island cannot spare. Generally, daily water usage in care facilities needs to be extremely high.
The distance from the Cove would be a problem for the island’s first responders, who would be 20 to 30 minutes away in ideal conditions but who could not respond at all on some adverse weather days, as was illustrated during the recent periods of heavy snow fall and icy roads. This situation would strain our emergency services and put an aging population at risk.
Other concerns of aging populations include mobility once the ability to drive a vehicle is lost. We cannot recommend such a facility in this location, although we do acknowledge the need for suitable housing for Bowen seniors and affordable housing for all age groups on Bowen.
Waterfront Inn – At 80 rooms this might be the largest inn in the Gulf Islands. There is no economic rationale for this scale of building. We suggest elimination of this inn because it will result in even greater traffic to the area and a potential demand for a marina to accompany such a facility (which would be extremely detrimental to the coastal area) and also have negative consequences for the home-operated B&Bs on the island.
With regard to density, we feel that the addition of affordable housing units (presumably offered as an amenity) would be better located near Snug Cove for transportation reasons. Otherwise, money saved on housing would then be spent on driving to and from Snug Cove. Living in the Cove would mean that the all activities of daily living would be readily available without requiring the use of an automobile.
We believe that the issue of the density of this development should be addressed by the forthcoming OCP Review. We also consider that accepting the NP before the forthcoming OCP Review would not only set a dangerous precedent for future development but could in fact unduly influence the outcome of the OCP Review itself.
6. Other Facilities
Commercial Development – this subject (together with food growing) would also be better dealt with within the OCP Review and in light of Alderwood Farm and The Ruddy Café/vegetable garden already in existence at the foot of Sunset Drive.
Food growing – A Bowen “master plan” (the revised OCP) would indicate the importance of this. We support community gardening and food growing in principle but consider that too many trees would have to be removed from this sensitive area in order for there to be sufficient sun to accomplish food growing in a public garden. Also, as this is the driest and warmest part of the island, water again becomes an issue.
Composting centre – We see no rationale for this to be built on the furthest corner of the island. The logical place for it would be adjacent to the Bowen Island Recycling Depot. Like many of the amenities in the NP, we are not in favour of trees continuing to fall when there are other, preferable locations, elsewhere on the island, that would not require the clearing of more land.
7. Additional concerns
We expect the municipality/council to take into consideration the following:
(a) the additional heavy impact and damage to our existing fragile heritage roads;
(b) that people will be forced to drive across the island for years to come until there is sufficient population to justify additional buses
(c) ferry service, which is considered by many to be inadequate now, will be further compromised;
(d) the need for an open and unbiased public process which has been lacking to date.
We are appealing to Council to take a strong leadership role with all these concerns about CRC and adhere to the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Islands Trust. We are convinced that this is possible without causing unreasonable delays for ownership. We spoke publicly at council about these issues and were unhappy with the decision to move forward to first reading (yet another OCP amendment). Along with the recent municipal election came the acknowledgement that the OCP is out of date and in need of review. The lack of a current comprehensive “master plan” for the island, including both economic and ecological plans, makes it impossible to see how closely the proposed NP would match the results of an OCP Review. We feel that to accept the NP in its entirety now, would set a dangerous precedent for other development and compromise a successful outcome for an OCP Review.
We are disappointed that the previous municipal council chose, sometime in mid 2008, to let the closed-room planning sessions move forward well outside OCP guidelines, without delaying those negotiations and going to a public process for open consideration. The series of owner-sponsored meetings that promoted the owner’s interests, have not presented the Bowen community with balanced information.
Ownership would like the community to believe that the current choices are between moving forward with the current proposal or reverting back to a 58-lot subdivision which we know has not been withdrawn. We wish to emphasize that there are still other options. We are encouraged by the positives in the NP: the large park areas, the large amount of waterfront preservation (although this has been reduced from the time of our last position paper in January 2008), and a decrease in density. We see this as an indication that there is a willingness on the part of the owners to negotiate around certain facilities presently included in the NP.
The Trust Society continues to see the ongoing process as being in mid-negotiation rather than at the end-stage of fine-tuning. We also continue to see the situation as elastic and open to innovative change. At this stage, the owners claim they have reached their limit concerning density and footprint and the amenities they can provide. Now it is time to address the community of Bowen Island, inform them and ask them to respond. This public discussion should occur soon. Potential partners (The Land Conservancy, BC Parks and Metro Vancouver, who continued to be briefed) should be brought into the negotiations and heard publicly by the community. The voices of those who understand the important ecological value of CRC to our collective future have not been heard. These partners have indicated their willingness to be part of fundraising campaigns for targeted land purchases and park management partners who will have a significant impact on the footprint and density of any CRC development. We must take time to ensure that all these options are exhausted before any final decision is made.
We acknowledge the skill and effort that has gone into the NP. Overall, it is a good plan but only if viewed in the context of redeveloping an urban area. In the context of a small rural island, many elements of the NP are out of keeping and scale, especially on an island with 95% of its important facilities (ferry, library, post office, recycling depot, medical services, restaurants, gym, gas station, vet, cash machines, insurance agent or municipal hall, for example) on the opposite side of the island to the proposed development.
We also acknowledge that many “green” elements have been proposed, however, to destroy interdependent ecosystems and then add back green elements does not compensate for the damage. The way to do the least damage to this land would be to have as few buildings as possible and cluster them closely on the northern end of the property. We continue to be in favour of something similar to the ”Mel Turner line” or the “Dave Witty plan” to minimize the impact and contain the footprint.
We hope that the potential for developing a well thought out plan with minimum facilities and maximum preservation of the land, is still possible at CRC. We consider that trading for density that is outside the OCP limit would not be acceptable to the people of Bowen Island, and was clearly stated as unacceptable by virtually all candidates for council during the recent election campaign.
Ellen Coburn, Pam Dicer, Jean Jamieson, Marion Moore, Stephen Foster, Jan Wells
Directors of the Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society
cc: Mayor, Bob Turner and Councillors
Bryan Kirk, Chief Administrative Officer
Mel Turner, Parks Planning Consultant to BIM
Sue Ellen Fast, Chair, Bowen Island Greenways Commission
Peter Drake, Bowen Island Conservancy