Last year the owners of the CRC lands decided to embark on a new direction in developing the property. Their initiative at the time, to create a 58 lot subdivision, was creating an increasingly acrimonious debate with the Bowen community and events were turning confrontational (locked gates erected to keep out local hikers, the brazen cutting of a gruesome ‘driveway’ off of Whitesails, etc.). The new direction came in response to the olive branch being offered by our municipal council: an invitation to a comprehensive rezoning process that would put all of the stakeholders at the table and create a more ‘community’ grounded solution to the Cape’s development. Ownership announced it had retained a new face to the negotiations (Mark Sager) and engaged the design and planning firm of Ekistics Town Planning Inc. They also successfully negotiated to keep their subdivision application in the queue, as a fallback position and to protect the CRC land from being down zoned in the future, in case the new public round of negotiations failed (though this is a rather unique situation and perhaps questionable from a legal point of view).
Before presenting the municipality with an official proposal, the owners decided to initiate a public campaign, to lay the groundwork for their plan and to consult with the community. In July 2007 Bowen islanders had a first look at their new thinking. Ekistics and ownership held a public meeting where they unveiled a broad CRC land use plan.
Through that and 2 subsequent public meetings ownership and Ekistics built their case. Using their own research data (which was not made available at the time) they marketed a vision for the Cape that was a broad, ambitious and sophisticated town/village styled plan. Some of it was wonderful and appealing: 100 % waterfront protection, large park and green areas, community amenities including seniors housing, a community center, etc. Some of it was infuriating: its massive size and scale (the 80 room inn would be the largest in the Gulf Islands) requiring grand and expensive infrastructure costs and a 25 year build out, with pods of development spread throughout the property, limited and disconnected park areas, etc. And some of it just left many of us shaking our heads: the price for this grand plan was a density of 800 -1200 units (1100 being the purported request), many times above the OCP cap of 224 units.
After the 3 public showcases led by the Ekistics group, it was then time for a Bowen response and council directed the latest presentation to its various referral groups on the island. This included the CRC Trust Society, the APC, the Conservancy, the Sustainability Framework Working Group, Affordable Housing, etc. Responses came back earlier this year and have now been collected and summarized by the Bowen Island planning staff. This summary was then presented to council in a staff report.
The feedback covered a lot of ground—that affordable housing be a component of the development, that any design be filtered through the new sustainability framework, etc.—but a few very consistent and clear messages emerged from the consultation process. Included on the list, much of which has now been publicly endorsed by Bowen council, is the need for a large, contiguous, marine based wilderness park (larger than shown on the Ekistics plans), with density that remains capped at the OCP ceiling of 224 units (though allowing for concessions for amenities like senior’s housing and affordable housing), a reduction in size of the development footprint, construction of a mix of housing styles and forms, etc. A new park boundary map has recently emerged that council recently endorsed (now called the ‘Community Conservation and Recreation Land Map – Vs. 2’, see enclosed). This map needs careful attention because it will very likely be critical to the negotiations ahead; it represents a meaningful saw-off between what the owners have been promoting (100% coastline protection, a large wild park area, a limited footprint for development on the Cape), and what council, green conservancy groups, the CRC Trust Society, planners and others in the community may be able to agree to as the basis for a final solution. The proposed park would incorporate the adjoining crown lands where Fairy Fen is sited and protect almost the entire Huszar Creek watershed. This would constitute the most significant new park of any being considered for the lower mainland. As well, recreation along the west coast right down to the lighthouse would be protected.
Also in this period two new voices were added to the Bowen negotiating team: Mel Turner, a retired BC Park planner, who has both volunteered his time and has been retained as a park creation consultant by the Municipality (see accompanying article), and Jeff Herold, a highly regarded land economist, who has been retained to evaluate the financial numbers and the economic assumptions underpinning the owners’ density requests.
The owners of CRC put forward a formal proposal to the community on May 7, then resubmitted an amended plan a week later that now stands as their first official proposal for developing the Cape.
There is lots of material here with many maps. Some of the key elements to take note of include:
- The density request, which now amounts to 490 units
- There is no longer 100% waterfront protection.
- The lighthouse area and a large chunk of the south slope are now slated for rural residential housing.
- Only 30% of the land is wilderness park, in the southeast corner of the property.
- There is a concentrated development hub area (village) on the central west side.
- The development adds extra density in the form of an 80 room Inn with restaurant, a 150,000 sq. ft. seniors’ ‘Campus of Care’ facility, 5000 sq. ft. of commercial, a school, playgrounds, community center and amphitheater.
- The design includes a complex sanitary sewage grid, with a sewage treatment plant sitting on the park border right over the south slope.
Negotiations to Come
For many of us close to the negotiations, this proposal is a disappointment. It creates a wide gap between what our community representatives have been asking for and what the owners seem willing to give. Surprising really, because they have publicly stated that they want to close the deal with the current council and before the upcoming November elections (and several councilors have publicly stated their willingness to work to the wire, even through the fall campaign). The municipality’s message has been consistent and clear—smaller development, larger park, all within OCP density numbers—as a basis for accelerating the process.
But that’s definitely not where we’re at. The proposal seems to miss the critical importance to our community of protecting the Cape area itself. The owners have taken a big step backwards from their original concept, dating back to their first public meeting last September, which dangled the enticing prospect of 100% waterfront protection.
Developers in communities like ours always like to market their planning around the ‘neighbourhood’ moniker, and this plan is no different. But a closer look at this proposal, with its broad and fractured development footprint, its massively ambitious and expensive pre-building infrastructure, its consistently over-scale imagination, suggests that the underlying thinking still falters from what has hobbled the planning from the start: big ideas coloured by a ‘mainland’ context, imaginative planning perhaps for a city, town, or community in the Okanagan, but definitely not (or at least, not yet) a plan consistent with Bowen Island’s dreams for itself.
And still no wild, contiguous, marine based park representing a minimum of 50% of the CRC lands, the goal of so many of us who love that land and seek to preserve CRC’s extraordinary aesthetic and simple beauty.
The Struggle Ahead
A lot is about to come in to play as the now intensifying negotiations over the Cape heat up. First and foremost, any discussion about a development on Cape Roger Curtis has to reflect our concern for both the values the land has to offer and the quality and impact that any development will have on all Bowen Islanders. The immediate struggle looks like a battle over density and over a park boundary that will need to include the southwest corner/lighthouse area. Yes ownership has been generous to date, but they simply must be encouraged to go further. They have a unique opportunity to help create a significant park legacy.
But the park and the development are not yet what we want them to be. We must steel our resolve and bring to bear every opportunity at our disposal: use negotiating tools such as density transfer, eco gifting, amenity exchanges; bring to the table key players, such as BC Parks, The Land Conservancy, the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver), etc. who to date have only been circling the negotiations; and initiate a Bowen fundraising campaign, to start soon, that will demonstrate local determination for a successful, made-on-Bowen outcome.
There’s lots of work still to do, with much of it already underway. However, the mood amongst all the parties involved remains positive, and an inspired resolution feels tantalizingly closer.
By Stephen Foster
On behalf of the Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society