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Bowen council directs Metro Vancouver to amend Cape park proposal

“There needs to be significant changes made to this that address the impacts of this project,” says Mayor
The ferry to Nanaimo can be seen in the distance from the southern shores of Cape Roger Curtis in early February 2023. It's a view which Metro Vancouver hopes will one day form the backdrop to a new regional park on Bowen Island.

Bowen’s council has told Metro Vancouver changes will be necessary to its Cape Roger Curtis park proposal if it wants the project to continue successfully through the application process.

The unanimous decision from the municipality came following their Monday meeting with the Islands Trust Executive Committee. The virtual gathering was held to allow Islands Trust to explain their decision-making process during a meeting in August. The committee found bylaw amendments to Bowen’s Official Community Plan (OCP) necessary to accommodate Metro Vancouver’s current park proposal, specifically the overnight camping component, were in violation of 10 of their policy statements. These covered a wide range of topics from water use, to high versus low-impact recreational activities, to overall social impacts on the island.

Under the Letters Patent, signed when Bowen became a municipality, any changes to the OCP must be reviewed by Islands Trust. Their Aug. 25 Executive Committee decision triggered Monday’s meeting, where the Trust provided rationale for their choices and heard responses from Bowen staff. While much of the joint discussion revolved around the technicalities of what points of municipal bylaw review were either applicable or not applicable when it comes to referral to Islands Trust, the decision at the end of the Oct. 16 meeting did signal a significant step forward in a process which has now spanned almost half-a-year since a successful first reading on April 24.

“I believe at this point the applicant needs to know some direction from us. If we’re not going to bring it to a second reading the applicant needs some feedback as to why, in a way that clearly and definitively puts it in their court,” said Mayor Andrew Leonard, who spurred selection of the choice to ask Metro Vancouver to make changes.

“My belief is that the application and the underlying concept at this point – from everything we’ve heard from the community, from our staff, and that I’ve experienced firsthand – is that there needs to be significant changes made to this that address the impacts of this project. And those haven’t been sufficiently addressed,” said the mayor.

While today’s decision specifically revolves around the application’s issues with the Islands Trust’s policy statement, Leonard added that following a lengthy series of conditions regarding park changes the municipality crafted and presented to Metro Vancouver in the summer, “Ultimately it didn’t seem that there was a tremendous appetite, if any, to bring forward substantial changes to the application or the underlying park concept.”

In some areas it even appears initial collaborative efforts may be dialed back. “Reports received from the applicant (Metro Vancouver) early in their application had support to cost-share the Multi-Use Path. That has been significantly paired down,” said Manager of Planning Daniel Martin. “The latest submission in the report to their Parks Committee talks about providing letters of support for grant applications. So not nearly as robust as was initially envisioned.”

Metro Vancouver will now have the option to work with Bowen staff to bring their application into compliance with Islands Trust, or decide to continue with their current plan unamended. While council’s decision doesn’t mandate that Metro make changes, the mayor left little doubt on how he sees the path forward if the organization goes with the latter choice.

“There needs to be something clear sent to Metro Vancouver that says given the discussion that we’ve had so far… there’s changes that need to be made and need to be addressed, and those need to be brought forward by the applicant,” said Leonard. “This is the offer for them to make changes that would lead to a successful application. Or we would bring it to a second reading, which I have doubts at this point would be successful given what we’ve seen so far.”

Coun. Judith Gedye echoed the mayor’s comments. “If they’re not prepared to make any amendments then I wouldn’t be supporting this going to second reading… It’s just not going to fly with the community.”

“We’re at the point where if they need to be told that they have to make changes before it’s seriously going to be considered to move forward, then we have to find a way of wording that,” said Gedye.

That chosen wording was “That council direct staff to request the applicant, Metro Vancouver, amend their application to comply with the Islands Trust Policy Statement Directive Policies prior to consideration of second reading and to report back to council.” Council decided to go with a stronger resolution than simply referring Monday’s information to the organization after deciding progress needed to be made on the topic.

“Before we spend any more staff time, resources, or council time trying to figure out what is going to make this work for Metro Vancouver, I believe at this point we should refer it back to the applicant,” said Leonard. “If we just send them a link and say take a look at this… we’re not really advancing the process for them.”

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Parks Committee meets Wednesday, Oct. 18. The park proposal will be a topic of discussion, along with the Bowen Island Conservancy’s recent $30 million offer to buy the 97-hectares from Metro Vancouver.