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Cohousing model a viable alternative

Council chambers were filled to capacity for the Belterra Cohousing public hearing on February 20. Many audience members wore Belterra buttons that identified them as equity and housing members.

Council chambers were filled to capacity for the Belterra Cohousing public hearing on February 20. Many audience members wore Belterra buttons that identified them as equity and housing members. They had traveled as far as Edmonton to witness this milestone toward making the project a reality. Among the many words of support, a few concerns were raised that mainly dealt with issues of access to the site and the connection to sewer and water lines.

Mayor Jack Adelaar opened the meeting and stated that written and verbal submissions relating to the rezoning application for Belterra lands had to be received by council by the time the meeting closed. Councillors Wolfgang Duntz and Daron Jennings had recused themselves due to a conflict of interest.

Hap Stelling, the municipality's director of planning, explained that the purpose of the public hearing was to consider public comments to the proposed changes to the Land Use Bylaw (LUB) in regard to the Belterra application. He said that the application had been submitted to the municipality about a year ago and has received two readings before being advanced to the public hearing.

Planning consultant Michael Rosen stated that he had been working with the municipality and the applicant and hoped that the evening's presentation would help new council members become more familiar with the project.

"The property is 10 acres in size and it is located in the Snug Cove area," Rosen said. "It has been dedicated for cohousing in our new Official Community Plan (OCP) but the zoning in the LUB is rural residential one that asks for a minimum lot size of 10 acres."

"Essentially the bylaw creates a new zone that is written specifically for that property and wouldn't be applicable anywhere else," Rosen said. "We have tailored that base zone so that 10 acres can accommodate 30 properties. The southern part is zoned P1 for parkland and the northern part is the comprehensive development 16 zone parcel."

Rosen also spoke to the restrictive covenants that addressed a number of social, environmental, infrastructure and financial items that cannot be covered in the bylaws. He said, "The bylaw will not be adopted until all the conditions in the covenants have been fulfilled to council's satisfaction. We've been wrestling with things like OCP consistency, affordable housing, sustainability, public and private infrastructure and how it is serviced." Rosen added, "Another consideration is road and emergency vehicle access. We need to look at Carter Road and see if the bridge is sufficient enough to handle the traffic."

"The developer is required to deliver community amenities like parkland, trails or buffer zones," Rosen said.

Planner Andy Beaird spoke on behalf of the Belterra group. "Belterra was born out of a vision of a couple, Roger McGillivray and Stephanie Legg, who had heard about an alternative housing model. If you look around the room today, you know that it is no longer just a couple who is shouldering the load of pioneering one of the more progressive housing models. It is a community of equity and housing members."

Beaird listed Belterra's benefits for community as it is a project with social cohesion that provides affordable housing by introducing a type of housing that is currently not available on Bowen Island and would introduce an alternative to the large, vehicle-dependent home that is the norm on Bowen.

Bill Newport of the Bowen Island Fish and Wildlife Club complimented the committees and individuals who brought the project to this stage. He said, "Terminal Creek is the hatchery's water supply and we had serious fish kills over the cause of the last 10 years. In the last five years, the Fish and Wildlife Club has spent a fortune trying to rebuild the stream and we are concerned about the impact on Terminal Creek during and after the construction. If there are any difficulties, the club should be notified. Coho [Salmon] live in our stream for a whole year and we have 40,000 Coho in the hatchery at the moment. Everything that affects Terminal Creek also affects them."

Barbara Wahler spoke on behalf of the Bowen Island Improvement Association in support of the project. "The Belterra community offers us the perfect opportunity to keep housing affordable and the population diverse. It is also in alignment with our commitment to environmental stewardship," she said. Elizabeth Ballantyne of the Affordable Housing Working Group and Gordon Ganong of the Advisory Planning Commission and OneBowen also endorsed the project.

Many speakers, among them Jane Kane and Diana Thompson, wore Belterra buttons. As Belterra equity members, they spoke about their positive experiences of being involved in the project. Taylor said, "I have been on the affordable housing waitlist and look forward to being able to purchase my first home on Bowen Island." Katie Mitchener said that she has been on Bowen since 1982, has worked for a number of different island businesses and considers herself part of the fabric of the community. She looks forward to have an option of permanent affordable housing.

Nine-year-old Samuel Hayduk said, "Belterra means beautiful land. I look forward to having a forest in my backyard and I like that there will be lots of other kids for me to play with." His mom, Kat Hayduk, added that the family joined Belterra six months ago because they sold their home to put more money into a home-based production business. She said, "Belterra allows us to downsize our footprint and to upsize community."

In a letter to council, Ann Silberman, executive director of the Bowen Island Children's Centre spoke to the traffic on Carter Road. "We have between 45 and 65 families a day dropping off and picking up children under six years old. The main entrance to our playground opens directly onto the street and any increase in traffic is of concern as the safety of the children must be our primary concern," she said.

Peter Frinton said that he welcomes Belterra equity members to the Carter Road neighbourhood as he owns Ravenhill Farm on the land adjacent to Belterra. "We lived there for the last 40 years and I feel like I am part of the land," Frinton said. He expressed support of the cohousing model in general but also listed a number of outstanding concerns to be addressed before the bylaw received third reading. Among his concerns were the definition of price restricted non-market housing that he felt needed "to be nailed down." He also expressed surprise that for a development that stressed a low environmental impact and car-sharing, 1.5 parking spaces per unit should be listed as a requirement which is 50 per cent higher than in other island developments.

He also stressed that Belterra should not get preferential treatment when it comes to connecting to the municipal sewer or water systems.

Frinton said he hoped that a good neighbour agreement could be signed that would address issues such as noise pollution. Another issue that Frinton spoke to was an upgrade of the bridge across Terminal Creek since it does not accept heavier traffic including the new pumper fire truck.

Belterra founder Roger McGillivray said that the group of people involved in Belterra is very diverse and includes teacher, builders, cooks, students, therapists and retired movie stars who have one thing in common: an uncompromised respect for other people. He also said that, through his involvement with the group, his overall happiness has improved. And Beaird put it that way, "In essence, Belterra is the answer to what in this community is a housing crisis. We provide what we see as progress for this community. Is it perfect? Maybe not. But we don't want to let 'perfect' get in the way of progress."