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Ecclestone: why a tiny beach turned into a great big controversy

Bowen Island Municipal Council passed a contentious variance for a dock at a Miller’s Landing pocket beach at its regular council meeting June 14
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Proposed placement of a dock at Ecclestone Beach from the BIM staff report June 14, 2021

New docks on Bowen Island aren’t allowed to divide a beach but they have certainly divided the community in recent years. 

Bowen Island Municipal Council passed a contentious variance for a dock at a Miller’s Landing pocket beach at its regular council meeting June 14. 

The application offered an exchange – the variance allowing the dock in its proposed location for a public right-of-way across private property to the beach. Currently, there’s no public access to the beach. The historical trail passes over the applicant’s property. There is a municipal right-of-way beside 1160 Ecclestone but the undeveloped right-of-way ends in a cliff. 

In an effort to stave off a dock at the small beach, Friends of Ecclestone Beach proposed a staircase from the public cliff edge down to the foreshore, circumventing the private property and the need for the path. 

 While last month, council deferred consideration of the variance to give the community group time to pull a staircase proposal together, when it came down to the wire Monday evening, several councillors said they didn’t think the plan would work.  

Councillors were faced with a decision that saw the overwhelming majority of public comments (more than ten to one) against the dock but a staff report advising proceeding with the variance.  

Council voted six to one (Coun. Sue Ellen Fast opposed the resolution) to issue the variance.


Screen Shot 2021-06-19 at 8.05.40 PMProposed placement of a dock at Ecclestone Beach from the BIM staff report June 14, 2021. By staff presentation / Bowen Island Municipality



Ecclestone Beach is a low-bank, south-facing pocket of rocks, pebbles and logs on the north edge of Mannion Bay – just as the dip of the bay starts curving back out into the ocean to create the protuberance of Miller’s Landing. 

Neighbours report frequenting the beach for decades – though always across this path on private property. 

In 2017, the then-owner of 1160 Ecclestone proposed a covenant allowing encroaching structures in the public right-of-way and another variance in exchange for making the path public. The owner of the property pulled the offer of the path but the covenant passed anyway in early 2018, prompting fury from some neighbours who had supported the covenant with the understanding they’d be getting the beach access.

So started Friends of Ecclestone Beach. 

“People around here…they were so upset and they were so angry,” said Gillian Darling, one of the most vocal members of the informal community group dedicated to protecting (or getting) public access to the beach. “So that’s why we kept needling [the municipality], Heather [Hodson] and I.” 

But they were told it was a done deal, indicated Darling. 

A dock 

Tim Klauke and Rosemary Toye bought 1160 Ecclestone in 2018 and started the dock application process in 2019.

Why the dock? “We are a boating family and have a lot of friends and family who like to use the space on Bowen that we have there,” Klauke told the Undercurrent recently, saying that at this point self-propelled watercraft is their priority. “It is difficult and gets dangerous launching boats on and off a rocky shore and is limited with colder weather.”

A notice posted in the Undercurrent last October, indicating that the province was considering an application for a dock at Ecclestone Beach and asking for public comment, launched a local campaign against the dock. (All private moorage on Crown lands – including all ocean foreshore – requires approval from the province. The department also refers such applications to the municipality for comment and to make sure of bylaw compliance.)

While the property is zoned Water General 1 – which allows private moorage (docks) – there was concern the dock bisected the beach, which is against BIM’s Land Use Bylaw.  

The design and location of the dock shifted to the east onto an outcrop but closer to the right-of-way. The Land Use Bylaw mandates a buffer zone of ten metres between docks and public beach accesses (aka the right-of-way) as well as a minimum setback from any lot line of 1.5 metres. The dock also had the possibility of impeding foot access to the beach, another contravention of the bylaw. So, the exchange – reducing the setbacks and providing the path as a statutory right-of-way – came to council in April. 

BIM imposed environmental conditions on the variance permit including dock materials that let light reach the water, minimized use of styrofoam, and placing dock components so that they as much as possible avoid any eelgrasses, kelps, clam, or mussels. 

Councillors voted unanimously to consider the variance in May. 

In the public interest?

Compromise? The public thought not. Reaction was swift. From neighbours, from community members across the island, from Bowen Island Conservancy – more than hundred letters of opposition flooded the municipality. Only a handful were in favour of the variance. 

Arguments against the dock included necessity of preserving public access to and free use of shorelines; the visual and environmental effects of a 37-metre dock; the privatizing effect of a dock on public space; the interest of an individual being prioritized over the interest of the public; and that it contravenes existing bylaws. 

A few letters in support of Klauke and Toye spoke to the beach being little used and the impracticality of a staircase.  

The dock resistance has hearkened to the 2013 to 2017 battle of the docks at Cape Roger Curtis. A bitter campaign to ban docks at the cape ended with the B.C. Court of Appeal ordering Bowen Island Municipality to issue a building permit for a fifth and final dock at the controversy-laden cape. The length and size of the cape docks was a particular point of bitterness.

Klauke defended the length of what opponents called an “oversized” dock. “The float is the same depth as our neighbour and so it needed to be out further than the neighbour’s [float], just because of the contour of the ocean floor there,” he told the Undercurrent. “So it does jut out further, but it’s [for] that reason.” 

The staircase

In April, Darling and the Friends of Ecclestone Beach pitched the idea of the staircase and asked for a month to pull a proposal together, which council granted. 

The ensuing engineering feasibility report proposed a staircase from the bluff edge, descending 12 to 15 feet to the same outcrop the dock design lands on. The group’s proposal suggested splitting the cost of the staircase – which it estimated at between $30,000 and $58,000 – with BIM. The group said it had raised, so far, $4,000.

BIM manager of planning and development, Daniel Martin, recommended proceeding with the variance. He said the province indicated, in conversation, it would likely require a letter of consent from the owners of 1160 Ecclestone as part of the application for a staircase descending in front of their property. (Darling says that she’s had conversations with the province that indicate this is not the case.) The staircase not being in BIM’s budget, the potential for damage from waves and logs (Darling maintains that the location of the staircase landing is protected from marine debris), and maintenance and replacement costs were among Martin’s reasons for not pursuing the staircase. He also said a variance permit would be required for the staircase, being a structure over two metres high within the Land Use Bylaw sea setback. 

Martin’s report estimates that the right-of-way path would cost $6,500 initially and $117 in annual upkeep. 

While initially making the path public was conditional on provincial approval of the dock, Klauke and Toye removed that condition, meaning that now that the variance is granted, so is the right-of-way to the beach.


Screen Shot 2021-06-19 at 8.07.21 PMProposed placement of a staircase at Ecclestone Beach from the BIM staff report June 14, 2021. By Staff presentation / Bowen Island Municipality


Council reaction

Coun. Alison Morse said that there’s nothing in the Land Use Bylaw that would prohibit the dock. The practicality and safety of a staircase was another concern. “We’ve already got an existing [right of way] that is going to be easy to look after and easy to access for anybody,”she said.

Coun. David Hocking acknowledged the strong emotions but said that his priority is to maintain and improve wherever possible residents’ ocean access. “We’ve got nearly 4,000 of us, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have waterfront properties.

“I want to make sure that this public right-of-way gets us not just to a viewpoint but to this lovely little beach.”

Hocking also doubted the feasibility of the staircase, noting that the design doesn’t reach all the way to the beach and that the route to the beach would be covered in high tide. (Darling argues that in the summertime, low tide is during the day.)

Coun. Michael Kaile also said he was concerned with safety and was not impressed with the potential financial implications of building the staircase. “When you speak to people who have lived in that area for many years...they will confirm that this small area has very minimal usage, largely local,” he said. “But that is not a sufficient reason to expend this amount of municipal dollars.” (Darling points to the Scarborough and Miller’s Landing beaches as examples of where staircases have been put in.)

Mayor Gary Ander said he wouldn’t burden taxpayers with building and maintaining the staircase. 

Coun. Rob Wynen had previously expressed dismay at the exchange of the path for the dock, but too balked at the idea of sharing the cost of the staircase and said that he trusted staff expertise. 

Coun. Sue Ellen Fast was the lone councillor to vote against the variance Monday. When the initial application came forward in April, she said she was happy to see the proposal as a means of securing permanent public beach access. But, argued Monday against the variance, contesting the assertion that beach use is minimal. A dock and a boat would limit public use of a beach, argued Fast. “It would have a negative impact overall on the beach user’s experience and…it would shrink the practical size of the beach,” she said. Also noting potential effects on wildlife and the seabed. 

Fast argued the staircase proponents ought to have more time to work with staff on their proposal and to raise funds. 

Now that the variance has passed, the dock is in the hands of the province.

Is the fight over?

For Gillian Darling, it isn’t. Her next stop is the province, asking it to reopen comment on the dock proposal, given that the design has changed since last October. 

But, she also feels disrespected after the council meeting, particularly the reactions to BIM splitting the cost of the staircase.

“I’m just despairing of this island today,” said Darling Tuesday, “Not the amazing people who came forward on this campaign. They’ve just been so clear.”

“It won’t cost the municipality any more than they spent on the other neighbourhood beaches,” she said. “We have the chutzpah and the courage and intent to go out and raise the rest, which I believe can be done.

“I felt as if we were being lectured, like recalcitrant school children.”