On Monday, the former chair of the Official Community Plan (OCP) Steering Committee, Sue Ellen Fast, asked council to respect the community input presented in the plan by refraining to make further amendments to it. In September 2011, the previous municipal council, led by Mayor Bob Turner, passed a series of amendments to the document, originally crafted in 1996. On Monday, council unanimously passed another series of changes, as recommended by the Economic Development Committee (EDC), through first reading.
Fast says she is concerned both about the transparency of the process by which the OCP is being amended, and by the content.
“I think these changes will come as a big surprise to many islanders,” she says. “I see a watering down of environmental protection, and changes that will lead to urban sprawl across the island.”
Fast points specifically to changes proposed to “Goal 6” of the “Twelve Fundamental Goals of the OCP,” as an example of the lowering of environmental
protection as a priority. As the OCP is currently written, Goal 6 is:
To manage growth in a way that is conditioned by the natural environment and respects social and economic diversity.
The proposed amendment rewrites the goal as:
To manage growth in a way that respects social and economic diversity, and the natural and built
Fast told council that the OCP Steering Committee “took in over 700 points of community contact” in the form of community meetings, surveys, and individual submissions prior to writing the amendments to the plan.
“This is the community’s Official Community Plan,” says Fast. “People told us time and again that they want Bowen to be a green oasis, to keep the parks as parks, and a compact village centre. These amendments make way for the Cove to sprawl and for the north side of the Cove, which is now parkland, to be developed.”
She says these are major changes, and are happening without public input.
“It took us more than a year before this even got to first reading, and now, suddenly, with no public notice we see a series of significant changes to our community plan are being made by a handful of people, the Economic Development Committee and the Community Lands Committee (Temporary Advisory Board), whose meetings have all been closed to the public, and our reduced council. Where is the public input?”
Former councillor and mayoral candidate Nerys Poole also attended this week’s council meeting and shares Fast’s concerns. She points to the removal of “the current non-permission for campgrounds for recreational vehicles and trailer parks” as a major point of contention for her.
“I think it is interesting to look at this in the context of our National Parks debate, in which there was major fear-mongering about the number of visitors that would be coming to the island,” says Poole. “The Bowen community has a long-standing opposition to the idea of vehicle-based camping on island. When I was working with Parks Canada, in our first conversations we said ‘If your plans are to put vehicle-camping on Bowen you might as well go home.’ Maybe people have changed their minds about that, but we have to find out. Meanwhile these changes are being pushed through as if they’re housekeeping changes.”
Following Fast’s presentation to council, Councillor Tim Rhodes made a brief response.
“This isn’t about encouraging sprawl,” he said. “It’s about removing the stranglehold on Snug Cove.”
In a later interview, he elaborated on the comment.
“In the current OCP, Snug Cove is limited to developing only south of where businesses currently exist. There’s no room to develop anything there! Proposed amendments would allow for the patch of brambles that run on the north side of Government Road down to the ferry to be developed. Yes it is park, but it’s not particularly well used, and in this council’s term we’ve encountered businesses that have wanted to open in the Cove, but couldn’t find a place. The businesses that are already there suffer due to the fact that the rents are so high. That’s what happens when you have zero vacancy.”
With regards to the subject of sprawl, Rhodes says he’s not sure how proposed OCP amendments will create sprawl.
“Seymour Bay is already zoned for hospitality, and the Cove could expand into lots 2 and 3 of the community lands, but that is a part of the walkable village.”
In response to concerns about changing rules about camping and RVs, Rhodes says, “why not have a campground?”
“If someone comes along and makes a proposal, then we can decide whether or not it’s a good idea. If it is, really, a good idea it will work, but in most cases the island will decide. We don’t need to worry about someone coming to Bowen and building a 14-storey hotel. If they do they’re going to fail. Would it be economical for someone to start an RV park here? Well, there is not a lot of land to chose from and it probably wouldn’t be economical, but the whole point of changing the OCP is that we don’t want the language of the document to stop people from even thinking about things.”
Rhodes says that the OCP as it is, is a “good document” except for that the language is vague in parts, and argumentative in others.
“It is a lopsided document, and it has a very strong environmental representation but it doesn’t accommodate other concerns, and the committee which drove this process forward before the previous amendments was equally lopsided. I would say it is more an environmental plan than a community one.”
Murray Atherton, a member of the Economic Development Committee (EDC), says he participated in the meetings in the lead-up to prior OCP amendments, and does not feel that his concerns were represented.
“The whole process was a sham, because at the end council added on 14 pages. There is very little in there regarding how the island can sustain itself economically.”
He says that while the EDC did not do extensive consultation with other groups in formulating the suggested changes to the OCP, they felt comfortable making recommendations knowing those changes would be put forward before the public before being passed.
“Things are changing on Bowen and we need this document to reflect that. When I was with the Chamber of Commerce, the only accommodations on the island were bed & breakfasts. Now people are renting out their properties as vacation rentals when they’re not here, and they have to do that in order to pay the bills. The way the OCP is right now, you would think we don’t want any investment at all. We need a document that shows we are actually open to growth and want to encourage business.”
In the discussion paper drafted by municipal planner Annie Dempster, the amendments to the OCP will follow the rules laid out by the Local Government Act which states that the municipality will provide “one or more opportunities, other than the public hearing,” for consultation.