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Public speaks out about OCP and bylaws

If you were to gauge public support for the updated Official Community Plan and its accompanying land use bylaws by the speakers at Saturday's public hearing, opinion would be pretty well split.

If you were to gauge public support for the updated Official Community Plan and its accompanying land use bylaws by the speakers at Saturday's public hearing, opinion would be pretty well split.

But if there was an "applause-o-metre" in the crowded BICS gym, opponents to the planning rules seemed to outnumber supporters two to one.

For almost five hours, people took turns to share their views with councillors and staff who sat at the front of the gym. Under the municipality's governing regulations, this was council's last chance to hear comments and receive submissions from the public about the four bylaws.

By and large, the people who spoke in favour of the bylaws had a shared overarching view they applauded council's efforts to use the land-use regulations as a way to protect the environment. Not only does the OCP update state this as a guiding principle, but the three development permit area bylaws - steep slopes, environmentally sensitive areas and watersheds, aquifers and stream protection areas - set out rules how that is to be done.

Eric Sherlock called the bylaws a "happy and historic occasion." They are proof that the island can meet the mandate of the Islands Trust, he said, adding that the bylaws show tremendous improvements over the previous drafts and recognize the natural environment as the basis for Bowen Island's quality of life.

Pam Dicer said it would be negligent not to pass the three bylaws. "As well as protect the environment, they protect the municipality. The cost of payment of fees pales in comparison to the cost of a lawsuit," she said.

Bill Granger said the bylaws prevent possible catastrophic eventualities and are in common practice elsewhere.

Jean Jamieson said these environmental catastrophes were more likely to happen as the lack of flat land forced more development on the island's steep slopes. "We must protect our green spaces for future generations."

Jack Silberman said the creation of the OCP was "an inspiring collective effort" and a very democratic process. "It's what the people of Bowen Island need and want. [The bylaws] are absolutely necessary for the greater good.... They are not only needed but long, long overdue."

Peter Williamson, a member of the OCP steering committee, said the bylaws reflected the views of people who took part in the many public meetings. "I think the proposed bylaws put forth the wishes of the community."

These speakers were applauded but not with the same intensity as those who spoke out against the bylaws. Their reasons were more varied. Some said the bylaws were ideologically driven; others said that while protecting the environment is a vaunted goal, the rules were too wide-sweeping and would severely curtail what property owners were allowed to do on their land. Others talked about how expensive the bylaws would make life on Bowen become because of the increased need for consultants and municipal fees. Several disagreed with the accuracy of the maps which will legislate what can be done on their properties.

But there was silence in the crowded gym when Shirley Menzies got up to speak. Using a walker for balance, the soft-spoken senior citizen started to cry at one point as she described the bylaws' negative impact.

She said the maps were "out of whack" when it came to her property. The bylaws' requirements "represent for me extreme financial [hardship.] We own 50 acres yet, according to these maps, there's not a place to put a house." If she isn't allowed to subdivide the property then there's no way to recoup the costs of the fees and construction. "I'd be surprised if a developer would give me even a small portion of its assessed value."

Another woman started to cry when she said that with the new rules, if her house burned down she might not be able to rebuild because of rules protecting a stream that runs through her property. (Later, when director of planning Hap Stelling was asked to comment on this, he said "we look at the guidelines as mechanisms to identify terms and conditions" of construction.... If for some reason we choose not to issue a development permit, I have to specify reasons.")

Barbara Wahler, also a member of the steering committee, said she was proud of its work. However, with regret she asked council to postpone third reading of the OCP. She said the changes between the document the committee presented to council and the document that passed second reading are far from insignificant.

The original document reflected the community's desire for environmental preservation, she said, but that sentiment was not strong enough to justify "these extreme bylaws."

Colleen O'Neil said True Green agrees with the goals of protecting the environment but not the bylaws themselves. They have the potential to negatively affect growth in and around Snug Cove and could be used to stymie developers.

Peter Baumgartner said the new bylaws represent the views of only a small number of islanders. "Can we please have some balance here?" He says the land use bylaws severely restrict the freedom of property owners, and are made worse by how much of the island they cover. He said the bylaws were "a way to bring everything to a halt and turn back the clock."

Bud Long said people need to know how many problems there have been to justify "otherwise repugnant bylaws."

Wolfgang Duntz, who has launched a court petition with Richard Underhill to halt the OCP, citing a lack of public consultation, said the failure of the update is that it doesn't address the issues surrounding Snug Cove, which the old OCP identified as the top future priority.

Duntz argued in favour of a hazardous slope bylaw as opposed to a steep slope bylaw. "A steep slope is not necessarily hazardous and a slope does not have to be steep to be hazardous."

He later said the OCP was "95 per cent good and I'd be hard-pressed if the remaining five per cent was worth preventing it. But these other bylaws need work.... Make the people who are complaining your partners in finding solutions."

Daron Jennings questioned whether it was reasonable to expect people with young families to have to attend council meetings to stay informed. "Perhaps instead of reading bedtime stories we should be trolling [the municipality's website.]"

He noted that a petition against the bylaws started Thursday morning had 211 signatures. Mayor Bob Turner was asked if each signatory would be counted as a voice against the bylaws. Turner said yes, which was confirmed at Monday's council meeting.

Rick Johnstone said the whole process was an outrage and that the bylaws go "far too far and are highly elitist." It would cost up to an additional $30,000 to meet all the requirements when building, money many people don't have.

James Glave said the OCP update doesn't take into account the environmental impact of ferry use or address options such as reducing sprawl by "embracing a more complete, compact, and walkable community."

"Fear rules this document," he said. "Because of a perceived threat, because of misplaced and frankly bizarre fear of creeping urbanization, because this is how some of our leaders think you preserve and protect an island, our municipality is not pursuing real and practical solutions."

Craig Jones lives on Collins farm. "We have a strong economical stake in these bylaws" because they think the bylaws will "savage our property values..... We would not have bought on Bowen if these bylaws had been enacted.."

John Rich, a member of the OCP steering committee, said public consultation during that time was "exceptionally good," resulting in significant support of protecting the environment. He lauded the land use bylaws as a way of furthering that goal but they go too far and are "ill-considered."

Wes Magee said there are other tools that can be used to address the concerns raised in the land use bylaws. He'd like more consideration given to the people who are affected by the bylaws.

Will Husby supported the bylaws but said they need finetuning.

Fitch Cady asked "who decided mature forests are a sensitive eco-system? I think [the ESA] should be called the Dark Forest Preservation Bylaw."

Stacey Beamer said that the bylaws illustrate that "our favourite tool is obstruction" and that they manifest our fears. He thinks the bylaws are an attempt to obstruct construction at Cape Roger Curtis by people who lost the battle to stop its development.

He said "I don't see us as a community that's heading towards sustainability. We're trying to predefine every aspect of this community... We should be asking, 'What can we do to make sure amazing things can occur."

Larry Adams disagreed with the definition of development as a change in the use of the land, building, structure or sign. "If I want to do anything on my property that is 'development'.... Unless you modify it, you'll be asking us for approval of any change and that's not what I think you intend."

Tracey Wait read a letter from the Snug Point property owners association asking why the possibility of revamping an old boat ramp at Sandy Beach was added to the OCP at the last minute. Residents worry parking for the ramp would be used by ferry commuters and that it was unsafe to encourage boat traffic where children are swimming.

Rondy Dike said the bylaws lead him to assume that the municipality wants to "micro-manage everything on the island." If the bylaws go through, the municipal hall would need an addition to house all the additional planning staff who would be required to administer the bylaws. "It will break you [financially] to enforce these bylaws."

Karen Cowper passionately supports maintaining the island's natural beauty but says the bylaws take a hammer to small problems. They need more balance and reasonableness.

Alistair Taylor said the bylaws were "draconian in scope" and argued for also creating a sustainable economy. "The people you hire to issue permits will be people laid off from construction." Tree roots may prevent erosion on sandy slopes, he said, but they also break up rock and can cause rockslides.