How steep does a slope have to be to become hazardous and what areas should be classified as environmentally sensitive?
These are some of the subjects addressed in the two controversial bylaws that had been shelved during the last council term. Bowen Island's new council debated whether to rescind or improve the bylaws on steep slopes and environmentally sensitive areas at its first meeting on December 12. The conclusion was to retract the bylaws and have municipal staff work on better options.
Three of the four speakers at the public hearing at the beginning of the meeting also addressed the issue. Bruce Howlett said, "The steep slopes bylaw was improperly drafted and wrong. The issue is hazard from unstable slopes and not steep slopes. Many of Bowen's slopes are already developed and therefore not a hazard."
Howlett did not think it necessary to classify mature forests as environmentally sensitive areas.
Michael Cornellisen and Bud Long added their voices and expressed the sentiment that the bylaws should be withdrawn. Long said, "The need of these bylaws has never been demonstrated."
Mayor Jack Adelaar said, "I think it is a real travesty to have people come out to a meeting in July and speak so passionately against these bylaws. The two bylaws should be removed and we should start again if we need to in the future."
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz agreed with the intent but said that rescinding the bylaws without plans to replace them would be irresponsible. "I was one of the sharpest opponents to those bylaws but we do have areas on the island with hazardous slopes and we also need a bylaw for environmentally sensitive areas."
He suggested to base the bylaws on science and facts and said that he, in a recent meeting with the Islands Trust, saw examples of fair assessments of hazardous slopes. "Such bylaws need time and effort and they definitely need to be on agenda."
Councillor Andrew Stone agreed that staff should revisit the bylaws and possibly look towards the Islands Trust for examples.
Councillor Cro Lucas drew attention to the fact that the previous council had already rescinded second reading of the bylaws and asked staff to review the process. "Our goal was to include more public consultation and come up with friendlier options." His suggestion to change the name of bylaw #296 from steep slopes to hazardous slopes bylaw found approval around the council table.
About the question whether to work with the existing bylaws or start anew, Councillor Tim Rhodes used the analogy that it is often easier to build a new house than to renovate an old one. Adelaar said, "In my opinion, rescinding the bylaws means that they will be brought back in a better form. We have to come up with something that is more palatable to the public."
Duntz said that public opinion should not guide the process but "the bylaws should be scientifically backed and have a precedence in other areas."
Council agreed to rescind the bylaws and Councillor Alison Morse summed it up: "The bylaws are gone but we still have direction to staff to come back with recommendations to council on how to replace them."