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Surplus lands spark debate

When municipal staff poured over Bowen Island maps to decide what land could be protected by Parks Canada, they marked suggested areas in purple but ended up raising red flags.

When municipal staff poured over Bowen Island maps to decide what land could be protected by Parks Canada, they marked suggested areas in purple but ended up raising red flags.

A full house at the regular council meeting on March 28 signaled intense public interest in those purple areas since some of them were surplus lands owned by the municipality.

Before hearing recommendations for the preliminary national park concept, council opened the floor to public comments. The first speaker, Paul Hooson, said, "In regard to the staff comment about the consideration to include additional municipal property in the national park it should be clear what [land] you are thinking about, so that you can reassure us, and there should be a bylaw about that. Please respect that the community lands are sacrosanct."

Colleen O'Neil expressed a similar opinion. "I am worried about community lands being rolled into the park. Some community lands have been identified as potential park lands and I am concerned about the potential for development in Snug Cove and about things like affordable housing and recouping the cost of the $2 million loan."

Mayor Bob Turner replied that the staff report stood in contradiction to the report from the advisory commission. He said, "Council will need to get some advice on the contradiction."

Turner said, "We are in decision-making phase on preliminary response on park. Committees and staff will present their reports. The national parks committee will compile a report and then we will bring it back to council next week. There will be a few more steps before we can clarify what our response will be to Parks Canada."

Paul Tennant, chair of the advisory planning commission, began his presentation by thanking his group for the joint effort with a special acknowledgment of James Glave who he called "the youngest and most committed member." In general, the commission endorsed Parks Canada's national park reserve concept because of the potential in protecting the island's ecosystems and the acknowledgment and preservation of cultural heritage. A central point of the commission's recommendation was the integration of the walkable village concept. Tennant said, "We believe that key commercial and residential growth should be focused in the Snug Cove area. A keystone element must include the land on the north side of Government Road, between the library and the crossroads. Only then can a vital neighbourhood develop. That strip of land is essential."

Tennant added, "We also believe that present ALR [agricultural land reserve] lands should have the same protection as they have now." The commission's report states that Parks Canada must address park-related transportation issues and that areas with the potential for green energy production should be identified and reserved for such future use.

Councillor Peter Frinton thanked the commission for the report. He said, "The strip of land north of Government Road is already on our radar... And it is good to see the issue of ALR land use addressed."

Councillor Nerys Poole said, "This is a great report and very to the point. The recommendations are very clear. I wanted to make a point about the community land concept. The parcel of land in question is so tiny that it has never been my understanding that this land has been considered [by Parks Canada]."

Councillor Doug Hooper asked for specifics on the walkable village concept. Tennant replied, "We deliberately kept it vague, to a 20-minutes-walk. But Belterra falls within the walkable village and going uphill is a different story. The walkable village doesn't quite extend to the legion but they can't walk home from there anyway."

Hooper noted that the municipality should assess other properties for the walkable village concept in addition to the lands on the north side of Government Road.

Sue Ellen Fast, chair of the greenways advisory committee, presented a number of comments regarding the preliminary parks concept. She said, "Because we are mostly associated with trails, greenways and the environmental side, we are reporting from the point of view of green spaces. Our support for the national park idea is a general one as it fits within the OCP [Official Community Plan]. We think that the Crown lands are relatively unprotected and at risk and we think the national park is really worth pursuing."

Fast said, "It would be good to have more clarity what kind of compensation or financial arrangement can be expected for the transfer of lands. For some of these places, a lot of community effort and funding has gone in."

A focal point for the greenways committee was protecting marine areas. Fast said, "We didn't see much of the marine aspect in the park concept plan. Considering that we are an island, we have a number of marine ideas that we would like to put forward for consideration." The committee suggested that Parks Canada consider acquiring a beach. As none of the public beaches are large enough for this purpose, the report recommended looking at the south coast, possibly the Cape Roger Curtis lands. Other considerations were maintaining and expanding the trail system and wildlife corridors, protecting ALR land designation and looking for possible alternative energy production sites. Fast said, "We are a boots-on-the-ground kind of committee. Andre Chollat has identified some places where the wind is high that might be explored for wind energy. Green living is what people are interested in."

The greenways committee's report lists recommendations for various areas. Poole cautioned that some of the lands are not up for grabs, "The nature preserves are owned by the Islands Trust Fund Board. From what I know, the board has not been contacted about transferring the lands and the wishes of the donor land owners are always respected."

Fast added, "I'd like to speak about the area around the old general store and the Bowen Island Community School. I'm speaking as consultant, not on behalf of the committee. We're often confronted on the issue of education centres. For both the library and the school, we didn't want them to be isolated from the park, so this is why I suggest keeping green space around those facilities. If people think that all education happens inside a building, this is not best practices. BICS currently uses the forest for all kinds of learning activities."

The staff report was presented by CAO Brent Mahood. The report was based on staff comments on the preliminary national park reserve concept and Parks Canada's What We Heard report. The staff report identified areas that had not been adequately addressed such as ferry overcrowding, increased costs and fees, fire hazards, demands on services and infrastructure, and social and financial implications.

The most controversial part of the report was an attachment that listed municipal lands considered for inclusion in the proposed national park. Mahood said, "We did look at municipal lands like the library, Sandy Beach and Seymour Bay. We generated a list of lands that could be of possible interest [to Parks Canada] to start a discussion. And we have a map where we highlighted some of the spots that were on the list."

When asked about the areas behind the school and in Snug Cove, Mahood said, "There is no recommendation that the community lands should be sold."

Turner said, "Concerns have been raised around the council table and in community. Tonight is the night to receive information and it would be good to clarify the decision about the community lands. The advisory planning commission recommends that the community lands should be excluded, those are the strategic lands around Snug Cove and planning is already under way. Is there opposition to that at council table?"

Frinton replied, "This is probably a more complex discussion than who is for or against it."

Poole agreed, "It is not as simple as saying we exclude this land but we wouldn't consider doing anything without full compensation or without considering community need."

Councillor Allison Morse had prepared a detailed and extensive response to the staff report in advance of the council meeting. "These [areas] were purchased by the community for much-needed community land and are ideal for community uses such as civic facilities and affordable housing. None of the community lands should be considered.... Why would we be talking about them if Parks Canada hasn't expressed any interest in them?"

Hooper added, "At this stage, we are jumping ahead. The parks concept doesn't include [these lands]. On April 11, we will have a formal response to Parks Canada and we can move on adjusting the boundaries."

Both the advisory planning commission and the greenways advisory committee take a long view and recommend measures for building a sustainable community. They lobby for local energy and food production and look at ways to work with Parks Canada to enhance Bowen's resilience as an island community in natural, social and financial aspects. As to what lands will be suitable for a park, it is clear that the community will provide input.