Expanding Bowen’s trails and green spaces

Bowen Island has a ratio of about 60 per cent private land to 40 per cent Crown land and developer John Reid hopes to see a shift in that balance. He brings out a Bowen Island map that is marked with green spaces and a trail system. It looks like a puzzle and Reid points to the centre piece to introduce his new development: Arbutus Ridge.

Reid has invited me for a preview of the walkabout of the property that he will hold for islanders on August 25, at 3 p.m. (participants will meet at the gravel parking lot/picnic table). The map is spread out on one of the picnic tables that are placed on a grassy field, separated from Windjammer Road by a row of tall trees. "This is all the neighbours are going to see of the development," Reid says, gesturing to the green around him. "One of the first things I looked at was to ensure the least amount of negative impact on the existing neighbourhood. Now the neighbours have a park, an open field and trails they can use."

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Reid is working on the proposed development together with the property's owner, the Storm Mountain Development Corporation. His approach favours cluster development and dedicated green spaces, Reid explains as we start walking up the hill. He adds that the green spaces are not randomly chosen. "We have some nice south facing lots and and a few spectacular views to the west. But you'll see," he said.

Reid leads the way up to what he calls a "big bump at the west end." The views, only revealed at the very top, are stunning. There are two viewpoints. One opens a vista to the south west and the slopes of Cape Roger Curtis, the other covers Bluewater and the islands beyond. They are million-dollar views but Reid is not interested in cashing in. "You could put three or four houses here," he shrugs, "but if you make it a public park with trails and viewpoints, everyone benefits."

Owning a one-acre lot that is surrounded by one-acre properties is different from owning a one-acre property that is backed by 10 acres of public park, according to Reid. "It makes a difference if you have access to a lot of green space," he says, adding that cluster development also means less destruction of the surrounding land. "For a development of 10-acre lots, everyone wants a view, everyone needs services and a driveway, etc. If you cluster the buildings, you get less disturbance."

But there is more to Arbutus Ridge than just green spaces. "This is the only land available in that part of island. It fits right in the epicentre of the neighbourhood," Reid said, adding that he plans to create a centre core where people can gather.

"There are 93 acres involved and the development attempts to knit together the west side of island, from the ocean to the Crown lands and all the neighbourhoods in between," Reid said. He explained that originally the owners, who are overseeing a number of development projects, were looking to subdivide into 10-acre lots. Reid approached the municipality on Storm Mountain's behalf and was told that the municipality would prefer to see a more comprehensive development for that area.

"I believe that this is the first time that municipal staff proactively pushed back," Reid said. "I went back to the owners and asked to go into the direction that I had originally suggested." One of the reasons his proposal fell on fertile ground was that Storm Mountain's CEO, Allard Ockeloen, lives on the island.

Ockeloen's connection to the development has given it another creative direction as he has a child with Down syndrome. Arbutus Ridge will be a community that integrates people with Down syndrome and Reid points out the elements. "There will be a coffee shop where people can also get a few basics like milk and eggs," he said, adding that it will be staffed by people with Down syndrome, who will also have the opportunity to sell the yield of their garden and goods produced in their studios.

"It will be a meeting place for everyone," Reid explains. "Even though it is public from one side and private from the other, this won't be a gated community with walls around it." Visitors and neighbours are envisioned to mix freely and people from the wider Bowen community will be welcome to contribute to ongoing programs, such as woodworking, painting and gardening.

The garden plot has already been defined and a pond will be fed by run-off water from the roofs of the houses. Reid says that the drawings for the development at Arbutus Ridge show the "permanent end result."

"There will be no further subdivision and that stability appeals to some people," he said. "What we see is the end of the development cycle."

Reid has also developed one of the neighbouring properties, Evergreen, and has found that the trails there are already well used by residents as well as neighbours.

Reid says that he has done about a dozen rezonings with green corridors and trails in mind. One of the first he initiated was located at Josephine Lake. "It was done in order to protect the lake and not with public access in mind," Reid explained. A better model was Quarry Park, where about 55 per cent of the land was turned into a public park.

"Then I bought the land across the road because I realized that we could continue in this vein. That was when the Bowen Island Greenways initiative surfaced," Reid said. "I started mapping where we could go and in the last dozen years it has become evident how this can continue in the long term." Developments that have contributed to the advancement of trails and greenways include Quarry Park, Headwaters Park, the Buchanan property, Malkin Creek, Hikers Trail, Evergreen, L'Abri and now Arbutus Ridge. Reid noted that Drew Burgess followed the same model, Susan Proctor has also initiated a large park dedication.

He believes that trails are an asset and not a liability to the community. "[Trails] are not too expensive to maintain and don't require a lot of resources if they are build properly," he said. Reid also drew attention to the municipal survey that was conducted to shed light on the priority of residents and that showed that parks and trails scored very high points. And protecting park land by making them public is important, according to Reid. "It it is kept private, there can always be the motive to build something down the road," he said.

Reid added that creating the trails and knitting them together has been done by "working within the Official Community Plan, without controversy and with a lot of public support."

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