Last Wednesday at a public hearing on plans to develop the portion of Bowen Island Community lands Lot 3, there was one thing that most islanders seemed to agree on – that the site is not appropriate for a parking lot. However, plans to dedicate 1 acre of that land to a new fire hall brought the support of Hood Point residents, who see this as essential to ensuring greater fire safety to the North end of the island, in opposition to others who see the land as ideal for creating much needed housing, and affordable housing in particular.
Hood Point resident Hugh Freeman told council that he essentially agreed with comments made by Peter Frinton, who said the chosen site for the new fire hall is better than any of the earlier proposed sites, but strongly opposed zoning the land to have a primary use of parking. Freeman, however, went on to oppose three specific points in a letter written to council by David Hocking, who was unable to attend the meeting.
“He argues that Lot 3 is relatively flat and therefore easier for affordable housing development. I don’t think the plan for Lot 3 would necessarily exclude housing, but the topography of the land also makes new firehall construction and road access to Miller Road easier and less expensive for taxpayers. Taxpayers should benefit from community lands first and not just tax payers,” said Freeman. “Second he argues that the area proposed for the fire hall is excessive, at least in comparison to other communities. The fire hall site, as Peter mentioned, may go on to house our other community services, and so comparing our community to others is like comparing apples and oranges…”
Freeman went on to urge Mayor and Council to move ahead quickly rezoning in order to get the construction of the fire hall underway as quickly as possible.
In Hocking’s letter to council, he points to statements from the Official Community Plan urging council to use community lands for housing, and to create a walkable village in Snug Cove, to back up his argument.
Finding a good location for the fire hall is challenging. But the scarcity of available land in Snug Cove, with Crippen Park on the sides and ferry access in the middle, makes finding locations for housing even more challenging… We need a new fire hall, but it does not need to be in the walkable Cove; housing does.
Alison Nixon chimed in to support the plea for affordable housing with a slightly different tack, speaking to the need for low-cost rental housing for people with disabilities.
“I understand that for many people, probably in this room, rental housing is not a priority,” she said. “But there are many people on this island for whom rental housing is a priority and for whom it’s their only way of surviving. As you consider the needs of our diverse community for adequate units, you also consider this community who are also suffering from a disability, these people are also valuable members of our community. As you are well aware, there is a wide variety of disabilities ranging from physical to psychiatric and we have members of all of these groups amongst our population. People living with have a disability have a highly restrictive monthly income, the current monthly allowance is roughly $900 per month. Clearly, rental units which are more than $700 per month, which most are, are entirely out of reach for people on such income restrictions.”
In an interview following the meeting, Nixon told The Undercurrent, that her plea for rental housing with subsidized units was a way of stating her belief that Lot 3 would be the ideal spot for such housing on Bowen.
“The whole lot should be housing, not a firehall,” she says. “Environmentally speaking we need a village that is walkable to the Cove, and I know that working with BC Housing there is a way to get rental units subsidized.”
The OCP and bylaw amendments that would allow the proposed changes to take place were passed through second reading by council on October 11. Public comments on the plan are now officially closed, but will be taken into consideration by council before moving forward.