Why Cape Roger Curtis re-emerged as a Bowen election issue

Heating up like an old injury, not quite healed, Cape Roger Curtis emerged as an election issue last weekend.

Cape Roger Curtis juts out of the south end of Bowen and overlooks the Georgia Strait. For more than a decade, the cape has been a source of controversy within councils and among community members as the previously untouched (in recent years, though most of the island was logged more than a century ago) area has been developed.

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On Oct. 13, it came to the attention of islanders that a memorandum, intended to be a private document for potential Cape on Bowen investors but mistakenly published on a Kelowna realtor’s website, quoted two Bowen candidates standing in next weekend’s civic election.

The  20-page prospectus outlines the cape owners’ vision for the cape land, the desirability of the land, the political climate and quotes locals’ emails to Candy Ho, executive officer of the Cape on Bowen.

“The concept of ‘aging in place’ has always been a top priority for seniors on Bowen Island,” said mayoral candidate Gary Ander in the memorandum, quoted from an email received September 22. “Your track record with previous projects is impeccable and as mayor I would enthusiastically welcome your development proposal,” it said.  

Councillor candidate David Hocking is the other person standing for public office quoted, also from a Sept. 22 email. “There is now a clear recognition that Bowen needs some development, including multi-family homes, to provide housing for workers, seniors and young families,” said Hocking. “With respect to an aging in place development at the Cape, I think the timing is good and the opportunity strong.

“I believe the support for the development could be very strong. I am extremely excited by this possibility [of development at The Cape], and believe an aging in place centre would be wonderful for Bowen.”

Both Hocking and Ander said that they didn’t know their statements would be used in such a document. Both also said that they haven’t read the prospectus and so cannot comment on its contents (other than what they sent in their respective emails.)

Nerys Poole, a former councillor, posted the document to Bowen and Everything Else, which acts as a sort of virtual community hall.

“For me, the issue, and I think for a lot of people, is that when you’re running a campaign you tell the public what you’re thinking about,” she said to the Undercurrent.

“Anyone who’s been in public office [both Ander and Hocking have served a term on council,] should know the importance of not communicating with developers,” she said.

Hocking said that had been asked to write a note to Candy Ho, telling her what he thought about the idea of developing an aging in place facility. “No one asked me if they could do this,” he said. “What I was commenting on was an idea.

“I’m interested in the potential idea of aging in place,” he said. “I’m not supporting in any way the project.

“The Bowen community can decide, if there’s a proposal, if it’s a good thing  or a bad thing.”

Ander, similarly, was asked at a social event to comment on the concept of an aging in place facility at Cape Roger Curtis.

“I stand by that statement,” said Ander. “It came from an honest place.”

He notes that it is council’s job to accept proposals with an open mind and that any development at Cape Roger Curtis would be an exhaustive process and even suggests that it would be put to a referendum.

“I talk to developers all the time,” said Ander. “I talk to people with ideas all the time.

“I tell them to bring it to council.”

Candy Ho, for whom the emails were intended, said that she’s sorry about the confusion this document has caused.

“We’ve always wanted to be able to contribute more to Bowen Island than 59 estates,” said Candy Ho. “It was always our hope and intent to someday do a masterplan.

“Seniors housing is my life purpose, my dad [Don Ho]’s life purpose.

“This is an information memorandum, clearly it is not a proposal of any kind,” said Candy Ho. She said that it’s to send out to select investors that the Hos think would be a good fit for a Bowen development. “There is no proposal. It’s our hope, our dream.

“We don’t believe in imposing anything the community doesn’t want,” she said.

Candy Ho also wanted to highlight that the candidates included weren’t “sticking their neck out” for the project, they were engaged in a conversation about the desirability of ageing in place.

The sensitivities around the cape began more than a decade ago when developers Don Ho and Edwin Lee bought Cape Roger Curtis. The previous owners of the more than 600 acre property had left the cape as is and it acted like a public park, but after Don Ho and Lee bought it, they soon had development proposals in the works.

The proposals went through several iterations and came to a head in the 2008 civic election. On the table was a bylaw amendment that had passed first reading. Don Ho had proposed to save the Cape’s waterfront for a public park, instead building a dense neighbourhood a little to the interior. Included in this neighbourhood would have been both single and multifamily housing and a retirement community. The problem was, the Official Community Plan only allowed for 224 units on the property and Don Ho wanted to build more than 500, arguing that’s what he needed to do to make the project profitable.

The Official Community Plan (OCP) is the municipality’s long-term vision for Bowen. It’s a legal document, a bylaw, constructed from extensive community engagement and has been reworked several times, most recently in 2011. The OCP mandates land uses and densities across the island and outlines a policy framework for development. Development on Bowen must align with the OCP or proponents need to request council to amend the document.

This was a big proposed OCP amendment and it was at the forefront of electors minds in the 2008 election, as emotions broiled over a beloved stretch of land.

In the early days of the new council, which included Poole, in April 2009, the first reading of the OCP amendment was rescinded.

Frustrated with the process that had seen years of work and millions of dollars, Don Ho went ahead with his original plan, and subdivided the land into 59 ten-acre lots, putting them up for sale.

However, a stretch of the cape waterfront was protected by a 30-metre municipal covenant and the developers built a sea walk trail. It’s a favourite walk for locals and tourists alike, out to the cape lighthouse standing guard at the southern tip of the island.

The OCP has since been amended to reflect the 59 units intended at the cape (not all the lots have been sold), with the caveat that council would entertain further amendments to density in the area. Any modification to the cape plan would require modifying the OCP, which is a public process.

A few years after the neighbourhood debate was laid to rest, tensions once again came to a head when waterfront property owners wanted to build docks on the cape shore.

After a couple of (very long) docks were built out from the shore, including one from Don Ho’s property, council got involved, enacting bylaws to limit the length of docks and eventually banning them altogether at the cape.

The fifth and last dock allowed at the cape began construction in August this year, erected by Zuo Zongshen, a motorcycle-made billionaire.

Between 2013 and 2015, the municipality repeatedly denied Zongshen building permits for a dock, as each time he came back with a revised design, the bylaw had changed to be increasingly prohibitive. So Zongshen sued the municipality to be able to build his dock and in August 2017 the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in his favour.

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