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Letter: Stairway to Ecclestone – a proposal for beach access

In response to the DVP application for a dock at Ecclestone Beach before Bowen Island Municipal Council May 10


Background to an unacceptable offer

The private property owners at 1160 Ecclestone have offered the neighbourhood a short, nine-metre-long pathway across the bottom of their property to the public beach (one we arguably already have) in exchange for an oversized 37-metre dock. 

None of the sitings of this proposed dock conform to the 10-metre required setback from a public road right of way leading to a public beach as per Bowen’s Land Use Bylaw, amended in 2018 to further protect Bowen Island’s foreshore. Much of the proposed dock is set back only half the legally required distance.

Thus, the  property owners of 1160 Ecclestone have no option but to apply to Bowen Island Municipality for a variance permit. But, the question arises – is this the way we, as a community, want to manage our precious coastline? By first enacting legislation that strengthens beach protection and then, on a case by case basis, incrementally eroding these protections by granting such variances?

For five years, the Friends of Ecclestone Public Beach have worked to try and restore access to this south-facing, low-bank, family-friendly pocket beach – the only such beach existing on the east shore of Deep Bay. Our neighbourhood continues to say absolutely no to this proposed trade-off – a pathway to a beach whose natural and aesthetic values will be forever ruined by the existence of a huge private dock. 

As part of their pitch, the private property owners are trying to assure the public that we’ll be able to bypass this proposed six-foot high dock to get to the remaining beach. There are many families in our neighbourhood with small children who live within walking distance to this precious beach and who have all passionately expressed their keen desire to once again use this beach. However, it would be in the shadow of this private dock. Such a structure will forever overshadow, divide and degrade this beach and diminish the public’s right to full enjoyment of our beach.

But, the fabulous news is that our neighbourhood has in development plans for a public staircase from the right-of-way to the beach as an alternative to this unacceptable offer. 

 Our solution

Our neighbourhood has in the works an exciting new access option – a metal staircase from the right-of-way to the beach. This legal and safe staircase means we don’t need the pathway in exchange for the dock. To realize this plan, the “Friends” have retained the services of a structural engineer, Mr. Lindsey Tourand to prepare a feasibility report and technical drawings. On April 15, Mr. Tourand paid a site visit to Ecclestone right-of-way accompanied by a group of neighbours ranging in age from two to over 70. Mr. Tourand has advised us that constructing a metal staircase commencing on the public right-of-way and terminating on the public beach is structurally feasible and doable. This metal staircase will be affixed to the rock at the roadway level and below on the beach. He estimates that the 30-foot span will be divided into approximately 28 stairs and have a metal guard rail on the ocean side of the staircase from top to bottom. Mr. Tourand expects to have feasibility report completed in about mid-May. The “Friends” have also retained Mr. Tourand to create fully engineered technical plans for the stairs that next will be sent to a geoengineer. The plans then will be peer reviewed by a member of the Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, after which they’ll be “stamped.” The “Friends” will also retain the services of a skilled contractor with an expertise in working with graded rock surfaces and the installation of steel fabrication to prepare a budget for the manufacture and installation of this staircase. 

For the past five years, we’ve repeatedly requested  cooperation from BIM to help our neighbourhood regain legal public access and help preserve our beautiful beach – sadly, to no avail. Now, as a neighbourhood, we’ve made a commitment to find a solution that doesn’t entail sacrificing the  beach to private interests. 

We have informed BIM and council that our neighbourhood is committed to fully funding this project from concept to staircase installation. And throughout this process, we’re committed to working collaboratively with the muni with full transparency, submitting all plans and, at the appropriate times, applying for all the required permits.  

In order for these various professionals to prepare their reports, drawings and budget estimates, at the April 26 council meeting, the Friends of Ecclestone Public Beach have requested a one-month extension beyond May 10, at least to the June 14 meeting before council makes a final decision on the variance application. 

The creation and implementation of this public staircase is an inestimably superior plan to the private property owners’ unacceptable offer to our neighbourhood of a pathway across their property in exchange for a huge private dock on our beach.  

Gillian Darling 

On behalf of The Friends of Ecclestone Public Beach