What doesn’t the CRD understand about its own regional growth strategy?
IF THERE WAS EVER ANY DOUBT in my mind that a resort involving 257 housing units, a spa, recreation centre, and store on land alongside the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail—a provincial park—should be denied, a gathering of 300 people in late March ended it.
We were sitting in the pews of the First Metropolitan Church. The event, hosted by half a dozen environmental and community groups, was facilitated by former federal environment minister David Anderson, who noted “Everyone in the province has an interest in protecting the park, so it isn’t entirely a [Juan de Fuca electoral area] issue.”
Yet right now, the decision on whether to allow developer Ender Ilkay’s proposal to proceed may well be left to a subgroup of five CRD directors—from Juan de Fuca, Sooke, Langford, Colwood, and Metchosin. As writer/activist Zoe Blunt wrote last December in Focus, “This committee…has yet to see a development application it didn’t like.”
On that evening in the church, it wasn’t just the many arguments put forth by panellists and speakers from the audience against such a development in that fragile and beautiful place that were persuasive. It was the crystal clear unanimity of the polite but determined crowd—from all walks of life, all ages, and representing diverse CRD neighbourhoods.
First off, it seems this is all moving forward without proper consideration of First Nations’ claims in the area. As Russell Jones, a Pacheedaht elder stated at the meeting: “That land is not owned by any of the people who bought it.”
Why, asked others at the open microphone, would we allow any risk to the wilderness experience afforded by Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, with its spectacular remote beaches and forest? A wide buffer, they said, is critical to the park’s health and integrity.
But it’s not just lay people and First Nations elders who don’t understand why Ilkay’s proposal has gone as far as it has through the CRD’s approval process. Panellist Deborah Curran of the Environmental Law Centre, a lawyer intimately acquainted with our area’s regional growth strategy, said “Nowhere in the regional growth strategy is it contemplated that tourism uses are compatible with rural resource lands. So it is confusing to me why this proposal continues to move forward.” She explained to the gathering that the regional growth strategy is a formal covenant that we, and our various municipal and regional governments, have all agreed to live by. Endorsing as it does principles fostering compact urban development as opposed to sprawl, it helps us create healthier communities. Municipal bylaws—including zoning—are legally bound to comply with its principles.
Attendees listened with rapt attention as Curran also explained that there is nothing in the regulations that requires the CRD board to even refer the question to the five West Shore representatives. There is hope, then, for some sanity.
Brian White, another panellist and the director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University, warned that experience shows that if this proposal is approved, land values will rise and there will be pressure from other developers. “This proposal is a Trojan Horse,” he said. “It opens up [the area to] land speculation on a grand scale…[it will become] a giant monopoly board for offshore developers who never see the place.”
Pascale Knoglinger, the young president of the newly formed Jordan River Community Association, told of how “the process was very frustrating” for her community: “We feel we’ve had no input.” She remains unconvinced the project will provide any benefits for her community.
Many in the audience issued pleas to the CRD to “live up to its responsibility.” Greg Holloway pointed out that those in urban areas accept greater density in return for keeping wilderness and rural areas preserved.
Others raised important questions. “How are we going to get over the notion that just because someone buys a property, they have a right to develop it?” asked Ray Zimmerman. Diane McNally urged us all to take a hard look at “our love affair with growth and development.”
By the end of the evening, it appeared that citizens were hopeful of changing not just the direction of the CRD, but were keen to go further. A North Saanich resident advocated for making the Juan de Fuca lands a federal election issue and establishing a national park—perhaps even a World Heritage site. The final speaker, Saul Arbess of the Sea-to-Sea-Greenbelt Society, noted that our new premier, untainted by the travesty committed by Gordon Campbell’s government in releasing the lands from tree farm management, might be convinced to purchase the land to expand the park. “It’s an opportunity to get the land back for the people of BC in perpetuity,” he said.
Ender Ilkay is obviously a persistent fellow—this is his third proposal for the area. But that doesn’t mean the CRD should give into his desires, that his interest supersedes the people’s. In 2007 the provincial government acted in a way diametrically opposed to the public interest in letting Western Forest Products take their lands out of tree farm licenses without compensation. Here’s hoping that CRD directors don’t add insult to injury.
Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.