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This Side of the Moat

Have you ever wondered where we’re going? Is Bowen going to grow, are property values going to rise or fall, is BC Ferries going to drive us into the ground? There are a few factors that exert enormous control over our demographics but there are also some macroeconomic trends that may skew things a bit.

Imagine what Bowen would be like if we had unlimited free ferry service with runs every fifteen minutes. Instead of a 3,500 population it would be 35,000 and the character of the island would be completely different. We have a small population precisely because access is so difficult and expensive. In business we talk about the width of a company’s economic moat; those things that prevent competitors from destabilizing its position. On Bowen our moat isn’t just figurative, we literally have a moat that keeps the outside world at bay. So the next time you contemplate how great it would be if Friday afternoon ferries weren’t so overloaded remember that it is those overloads that have driven so many islanders away and made room for the next adventurers who wanted to see if they could adapt to an island lifestyle.

If you’ve been here for awhile you have probably noticed how many new arrivals have lasted three to five years on the island before moving on. It seems to me this is particularly true of older couples. My sense is that families with young children adapt better to the island. Maybe it’s because the combination of community, security and nature create an environment for a young family that’s hard to duplicate elsewhere. Also, it was recently pointed out to me that those who commute have an opportunity for a social life on the ferry that can’t be found commuting in a car to the suburbs. When I think back on the years I did it I realize that although it’s been 23 years since I commuted I still have friends that I sat with almost daily for over a decade. If we happen to meet on the ferry now we just sit down and start talking as if we had seen each other last week. I know I’m rambling but I don’t think we appreciate enough how much riding on the ferry adds to the social life of commuters. So if you’re new to the island and have been sitting in your car wander upstairs and strike up a conversation.

Getting back to the topic at hand, those economic forces that are changing our demographics. Houses keep getting built but our population doesn’t go up. We are now back to having over 25 % of residences as seasonal homes. As property values and taxes rose throughout the 1990’s many summer homes were sold to full time residents and the percentage of population increase in the summer dropped dramatically. But by 2005 we hit the wall on ferry capacity and the fulltime population stopped growing, and probably declined. By 2009 housing starts were almost nonexistent. But then a new economic reality manifested itself. Interest rates had gotten so low that real estate regained its cachet as a long-term investment. And for people with money the idea of a seasonal and weekend home just a half hour from West Vancouver regained its appeal. So today our contractors are back at work and things seem to be humming along.

Looking ahead there are a couple of things on the horizon. The first is the ferry refit which will be enormously inconvenient but which will increase by capacity by 12 cars. That’s almost a 14% increase. It should significantly reduce overloads and ultimately drive away fewer commuters until our population again grows and capacity is again reached. If we also get an increase in the number of commuters using public transit and the number of folks who can work from home we could see our winter population jump by several hundred people. An associated macroeconomic event was that winter homes in southern California became very inexpensive for awhile so we now have more of Bowen’s retired population going south for the winter, which again makes room for a few more people on the ferry.

Another trend, which might materialize, is an influx of wealthy Chinese building seasonal homes, particularly at Cape Roger Curtis. China controls how much currency its citizens can take out of the country. As these controls are loosened it is expected that estate size waterfront properties in exclusive areas near desirable international cities will be very popular. However when this will happen is anybody’s guess. Apparently there are actually Chinese government representatives monitoring housing starts to see if any nationals have moved money out of China. If controls aren’t removed The Cape may wait a long time to fulfil its destiny and new home construction might be spread out over many years.

So what does the future hold for us? Pretty much the same as we have now, inconvenience and expense balanced by being part of a wonderful community in one of the world’s most beautiful places. Enjoy the summer.


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Elder Abuse

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was developed & launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Abuse and neglect of older adults is not limited to any one country or part of the world. So, WEAAD involves activities to bring greater recognition of mistreatment of older adults wherever they live throughout the world, and to highlight the need for appropriate action. It is intended to give abuse and neglect of older adults a global relevance that will sustain and move prevention efforts forward throughout the year and for years to come.

On Bowen Island, Snug Cove House Society is dedicated to supporting independent seniors to stay well.  We are, therefore, concerned about the issues of elder abuse and neglect, whether caused by the self or others.  There are resources available here and Continue reading ›

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Island Notes

Be careful what you wish for.

Our Municipal Council is putting the final touches on a bylaw to rezone six acres of municipal land between the school and Seniors Lane. The area is divided into three pieces. Along the road it envisions four-storey mixed commercial/apartment buildings. Behind that would be buildings, again up to four stories high, with 33,000 square feet of municipal administration and community assembly space and more apartments. Behind that, closer to Bowen Court, would be townhouses with secondary suites. In total, between the townhouses, suites and apartments, up to 80 living units could be built. When you consider that our population grew by 40 people in five years (2006-2011) it again seems a bit optimistic.

Normally it would be hard to get excited about grandiose plans but this one is a bit more serious. Continue reading ›

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Mucking Around with the OCP

The B.C. Local Government Act lays out requirements and provides guidelines in the drafting of Official Community Plans. Bowen has an additional obligation to include OCP policies that specifically implement directives of the Islands Trust. Any changes to the OCP require approval from their Executive Committee.

While the OCP is a living document, any changes must be done for good, compelling reasons. There are two ways of doing this. The first is periodic review and update, something done with wide community involvement on Bowen in 1984, 1996, 2011. The second involves ‘spot changes’, necessary to achieve desired outcomes for specific properties or issues.The golden rule is to ensure that any change does not contradict the hundreds of other elements of the OCP. That is why extensive community and professional input is so paramount- to ensure that amendments are proper and well supported.

Bowen Council is now forwarding two OCP amendments, one to allow for rezoning and development of Lot 2 of our community lands (between the school and Seniors’ Lane-Bylaws #352/353), and the other to remove perceived barriers to economic development (Bylaw #357). Each is well intentioned, but fraught with problems and inconsistencies. Both compromise the OCP and fail the golden rule litmus test. Continue reading ›

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Election Platform

Politicians ask the electorate what they want. A wish list emerges. The politicians pick from the list and build a campaign around it, in hopes of getting elected. That’s how it works in most places but Bowen is a bit different. The wish list is so long and diverse that those running for council have found it best to avoid specific issues and speak in broad generalities.

A typical speech is something like “My wife and I have lived here since the dawn of time, we raised our children here, helped to lift into place the roof beam of the fire hall. You know me and I know you, I share your dreams, hopes and desires for our island. I feel the same pain as you when BC Ferries raises our fares and cuts our service. Continue reading ›

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Municipal elections will be upon us again this fall.  When our current Council took office three years ago, they were quite vocal about the lack of progress made by the outgoing Council on outstanding pressing matters. The new crew had a Strategic Plan for their mandate. Now the time has come to revisit that plan and see how they’ve fared.

On top of the list was implementation of a ferry marshalling solution. First came “Plan Z”. When that proved unworkable they spent a goodly sum of money on a “Plan Q”. When that proved unworkable they blamed our problems on the herons nesting in Snug Cove and dropped the whole thing.

Another top priority was the completion of a new Community Centre. Continue reading ›

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submitted by the board of the Bowen Island Conservancy

Our mayor has publicly pondered the value of the Islands Trust to Bowen Island and whether we might opt out of the Trust.

First of all, the Islands Trust and the islands within it can only be changed by provincial legislation, not by a locally elected municipal council.  There is a reason for this.  The Province created this Trust Area not just for those of us who are fortunate enough to live here, but also for all British Columbians who benefit from exploring the natural beauty of the islands.

The provincial government enacted the Islands Trust Act (“IT Act”) in 1974 as a reaction to growing concerns that development was endangering “the very features that made the Trust Area so attractive to residents and visitors.”  This raison d’etre for the Islands Trust continues today.  Continue reading ›

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Muddying the Water

I’m far from Bowen right now but I really want to comment on a letter recently sent to Cove Bay Water homeowners. It makes the case for building a $7.5 million water treatment plant to serve our 615 users and urges us to support taking out a $1.5 million loan. The problem isn’t so much with the capital cost; it’s the operating costs they’re glossing over that make the deal hard to swallow – but I’ll get back to that. The reason I’m writing is because the first thought that went through my mind was “So that’s why they raised the lake.” Continue reading ›

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Not Only on Bowen

by Maureen Nicholson for Bowen Islanders for Ferry Fairness

“Only on Bowen.” That phrase is used sometimes as a compliment and sometimes with resignation. But the recent BC Ferry Corporation “engagement process” and later events have driven home that Bowen is not unique. We live in one of many communities that depend on BC Ferries, communities that will be harmed by this latest round of service cuts and rate hikes.

It can be difficult to know how to respond to this kind of change, especially after enduring a discouraging community engagement process.

Out of frustration, Continue reading ›

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Can We Change?

by  Tim Rhodes

Public engagement around community facilities has been ongoing for at least a decade. In 2005, reports discussed the merits of including municipal offices to provide “additional capital and operating funding” and the concept of “campus style” development. Subsequent reports included location on the southern portion of Lot 2 and provision of housing and commercial uses as an option for financing capital costs and operations. Most recently informed by a volunteer advisory board including professionals with experience in land evaluation and development, this decade of engagement ultimately resulted in a Public Information Meeting on April 14, 2014 about the proposed re-zoning for Lot 2 of the Community Lands.

Given that the uses proposed in the re-zoning proposal were in response to identified community needs and recommendations in the OCP, I anticipated the audience would question Continue reading ›

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