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.
Bylaw #357 is actually pernicious. It strips away protections for neighbours from noise, dust etc from light industry. It gets rid of any controls on tourist acccommodation, both size and type. It dilutes environmental protections, putting them on a par with economics and the ‘built environment.’ It expands the Commercial zone up Trunk Road as far as BICS, even as several properties remain undeveloped in the lower Cove. A public information meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 21st at 5:30 pm, Cates Hill Chapel. The APC has already objected to the provisions for RV camp grounds. We can only hope that there will be reasonable opportunities for discourse.
The other OCP amendments are found in Bylaw #352. Developing some community land has been the intent since the lands were purchased in 2005. There already is a draft Bylaw #223, which would allow that to happen for Lot #3 (along Miller Road beyond the RCMP station). So doing the same for lot #2, with meaningful community consultation, makes sense.
The problems involve the way it is being done, and what is being included. Instead of directly building upon the Snug Cove Master Plan and Community Centre Feasibility works of Alan Boniface, Council chose to establish a secretive Temporary Advisory Board to make recommendations. By account, one member had a short conversation with Boniface, and none with the previous Community Centre Task Force/Working Group. They met in closed meetings, arguably illegally, then presented a report, which, supplemented with napkin quality drawings, became the basis of the bylaws.
There was a single public information meeting, held at an inconvenient dinner hour, reportedly with poor sound and rather chaotically managed. Staff and a member of the public answered questions while Council members looked on mutely. While there was some support, there were also a number of suggestions for improvement. Yet no substantive changes reflecting that input appear to have been made, and the bylaws are slated for public hearing at 5:30 pm on July 29th (itself a prescription for low turnout). After the hearing, that’s it for public discourse.
This is a travesty, because the process represents a huge opportunity missed. Why there has not been at least a workshop to consider improvements is a mystery, though I suspect Council may fear having to reread bylaws and upset their timeline.
The deficiencies in the OCP amendments are simple- they are at variance to key principles and policies of the document. You can’t create new density by way of multi-family housing out of thin air; it has to be reallocated. Nowhere are secondary suites in multi-family units a supported housing form.
The scatter-gun approach is also problematic. To designate lands Residential/Institutional/Commercial really stretches the intent. Presumably, this is to provide latitude in ultimate uses. But who in their right mind would consider building an apartment by the school, in front of the proposed community centre? Or put parking and a road up against the school property line where kids must cross to access an after-school program. Besides, there is simply nowhere to put all the things proposed for the community campus.
There are positive aspects to the bylaws. I like the idea of a medical clinic, and appreciate reduced parking requirements. Taller buildings at the foot of the hill seem ok as well, though the fire chief thinks new equipment and training would be necessary to rescue people from a four story apartment. Obviously, maximizing potential returns and benefits to the community is a good thing. But there is no assurance the long promised community centre would actually get built. We might end up with just the residential and commercial uses.
At the very least, we need to have wider public discussions about the suitability of apartments on Bowen, designate a specific park site around ‘The Lookout’, and address our affordable housing policy. That would likely make for better bylaws. But no, we are getting bush league planning instead. What a waste.