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Legal challenge coming on fire hall land in Qualicum Beach

The threat of a legal challenge has the Town of Qualicum Beach changing its course in order to continue plans for a new fire hall.

Although the Town owns the land at the south east corner of Memorial Avenue and Rupert Road, five per cent of the property had previously been set aside as park land to meet subdivision requirements, as required by provincial law. This is roughly the size of two residential lots, Town Planner Luke Sales said Monday night.

Sales said that the Land Titles Office had accepted an application to cancel that park land designation and dedicate an equivalent piece of land on the property as park land. Although the project was ready to proceed with a hearing, a third party made it known it would challenge the application.

"Faced with a legal challenge it doesn't matter who is right," said Sales. "The fact is, you spend a lot of time in court, you spend a lot of money on lawyers and in the end if you are a right, great, you are still short of time and money."

So on to plan B.

This is called the Park Land Exchange bylaw. After council gave three readings Monday night, the public now has the option to object to the plan, known as the alternative approvals process. After advertising a notice to the public in the local news papers, the public will have 30 days starting March 13 to object to the plan by filling out a form. If more than 10 per cent of the registered voters in Qualicum Beach fill out the form and submit it to the town office within the 30 days, then council cannot adopt the bylaw, but could then hold a referendum.

If there is less than 10 per cent opposition, the adoption of the bylaw would then take place in April. A public information meeting about the process will take place March 20 at the Civic Centre at 7 p.m.

Although the land is currently registered as park land, is not currently being used as a park, Sales said, but sits as a natural buffer.

Coun. Mary Brouilette said since the plan is to exchange the park land and move it to border Rupert Road, she suggested it would be more useful to the public.

Coun. Tanner was concerned about an asphalt parking lot that would stretch into the newly designated park area and possibly affect trees, but Sales said it would be a gravel parking lot with minimal impact and a bioswell would collect runoff from the site.

Sales added that the parking lot will also act as a starting point for the public to use the trails in the forested land to the South of the property which was recently acquired by the Town.

Coun. Willie said that when the Town spent over a million dollars last year buying the additional property on Rupert Road it knew it was the best site for the file hall.

Other News from Town Council:

-Natural gas prices will drop 30 to 40 per cent on Vancouver Island over the next few years, reported coun. Dave Willie, and that's good news for the municipality and for the RDN and its new fleet of natural gas buses. The B.C. Utilities Commission announced last month that it would allow Fortis B.C.'s bid for amalgamation and a common gas rate for the province. "It puts up back at a competitive level with the rest of the province," Willie said, adding it will also save Qualicum Beach about $40,000 to $50,000 in natural gas.

-The Parksville Curling Club has been issued a tax notice by the City of Parksville in the amount if $16,000. Coun. Scott Tanner reported that the information was presented by a delegation at a recent Recreation Commission meeting, which Tanner chairs. The property is owned by the RDN but owned by the City of Parksville and the club is required to pay half the tax bill, Tanner said, which was an unexpected expense. Town CAO John Marsh noted the Qualicum Beach Curling Club requested a reduction in rent in 2006 and now pays a reduced annual lease of $4,400.

-The Qualicum Beach Fire Department has cancelled its fire Camp program this year due to low enrolment and may hold it every second year in the future, Fire Chief Darryl Kohse confirmed.

-Qualicum Beach council approved a motion to write a letter of support to the Regional District of Nanaimo to approve a grant that would keep the region's homeless co-ordintor in her position for another year. Sarah Poole was hired last year by the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness using a one-time grant from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and that contract ends at the end of March.

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