Attend almost any public hearing for a development proposal in Parksville, and you’re likely to hear criticism that the city’s headlong rush to grow and build comes at the cost of its green spaces and natural buffers.
But city council struck a decisive blow for the environment Monday night when it approved a bylaw that will preserve its latest land acquisition as parkland in perpetuity.
The 97-acre Ermineskin land, which includes a freshwater wetland abutting the city at the northwest end of Hirst Avenue, now joins the Englishman River Estuary and the beachfront of Community Park in a triumvirate of natural spaces free from commercial and residential development.
As important as a healthy business community and residential tax base are to a community’s viability, civic health is measured in much more than simply the dollars it brings in. A sterile, paved landscape may be ideally suited for dropping box stores, strip malls and apartment blocks onto, but by itself enhances nobody’s quality of life.
And for a region that relies heavily on tourism for its income, it doesn’t offer much of a draw.
The strongest, most vibrant communities are those that can walk the fine line between developing the housing, employment and services people need on one hand, and preservation and enhancement of the natural environment that make those same people want to come — and stay — on the other.
There will always be a handful of people calling to maximize every dollar that can be wrung from city property. They are countered by another handful who would be happy to see all development cease.
Somewhere in the middle is Christopher Stephens, a bird-watching enthusiast and guide who fought for the preservation of the Ermineskin wetlands against development proposals.
But he also holds a master’s degree in community planning and shouldn’t be confused with a wild-eyed tree hugger.
“It’s simply a matter of spacial planning,” said Stephens. “We actually have more room for development in the right places when we secure a green asset like this.”
Can development and preservation exist side-by-side? Within the boundaries of a vibrant city or township, we believe they must.
— Parksville Qualicum Beach News