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Conservation group highlights importance of Parksville mapping sensitive areas

Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Society presents to council meeting
Volunteers with Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES) planting in the Parksville Wetlands in October 2023. (Polina Iudina photo via Facebook)

An environmental stewardship group is asking Parksville council to consider applying conservation objectives to several areas, including along the Englishman River and Shelly Creek.

With the province’s new housing bill (Bill 44) coming into effect this year, the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Society (MVIHES) said it supports stronger protections for sensitive areas such as flood plains.

The bill requires municipalities to update zoning bylaws to allow small scale multi-unit housing on lots in single family dwelling zones. That means no public hearing will be required to build multi-unit housing on a single family lot, according to a presentation by Barb Riordan, MVIHES president.

“Without public hearings, protection of environmentally sensitive areas will depend totally on the OCP [official community plan] and bylaws,” Riordan said during council’s March 4 meeting. “So getting those right at the beginning is essential.”

Parksville’s current map of environmentally sensitive areas and development permit areas covers coastal protection, watercourse protection, eagle and heron nesting, Coastal Douglas Fir, groundwater protection and farm protection, she added, but not coastal flood plain and Englishman River floodplain.

Flood plains are important to the environment because they help to prevent erosion in fish habitats like rivers and streams, Riordan said.

The City of Parksville uses the professional reliance model, according to Mayor Doug O’Brien, which allows for a site specific approach to land management and balances the need for new homes, services and businesses with protection of environmental features.

“The city has extensive mapping for ecologically sensitive areas and it’s created eight development permit areas with a long list of objectives for managing hazards and environmental values in the city,” he said. “Most of the city is designated within one of these areas.”

READ MORE: Parksville council debates OCP amendment meant to protect riparian areas

O’Brien added council appreciates the work MVIHES does and said many councillors have gone out on tours of habitat restoration projects.

Coun. Joel Grenz said council has concerns around the province’s housing bill, and other recent legislation, “that have big implications and big impact on our local community and how we’re trying to manage land-use decision making within our jurisdiction.”

Coun. Amit Gaur said Bill 44 dilutes the capacity of municipalities to protect the environment in terms of allowable housing density.

The bill has “put environmental protection on the back burner,” he said. “The sole focus is on housing. I have personally presented my concerns to the provincial representatives as well.”

Later in the meeting Gaur brought a motion that called for the city to enact a low-density development land-use designation for properties along the Englishman River and coastal floodplain areas. It was deferred until discussions for the 2025 work plan.

Riordan said local stewardship groups such as MVIHES would be happy to help the city update its map for environmentally sensitive areas and development permit areas. She added the group will consider presenting their concerns to the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) board as well.

MVIHES was started in 1998 and is dedicated to the recovery of wild Pacific salmon through the conservation and restoration of watersheds, estuaries and shorelines.

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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