Qualicum Beach OCP Map This map of Qualicum Beach shows the urban containment boundary, in which the town plans to allow for urban development to occur (while also keeping space for parks, natural space and protecting environmentally-sensitive areas) under its Official Community Plan (OCP).

Concerns raised over Qualicum Beach growth containment boundary at hearing

Town of Qualicum Beach’s requested change doesn’t seek to change growth plan: town planner

While some people have voiced concern that a change in the growth containment boundary around Qualicum Beach would mean open season for developers, the town says its growth plan would not change.

The only change would be that the town would have more authority within town boundaries, said Qualicum Beach’s director of planning, Luke Sales, in his delegation at an RDN public hearing on the issue on Jan. 8 in Nanaimo.

As part of a minor amendment process to the regional growth strategy, a public hearing saw dozens of oral presentations made by members of the public, as well as written submissions, some commenting in support of the change and others voicing concerns, said the chair of the meeting and chairman of the RDN board, Ian Thorpe.

“We had roughly 30 oral presentations made to the board of directors, and I would say approximately two-dozen written submissions. Some of those were the same people, but certainly a strong indicator of interest for or against in the proposed bylaw amendment,” Thorpe said.

The issue comes out of the town’s discussions on the Official Community Plan (OCP), which, after nearly a year-and-a-half of meetings, discussions and public consultation, was adopted June 18, 2018 under the previous council.

It provides a long-range plan on land use and development. See the plan here: www.qualicumbeach.com/ocp

However, land use and development in Qualicum Beach is also effected by a Regional Growth Strategy (RGS): like an OCP, it sets out a plan for land-use and development, in addition to other things, but over a wider area. In this region, it’s an agreement by the City of Nanaimo, the City of Parksville, the Town of Qualicum Beach and the District of Lantzville, and is adopted as a bylaw by the Regional District of Nanaimo. See the bylaw here: www.rdn.bc.ca/regional-growth-strategy-bylaw

Within the RGS, growth containment boundaries are set. Within those boundaries, urban and more dense development can take place, while outside of those boundaries is intended mostly for rural use.

While some growth containment boundaries designate entire municipalities as urban, the growth containment boundary for Qualicum Beach is actually inside of its municipal boundary, meaning that, under the RGS agreement, town council cannot choose to allow for certain kinds of development in certain areas without a change to the RGS.

Qualicum Beach’s previous council voted in favour of giving town council authority to make land use decisions within the town boundary on its own.

In discussing this in June of last year, then Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said the town was “in a position where we are not in control of a good portion of our land as far as land use.”

He went on, saying, “I think there’s an opportunity here for the Town of Qualicum Beach to control its own destiny.”

In a June 21 letter letting the RDN know that Qualicum Beach’s OCP had been adopted, Sales noted that the town was seeking to manage its own growth, and detailed the resquest for a change in the growth containment boundary.

At the Jan. 8 public hearing, people’s perspectives on the actual ramifications of the growth containment boundary expansion varied.

“The sense I got from the people who were opposed to the amendment was the concern about possible future development in the Qualicum area,” said Thorpe.

“And they saw this as possibly a way of facilitating an easier growth, which they did not support because the land within Qualicum Beach’s boundary would all be designated as urban area by moving that growth containment boundary outwards,” he said.

“The ones in support of it would point out that the former Qualicum council had put this forward… they saw it as something they viewed as a matter of governance, that they felt that the town of Qualicum Beach should have control over its own land area and be able to make those decisions.”

Sales, the town’s planner, made a presentation at the public hearing to that effect. He noted that, in 2011, the City of Nanaimo asked and received the same change to its growth containment boundary as the town is now asking for.

“It should be noted there have not been any lands removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve in Nanaimo since that time, nor did the 2011 amendment result in major land use changes.”

Sales said that, although all land in Qualicum Beach would be referred to as “urban” in the RGS, in the town’s OCP, there is still an urban containment boundary separating Agricultural Land Reserve and rural lands within the town from lands that the town feels has potential for urban development. If this change to the RGS is made, that urban containment boundary is how the town on its own would designate where urban development is appropriate.

“Sometimes people present this as being suddenly an open field and everything is up for development, but that’s really not the case,” said Sales in an interview with The NEWS.

“This change, if it goes forward, would mean that the RDN is not involved in the decision-making process for land-use in the town,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we have absolute autonomy because there are other layers of jurisdiction. For example, the Agricultural Land Reserve is governed by the Agricultural Land Commission, so this change doesn’t effect that at all. There are other restrictions in the town related to, say, Crown land and/or riparian areas, environmental areas.”

While some are concerned that more development might occur because town council would no longer have to seek bylaw amendments to the RGS, former mayor Teunis Westbroek (now a councillor) noted in previous discussions with council that Qualicum Beach councillors, as they are elected by the residents of Qualicum Beach, are best-suited to make decisions for Qualicum Beach.

“The fact is, for many, many, many years before the regional growth strategy existed, the town was very capable of managing land-use,” said Sales. “That’s why we have such a special town. So I tell people to have a little bit more faith in the town’s own decision-making authority.”

RDN directors are now in the process of considering the delegations and submissions as the Jan. 8 public hearing, and will look to have discussion and make a final decision on the requested amendment at the Jan. 22 RDN board meeting at 7 p.m. in the board chambers.

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