The Qualicum Beach Preservation Society is committed to fighting for the town’s ‘Greenbelt’.
A petition started by the QBPS to protect the forested area from development had close to 6,000 signatures as of July 15 – the same day a march that had more than 60 people took place in the town and a few hours before a town council meeting. QBPS president Ezra Morse said the march wasn’t put on by the society, but rather by various environmental groups in town. However, they were in full support of the event.
A group in Qualicum ready to march to town hall. A release reads the event, “will provide the community an opportunity to voice their concerns over continued environmental degradation and the perceived lack of integrity and honesty in the local governments.” @ParksvilleNews pic.twitter.com/ZTPyDxVOx3
— CloeILogan (@CloeILogan) July 15, 2020
Later Wednesday, council met to discuss an amendment to the Official Community Plan, which would allow for development in the Greenbelt – a 150-square-acre piece of land in the south end of town.
“That land is protected in our OCP, it’s part of our heritage, part of our identity – according to our OCP,” said Morse. “Now that someone wants to develop it after understanding the rules when they purchased it, the council might just start chopping up little sections.”
Morse said the QBPS is worried that amending the OCP in this way would set a precedent for further development – something he said the OCP is supposed to protect against.
“People really care about the environment. They care about sustainability. They care about transparency. They care about honest government,” he said. “We’re just speaking for our community about the values they put in their Official Community Plan.”
Council voted to move forward on the comprehensive land-use plan for the Estate Residential lands, which reads as follows: “That a Comprehensive Land Use Plan be undertaken to provide direction for future developments within the Estate Residential lands that would address and balance the importance of the forest, green way features, ecological importance of Milner Gardens and Vancouver Island University lands with the appropriate urban densification and public recreational amenities.”
Coun. Teunis Westbroek started off the discussion by saying that they shouldn’t be rushing through changing the OCP.
“It’s iconic in our community and I think if there needs to be a change, it has to go, in my opinion to a full OCP review, which would happen with the next council, but not too long and I think we can wait for that,” he said.
Coun. Robert Filmer followed, saying that although he understood Westbroek’s point, he said he thinks it’s unfair to the developer to wait until next council to discuss the change.
“Yes, it’s going to take time, yes, it’s going to take money, but that’s our job,” said Filmer. “If we make it a priority, then it’s going to be a priority. We’re looking at our strategic plan now and maybe moulding that into something else. If this is a priority to us, then let’s do it, but I do not agree with kicking the can down the road and possibly delaying an application that could possibly or should possibly go through.”
Coun. Scott Harrison followed and pointed to the town’s tree management bylaw, which he said covers about 3/4 of the Estate Properties, but not the property in question. In his eyes, a plebiscite or referendum should take place before any major development in the area.
“I don’t feel comfortable having broad development in the Estate Properties in any way, that goes anywhere where that existing tree management bylaw says, ‘don’t touch.’ And I don’t support rezoning to make it so you can do something funky in that area,” he said.
Coun. Adam Walker said he thinks it’s important for council to go through a real plan rather than delaying it indefinitely, even if that means holding a plebiscite or referendum.
“I don’t want to be painted with the same brush as always – that we’re rushing stuff through and not listening,” he said.
Before the vote, Luke Sales, director of planning, responded to a question by Mayor Brian Wiese about the number of trees on the property.
“The development area was primarily cleared, I believe it was five years ago, so there are remnants on the land, but the majority of the forest was removed at that time,” said Sales.
Ultimately, council voted 3-2 to move forward on the plan, with Walker and Filmer voting against. They then passed a motion which stated that the developers would host a public information meeting prior to consideration of the second reading of the OCP amendment and zoning bylaw. Filmer voted against the motion, pointing to concern around gathering, even in an altered or limited capacity, when council continues to meet virtually.
The council meeting was wrapped up with Sales saying that it’s important that all studies are done before the public meeting takes place.