The Town of Qualicum Beach has gained control over the future of its municipal boundaries.
The issue was resolved after the Regional District of Nanaimo board, at its regular meeting on Jan. 22, approved the requested amendment to the RDN’s Regional Growth Strategy to allow relocation of its Growth Containment Boundary (GCB) at the Town of Qualicum Beach’s municipal boundary.
This means Qualicum Beach can fully implement its official community plan. Also, the land within the town’s boundary now will be designated as urban area in the strategy, and will be reflected in its maps. However, the Qualicum Beach OCP map only designates a portion of municipal land as urban and open for development, and defines agricultural lands and sensitive areas.
The RDN’s decision was not unanimous.
Four directors opposed it: Parksville director Adam Fras, Nanaimo director Ben Geselbracht, Electoral Area H director Stuart McLean, and Electoral Area C director Maureen Young.
Fras said he could not support the motion after hearing many residents opposed it at the public hearing that was held on Jan. 8.
The RDN report on the public hearing stated there were approximately 40 members of the public that attended. Among those who expressed opposition included lawyer Mark Sager, who was asked by some citizens of the town to look at the request to move the GCB. He expressed that it is unlawful for the RDN to change the GCB until the Regional Context Statement in the town’s Official Community Plan (OCP) is amended to permit the change. He suggested that the bylaw should be tabled until the inconsistencies are clarified.
Another resident, Lance Nater, said that while he has heard that the change is motivated by governance, and as a result of extensive two year (OCP) review, he did not see the topic of moving GCB ever raised.
“On the Town website the question is asked about the Urban Containment Boundary move and the response was that there were no decisions made,” Nater said. “The previous council, in 2018, voted to move the Urban Containment Boundary, not the GCB, to the town boundary. At the December 2018 board meeting, the directors expressed concern about inclusion of ALR within boundary but others thought that ALR would prevent this.”
He cited examples where ALR did not prevent this — in Delta, Richmond and Powell River.
Nater said he has not been able to find any examples where RDN delayed or interfered with proposals from the Town. He questioned why the town was now worried.
“If boundaries are moved across the region how will RDN implement the RGS?” Nater asked. He feels that “the 30-35 per cent portion of ALR within the boundary must be responsibly handled outside of changing councils, and that the RGS is beneficial to the town. Suggest that the process should be fixed and the amendment be denied.”
Geselbracht said he has problems understanding why the amendment is considered minor, when it involves agricultural lands and other sensitive ecosystem.
He said they are assets that are important to the regional district and that it was not in the best interest of the RDN to waive its jurisdictional rights as a board.
Qualicum Beach director Teunis Westbroek said the town completed a full OCP review, a process that is regarded as a minor amendment. He said that the City of Nanaimo went through the same process and the RDN had no problems.
“If it works for Nanaimo it works for Qualicum Beach,” said Westbroek, who also pointed out that the previous RDN board and previous Qualicum Beach council supported the OCP review with nobody opposing it. He also indicated that the City of Parksville, City of Nanaimo and District of Lantzville fully supported it.
He also pointed out that the RDN has never hindered anything the Town of Qualicum Beach wanted to do. The recent municipal election results that saw a complete overhaul of the town’s council and mayor, indicated that residents wanted change, said Westbroek.
“The future of Qualicum Beach will depend on who gets elected to council,” he said. “People should be aware as to who runs for office and make a commitment to protect the quality of life in Qualicum Beach and not depend on the regional board that never stood in the way of anything we wanted to do anyway. In my opinion, it makes complete sense to give Qualicum Beach the same benefit of looking after itself as Nanaimo has.”
Nanaimo director and mayor Leonard Krog said he wasn’t convinced with the facts presented to him and is concerned about legal issues that was raised by Electoral Area F director Julian Fell, who based his concerns from a statement made by a lawyer during the public hearing. Krog decided to support the motion but with some reluctance.
“It’s safe to say that this has been the toughest decision I’ve had to face in my short term as a director here in this board,” said Krog. “I have to say that I have been entirely unsatisfied by all the explanations that I have heard around the necessity including ALR lands within boundaries.”
Nanaimo director Don Bonner also backed the motion.
“I think the Town of Qualicum and the voters in Qualicum Beach should have control over their land,” said Bonner. “They should have the right to say how they want it developed. I fully trust that they will protect the Agricultural Land Reserve and make good decisions just like we make good decisions in Nanaimo and Parksville, Lantzville and other areas.”