Every day I read about the serious financial challenges facing small and large communities like ours. Publicly funded services are under a sharply increased demand, populations are aging and locally there are fewer skilled jobs which can support a family.
Anecdotally, if everything you read in the papers and Internet is true, we are looking locally at some rising costs along with necessary long term infrastructure projects, each with hefty costs to all taxpaying residents of Parksville as we and our systems age.
Recently the Ermineskin application mentioned in a staff report July 3 to council; was to give the residents 24 hectares of land, (60 acres) in return for a letter of support to the provincial government Agricultural Land Commission to allow them to develop on the remainder (three hectares being given back to the ALR).
This application could be an opportunity for long term protection of wetlands..
If the application is supported and a letter forwarded to the ALC, residents could own at no cost the lands and control the land area where our drinking water well fields are located.
The remaining area would necessarily be developed to the same standards the rest of the city with sewers, storm water management and amenities collecting tax revenue from each of the lots-all within the municipal boundary.
This application is the communities opportunity to openly and honestly discuss a Farm operation next to our playing fields, schools and well fields, and an entirely single family style neighborhood.
Ironically these adjacent development like Maple Glen were created by this same property owner/taxpayer.
Alternatively the applicant can clear the forested land and use the cleared area for a number of approved ALR uses including farming, logging, debarking all uses under the ALR.
Our community gets a chance to send a letter of support for an application such as this, a letter which if in the affirmative outlines the benefit to this applications exclusion to our community.
We are not the final say, the province is. But now is the time to do our homework if that is the direction the residents choose whether we want parkland and some amenities through a development or a Farm operation in that location.
We have recently had several ALR properties purchased and reinvented but these are outside the municipal boundary and provide transitional buffers from urban to rural in area G and Area F.
The City of Parksville has a small land base bordered by a river at each end and the highway and waterfront. Planners often use the phrase highest and best use to speak of land use opportunities.
The question for residents is whether a farm next to Springwood Middle school behind Maple Glen is the highest and best use of that land or could the Community and its ratepayer actually do better by taking the offered 24 hectares of land preserving the wetlands and bird habitat permanently as parkland at no cost, to protect fully its future and allowing the remainder housing which would contribute taxes and possibly even negotiate some amenities for the long term operation of a Parksville wetlands park or bird sanctuary. .
I fully appreciate that Agriculture in urban areas is a passionate conversation and applaud the number of working producing farms that surround our more urban community, from Nanoose Bay to Bowser, but hearing the council state flatly that the conversation cannot take place and that no one will support the application leaves the process deeply flawed and sounds like a decision has been made long in advance of a open fair process.
One councillor at the July 3 council meeting even remarked he had “confidentially” spoken to ALC members who told him the application would not be supported.
I believe in government and I believe in the process and while it is sometimes flawed; the possibility to discuss the merits and deficits of a project or proposal is critical and the neutrality of the elected representatives until the public have considered the proposal is critical .
Is 24 hectares of new free parkland which would protect these wetlands permanently a benefit to the City, possibly, lets start the conversation, on merit not politics.
On July 29 at the open house at the Parksville Community center we should ask how a gift of 60 acres is not acceptable but purchasing the land with tax dollars was considered.