The Regional District of Nanaimo may face legal action if it helps to fast-track changes to the boundaries that contain growth in Qualicum Beach, a citizens' forum heard Friday.
A 3-2 majority of the town council - Dave Willie, Bill Luchtmeijer and Mary Brouilette - wants to change the RDN's Growth Containment Boundary and the town's Urban Containment Boundary so they match the town's boundary.
The impetus for the changes is a $12-million proposal from Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, now outside the growth boundaries, to build permanent housing, vacation cabins and various amenities.
However, as former federal regulatory consultant Kevin Monahan pointed out Friday, the boundary changes would also allow development in other areas.
To allow the growth at Pheasant Glen, the town council first has to ask the RDN to expand its Growth Containment Boundary.
The RDN can do that quickly for minor amendments but major amendments, Monahan said, trigger a process that may take two years.
That would push a decision on the Pheasant Glen proposal beyond the November municipal elections, which may result in a majority on council less favourable to expansion and development.
If the RDN agrees to go the minoramendment route and expands its growth boundary, the majority on council can then similarly expand the town's Urban Containment Boundary and approve the Pheasant Glen proposal before November.
"The Urban Containment Boundary is the one that keeps the character of the town the way it is," architect Bruce Fleming-Smith told Friday's meeting, organized by the Qualicum Beach Residents' Association and attended by more than 70 people.
There is "apprehension, concern, nervousness in the community," he said, "as to whether this really is a minor housekeeping matter."
QBRA president Dave Golson said, "There is a concern that the process is maybe being bypassed."
Monahan pointed out that a minor amendment has to arise from a "full review" of an Official Community Plan.
A full review isn't defined but the town's last OCP review took almost a year and Parksville's almost three.
For the current application, what is being cited as a full OCP review is a little-advertised information meeting held by the town March 4 and attended by 39 people.
Michael Jessen, representing the Arrowsmith Parks and Land-Use Council, said bluntly that there has been no OCP review.
Said Fleming-Smith: "This has not lived up to the spirit of a full OCP review."
As a result, Monahan said, the proposed boundary change doesn't meet the RDN's criteria for minor amendments.
Jessen said it's "a major change and doesn't qualify."
However, Luke Sales, the town's planning director, told the meeting that this is the first application to the RDN using the minor-amendment process and "I don't think it's entirely clear" whether the application qualifies.
He noted that last November Paul Thorkelsson, the RDN's chief administrative officer, told a public meeting that "the scope of an OCP review is up to the municipal council."
Monahan pointed out that the RDN's Regional Growth Strategy also lists amendments that "are not considered minor," including: ones that affect sensitive ecosystems and water sources; ones that include land in the Agricultural Land Reserve; and "those that require the provision of new community water and sewer systems outside the Growth Containment Boundary."
The boundary expansions and the Pheasant Glen proposal involve all of those, he said, disqualifying them as minor amendments.
"It's a law," he said. "It's a bylaw but it's still a law.
"If they go ahead with this, they'll be breaking their own law."
Resident Neil Horner urged people to write to the RDN opposing the boundary change as a minor amendment, and then "elect a new council."
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Facing a packed, largely hostile council chambers Monday, the 3-2 majority on Qualicum Beach council approved first reading of a proposal to allow "urban" growth throughout the town.
A public hearing on the proposal has been set for Tuesday, April 22, 7 p.m., at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.
Councillors Mary Brouilette, Bill Luchtmeijer and Dave Willie want the Regional District of Nanaimo's Growth Containment Boundary to be expanded to match the town's boundary.
If the RDN board agrees, the town, without consulting the RDN, can then expand its Urban Containment Boundary to match the town boundary.
Lands now outside the designated urban-growth areas can then be developed. These include a $12-million residential subdivision proposed for the Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, a residential subdivision on 31 hectares owned by Island Timberlands, and the Milner Gardens estate lands.
The town wants the RDN to consider its application to be a minor amendment to the RDN's Regional Growth Strategy.
Planner Luke Sales said a minor amendment could be approved by August. Approving
it as a major amendment might take two years, well beyond the November municipal elections.
Even a minor amendment has to flow from a "full" Official Community Plan review but "full" isn't defined.
The town is saying the review took place at a public information meeting March 4. Resident Fox McKinley told council "it's very troubling to see such a significant change to the Official Community Plan without due process."
The current process is "unfair... undemocratic... incomplete... disingenuous," he said. "This is clearly a major amendment."
He called on council to "reconsider its current posturing" and to table the matter until after the November elections.
Deb McKinley told council the change will open all rural acreages to development. She and her husband, she said, are considering converting their acreage to the Qualimore Mountain View Agri-Inn and Resort, with a 48-room hotel, a restaurant and more.
That's what would happen, she said, "if you open the floodgates to unencumbered development."
Coun. Brouilette reiterated that the proposal "has nothing to do with Pheasant Glen.
"This is just a governance issue, not about a particular development," she said. "It should have been done years ago."
Coun. Luchtmeijer said the Pheasant Glen proposal brought to light that because of the boundary variations, "we had to look to people who don't even live in our community to make a decision," such as regional directors from Cedar and Coombs. Council is "just trying to set the ground rules," he said.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek said it's not about needing outside approval but about managing growth to keep the town attractive.
"I think it's a big issue," he said. Coun. Scott Tanner called for holding off until the completion of a full OCP review starting next year.
"This has absolutely everything to with Pheasant Glen," he said. "It's sitting on the back burner waiting."
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By Kevin Monahan
What is it all about? If you are confused, ret assured that you have lots of company. The Growth Containment Boundary and the Urban Containment Boundary are not the same thing.
The Growth Containment Boundary is a feature of the Regional District of Nanaimo Regional Growth strategy. This is an overall strategy that sets the goals for growth in the region over the next 20 years. It is not part of Qualicum Beach’s OCP—which has a five-year horizon. However, it happens to be in the same place as the Qualicum Beach OCP Urban Containment Boundary. Both boundaries represent the limits of certain types of concentrated development.
But it is critical to remember that they are two separate boundaries, and are features of the by-laws of two very different governments. Both bylaws say that the two boundaries have to be consistent. Generally this has been considered to mean they have to be in the same place, which is currently the case. This means that the RDN must move its Growth Containment Boundary before Qualicum Beach Council can move the Qualicum Beach Urban Containment Boundary.
In meetings throughout the late fall and winter, certain members of council have made it clear that this was not acceptable to them—that Qualicum Beach council needed the ability to amend its own Urban Containment Boundary without first having to request permission from the RDN.
So Qualicum Beach council is going to apply to the RDN to move the RDN’s Growth Containment Boundary to the same location as the Qualicum Beach Town Boundary. The result of this would be that the RDN boundary would no longer limit the types of changes Qualicum Beach council could make to its own Urban Containment Boundary if there was a need to do so.
The process for moving the RDN boundary is set out in the Regional Growth Strategy. If the change is a major amendment, it requires a complex set of studies (probably a couple of year’s worth). If the change is a minor amendment, it can be done with little fuss, but in order to qualify as a minor amendment it would have to flow from a “….full Electoral Area or Municipal Official Community Plan review process.”
This was the situation at the Public Information Meeting on March 4. The town called the meeting to discuss their proposal to apply to the RDN to move the RDN boundary so that Qualicum Beach council would have the ability in the future to make changes to our own OCP without RDN involvement.
In order that it would be considered by the RDN as a minor amendment, the meeting was described as “2014 OCP Review – Growth Containment Boundary.” The Background Report presented at the meeting stated:
“Growth Containment Boundaries are in the RGS and are under the jurisdiction of the Regional District of Nanaimo. The Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) is defined by the Town of Qualicum Beach Official Community Plan (OCP) and is under the jurisdiction of the Town. It is not currently being reviewed in the present OCP review.”
The meeting was completely about the RDN Growth Containment Boundary. It was not the “…full Municipal Official Community Plan review process” required by the Regional Growth Strategy.
A portion of our OCP called the Regional Context Statement currently affirms that the Regional Growth Containment Boundary and our own Urban Containment Boundary should be in the same place. Qualicum Beach council needs to initiate amendments to this Regional Context Statement before applying to the Regional District. I don’t believe this was made clear at the March 4 meeting. It is certainly not clear in the written material.
Nor was it made clear that this portion of our OCP is only a few months old, having been updated and re-affirmed by council (including the alignment of the two boundaries) and without consultation, in November 2013.
It now appears there may be a game-changer in the works. Recently a BC Supreme Court decision affirmed that the Township of Langley has precedence over the Greater Vancouver Regional District when it comes to land-use decisions. Councillor Willie believes it effectively renders the RDN policies null and void if they come into conflict with our own council decisions. But it’s not that simple. The two situations are not exactly parallel. Even BC Supreme Court decisions require interpretation when they are applied to other circumstances. We will have to wait and see what the impact is.
I believe the people of Qualicum Beach are not fundamentally opposed to changes to the OCP if they make sense, but I also believe that we should not amend the OCP in a piecemeal fashion as has been happening recently, and we should involve the people of Qualicum Beach to the same degree as when the OCP was last renewed. An OCP is supposed to be a guidance document that reflects the aspirations of the community, and directs the development of by-laws over a five-year horizon. It not simply a legal impediment that is to be fiddled with every time it becomes a little inconvenient.
If we are to amend the OCP, let’s do a complete review, and let’s get the people of Qualicum Beach involved. We are spending more time and effort haggling over not involving the public than we would if we simply moved forward with meaningful, and inclusive consultations.
By Michael Jessen,
On behalf of Arrowsmith Parks and Land-Use Council
Some councillors and at least one newspaper have turned this issue into a battle between governments – regional government versus municipal government. They have created a straw man to throw the electors off the real issue – good planning.
The real issue is “are we to follow a path based on good land-use planning or one of reacting to the flavour of the day”? Is our land-use planning going to be based just on reacting to every exciting proposal that comes along? Are we to react to the trumped-up spectre of one local government lording it over another? Relocating or repositioning a containment boundary is a serious piece of business regardless of the level of government. The intent of following planning principles is to not allow oneself to become distracted from the purpose of the exercise.
The matter before us is
The boundary expansion proposal as I currently understand it, is a major plan issue. Many different parcels and potential land uses are involved. This is unlike a proposal for a specific parcel coming from an owner sitting just beside the boundary who has good reasons to allow it to join with the developed, urban community. This matter is the type that is based on understanding the demand for developable land over lets say the next 25 years. What are the projections for population growth? – changes in transportation? – changes in forms of housing? Where are the “big” detailed reports?
All land use changes have the potential to create winners and losers. Most of the time existing owners of land outside an urban containment boundary become winners if the boundary expands to include their property. Some may perceive this as losing because higher property values may result in higher property taxes. All property owners affected by a boundary move should be given an opportunity to express their views.
Applications to change land-use designations often create mechanisms for local government to obtain amenities for the community that it might not otherwise be able to afford. When the Town changes land-use on a blanket basis, benefits accrue to newly included property owners and costs accrue to the Town or all property owners throughout the Town. This may have benefits for everyone in town (some talk about preventing the death of a town) but is of such complexity that all should be given a chance to understand the consequences and in a democratic fashion be given a chance to voice their opinion.
All governments, regional and municipal, in the RDN after the 1997 and 2005 editions of the Regional Growth Strategy signed a separate agreement on how they would handle amendments to their respective Containment Boundaries during the term of the RGS – they were called Urban Containment Implementation Agreement. A mechanism was written into the 2011 RGS and no separate agreement was signed. It is my view the pattern had been set that the participants would meet relatively strict requirements to justify repositioning of a containment boundary through an amendment process – during the term of the RGS. This is the condition we find ourselves in now.
We need to follow the amendment process laid out in the current RGS. I am led to believe that Sections 1.2 and 1.5 of the current RGS apply.
It is my opinion that relocating the Qualicum Beach Containment Boundary to be coincident with the Town limits would be a significant exercise and contrary to the process put forth by town staff would have to follow the major (not minor) amendment process laid out for changing the RGS. If nothing else such a process must fully respect the intent of previous implementation agreements and the planning documents that are currently in force.
‘Growth Containment Boundaries’ were formerly referred to as ‘Urban Containment Boundaries’ in the 2003 RGS.
Page 27, Current Regional Growth Strategy for Regional District of Nanaimo
Qualicum Beach – The Qualicum Beach Residents’ Association has announced that it will host a public information meeting on April 4 at 3 PM. The purpose of the meeting is to provide information to residents on the proposed amendment to the town’s Official Community Plan and is open to all Qualicum Beach residents. The meeting will be held at the Seniors Centre at 703 Memorial Avenue.
The Official Community Plan was adopted in 2011 after thousands of hours of citizen participation, including an extensive “Quality of Life Survey”, public workshops, open houses and public meetings. The current Council will vote on April 7 to expand the Plan’s “urban containment boundary”, which limits urban sprawl and focuses development within well-defined areas of the Town. The Council intends to do this with a simple majority (three of five votes), without the benefit of an OCP review.
“The Town should conduct a substantive public review of the Official Community Plan with the participation of residents before considering a significant OCP change like this”, QBRA spokesman and vice-president, Dave Golson said. “Our Board does not agree that the single information meeting on the proposed amendment, organized by the Town on March 4, provided sufficient opportunity for the public to consider its implications”, he said. “That meeting was not well advertised and did not have the benefit of clearly explained background information for local residents to consider”, he said. “As volunteers, we would prefer that the Town conduct a substantive OCP review process but, in the absence of this, we are doing what we can.”
The March 4 Town meeting was attended by forty residents. “The summary of written opinions provided by participants at this meeting revealed significant concern by most people who attended”, Mr. Golson said. “We agree with those councilors who have said that the matter is not well understood by the public”, he said.
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