Viewpoint: Trust issues illustrate conflict

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By JENNIFER MARGISON

Anyone who wants the Gulf Islands to be protected from uncontrolled development should be very concerned about what happened at the March 9 meeting of Islands Trust Council.

 The meeting turned out to be a pivotal moment in the review of the Islands Trust Policy Statement, the umbrella document that determines land use policies for all of the islands.

A majority of trustees approved a motion to make protection of First Nations cultural heritage a top priority, but defeated a motion to do the same for the natural environment. It was a strange contradiction given how closely tied Indigenous interests are to the natural world. 

Furthermore, by failing to prioritize protection of the environment, community needs will be given equal standing when it comes to land use decisions. This is a worrisome trend for the future management of our fragile islands. Without strong, protective legislation, ecosystems, which have no voice of their own, are defenceless against human encroachment.

This broken system of governance has allowed Galiano’s Local Trust Committee to sidestep environmental protection policies when it suits their purpose. For instance, it is shocking to see how residents’ environmental concerns have been disregarded or downplayed in the shadow of a current rezoning application for affordable housing. The goal is laudable but the site problematic.

The proposed housing would require clear-cutting a two-hectare portion of the Galiano Heritage Forest. It is 4.7 kilometres from island services, which, in the absence of public transportation, means tenants with limited incomes will need a vehicle. Access to the site is 500 meters along an undeveloped road through a riparian area that, if developed, will see 50 to 60 new vehicle trips a day. Additionally, this development will add 48 new water consumers to an established neighbourhood that is less than 50 per cent built-out and already has documented water problems.

There are specific Trust policies on forest fragmentation, protection of water and climate change when it comes to land-use decisions. Nevertheless, this rezoning application is continuing through various stages of the approval process and we are being told it is “generally consistent” with official community plan and Trust policies.

Sadly, we are seeing two issues in conflict, both of which matter greatly to many islanders: the desire to preserve and protect our environment while building a healthy community. But we can’t build healthy communities without preserving and protecting the natural environment and resources upon which those communities depend. Last year’s State of the Islands Report showed that Gabriola, Hornby and Mayne are already at or near the “acceptable threshold for ecosystem health.”

If the needs of the community — which often result in increased density — are considered equally with environmental concerns and First Nations cultural heritage, my experience on Galiano foretells a future where Trust policies get lip service while development and ecosystem degradation march on.

The writer is a Galiano Island resident.

7 Comments
  1. Caitlin says

    Since the author has copied the bulk of her letter to the editor from here: https://www.saanichnews.com/opinion/letter-gulf-islands-environment-being-sacrificed-for-development/ as this viewpoint piece, I’ll copy and paste my comment on that piece. The fact of the matter is that the author is cherry picking and misrepresenting information, especially ignoring facts that are uncomfortable or refute her position. No one is asking the Trust to clearcut old growth forest for sprawling complexes of condos to which dozens of residents will be motoring back and forth several times a day. We’re talking about 12 units of well-thought-out affordable housing on 5 acres, unlike her private waterfront home, again multiple acres, on which she literally cleared forest to protect a meadow view. Anyway, here is my original comment:

    2 hectares = 5 acres. How many acres did the folks in the neighbouring strata clear for their houses?

    How convenient to leave out that the only reason the land your strata occupies could be rezoned residential was to put aside this land for affordable housing!

    How convenient to leave out that water was determined not to be an issue by an expert hydrologist! How convenient to leave out that many of the neighbouring properties have air bnb accommodations using up water as well as the fact that single residency properties use more resources (electricity, land etc.) than denser residences.

    How convenient to call the quashing of this motion a “quick dismissal” when you and your neighbours have spent the last few years doing everything in your power to make affordable housing plans in the area stagnate, demanding incessant, extraneous reporting that no developer of the waterfront homes you live in has to provide, straining our residents’ resources so you can have your idyllic property.

    How convenient to call it a heritage forest rather than a community forest made up of 2nd and 3rd growth trees, quickly dismissing that this forestry lot was put aside for this exact purpose in return for rezoning the lot you now live on – a process that was also overseen by the Trust you are deriding now.

    Where did you get the idea that there would be 50-60 new car trips per day for these TWELVE units of housing? Have you counted the car trips on your stretch of private road, the road you gate off so that other island residents can’t visit south cable beach by car? Did you account for all the airbnb guests going to and fro?

    How many acres of coastal douglas fir did you chop down for your own home? Why do you get to live on a sprawling acreage while others go homeless because you are holding up such an important initiative?

    And finally, how DARE you, as a land-owning white woman, invoke Indigenous rights as a way to prop up your classist beliefs. You cannot treat Indigenous folks as some kind of a monolith who you can pull out to say “see, environmentalism matters” as if they are not real people living their real lives in the here and now, sometimes fighting for the environment, sometimes fighting for affordable housing, sometimes staying at the airbnb down the street from you.

  2. Kate says

    The writer of this article is doing her best to use the media to further her agenda of blocking the construction of affordable housing in her area because it threatens her personal preferences. Make no mistake, this supposed environmentalist writer cut down dozens and dozens of Coastal Douglas Fir trees on her property. The area she writes of was slated for affordable housing as a condition of land use, which allowed her to purchase her private property, which she was allowed to develop without pre-approval or community consultation. There is now a list of three hydrogeologists, a Registered Professional Biologist, a wastewater engineer, and multiple professional planners who have examined and approved of this plan for a total of 12 housing units on a paved road in the more populated end of Galiano island where everyone has been able to get around without organized transit for years. I believe this writer is pulling the environmentalism card when she really is just a privileged NIMBY.

  3. Lori Seay says

    Several reputable scientists-hydrologists, biologists etc have deemed the site suitable. Folks can see this for what is is— more drawbridge thinking from folks who would have the islands become nothing more than B.C.’s answer to the Hamptons. The Trust doesn’t buy it. The public doesn’t buy it. If clearing lots for building is “degradation” for affordable housing and “preserving meadow views” for private homeowners, then your environmentalism is a cloak for NIMBYISM. The majority of the small opposition to the project all live close by. The author has publicly suggested multiple other sites for the units without any environmental study.

  4. George Harris says

    The author bought the lot near the land designated in our land use bylaws for affordable housing. She was given this information before purchasing. In order to develop her land with extensive and beautiful gardens significant clear cutting was required. All the energy that she is putting towards stopping this project is quite understandable. She just does not want affordable rental units in her neighbourhood so is willing to create fanciful arguments to help her cause. We need to understand that many fellow citizens will go to great lengths to protect their privileges. It might not be pretty but It often is the Canadian way.

  5. Sheila Anderson says

    This author has not explained that the riparian area she mentions the new road is a seasonal creek, which the existing public road dedication already crosses. This road dedication crosses this stream at approx. 90 degrees and on fairly level terrain which is propably the least impacting way any road can meet a watercourse. Public roads on Galiano cross creeks and streams out of necessity. Roads that run parallel to creeks, streams, wetlands and ponds can have more impact.

  6. Jennifer Margison says

    Well, sadly the comments above to my article are nothing new in this community. Personal attacks, misrepresentation, distortion and actual lies by people who have not bothered to investigate or even consider the environmental issues that our neighbourhood has been researching for 3 years in connection with one housing development seem to be the norm.

    It’s hard to even know where to start and is likely pointless to refute these ridiculous accusations that I have refuted before with these same folks. They are very happy to level such insults through social media but when I have asked to meet with some of them to talk about our concerns, they refuse.

    It’s so easy to call someone privileged, a NIMBY, anti-affordable housing instead of actually addressing complicated issues as acquirer concerns and water sustainability for all. Unfortunately, their personal attacks frighten others people in our community who also have different views from the “mob” but are afraid to speak up. This is nothing less than bullying and cowardly behaviour on the part of these people.

    My article as referred to was really about larger Trust issues and the review of the Trust Policy Statement, something these commenters appear not to be interested in. I only used the one Galiano rezoning as an example of where I see these larger concerns being played out.

    Nevertheless, I will correct some of the most flagrant lies in the above comments – I do not live on a waterfront property, I did not cut down clear a forest to protect my meadow view, or cut down dozens and dozens of coastal Douglas-fir to build a home, and our “sprawling acreage” is just over 3 acres that no one on Galiano at the time was interested in buying as it was an already logged off, very ugly stump farm, & though consequently cheap land, we could only afford to buy it with friends & with whom we share it today and our extensive gardens are a vegetable garden that feed us, some drought resistant flower beds and an open meadow on which we have been planting trees to replace what was logged off long before we came. Just the facts folks but do keep trying to paint us as clear cutting, privileged, rich NIMBYs. I am not aware of any of these people commenting having actually been on our property.

    One writer asks, where did I get the estimate of 50-60 car trips a day for this development. Well, from the Staff Report of the Islands Trust planner, if the writer ever cared to read these. Not my figures and would not be on my road but I feel for those residents whose very quiet rural road would no longer be such.

    This site is in complete contradiction to our OCP which states that rezoning for higher density for affordable, seniors, special needs housing “shall be in proximity & accessible to existing roads, services and other amenities”. This proposed development is 4-7 km from anything that could be considered a service or amenity, hence the estimate of car trips, also in contradiction to climate change mitigation polices. But just like their justification of clear cutting 5 acres of endangered Douglas-fir ecosystem in yes, the Heritage Forest, the name given to this land by the Trustees of the time it was rezoned from 3 Forest Lots in early 2000s, none of this matters. It too can be misinterpreted or ignored and those of us who point to these real facts can be vilified. It’s all very Trumpian.

    It is very easy to say that the experts mentioned in one comment have addressed all issues. That is absolute nonsense and only serves to highlight a major problem with Trust land use decision making. The applicants for rezoning hire the experts to produce reports that yes, are accurate as far as the applicants have asked them to go, but the applicants set the parameters in order to get the results they want and there is much that is not investigated or even addressed in these reports. This problem, called “professional reliance”, where the experts are not independent of the people paying for the reports has been written about in an excellent report by the Environmental Law Centre.

    In the case of the Heritage Forest site, among other things, what has been left out is empirical on-the ground evidence of already occurring water problems in our strata and adjacent community water system neighbourhood, that documented by the CRD. The only well test for this high density development was done in one the very wettest time of the year – Dec – in the midst of historic levels of precipitation.

    We don’t have water problems during the wet season. For 3 years, we have been asking for data log monitoring of the project well and nearby wells in the dry season. But for some reason that is considered to be unreasonable and obstructionist of us. To ask for public funds for a housing development where water availability could become a problem seems irresponsible to me. Water availability has always been our main concern. It is worth noting that another site on Galiano is being proposed for affordable housing and the same concerns are being raised by the Trustee and by neighbour of that site. Oh, but they are just NIMBYs.

    Once you start reading about acquifers and talking to experts like the Trust’s Senior Freshwater Specialist, you discover how much there is to know about water that one 72-hour well flow test does not tell you. The province when reviewing this report in connection with the application for a commercial water licence seems to basically rubber stamp what was submitted without requiring any additional data.

    I have suggested other sites for affordable housing because I actually care about Galiano having affordable housing but of course not without the same rigour to water and other environmental issues being applied that we have been fighting for on this site. I believe if a different approach had been taken – to research the very best possible site for affordable housing on Galiano – with minimal environmental impact as the main criteria as it should be in an Islands Trust area – we would be a lot closer to housing people.

  7. Joan Parks says

    Thank you Jennifer,

    You are very correct. A similar situation has occurred on Gabriola Island and two developments have been approved increasing population by 100%. The most ridiculous of the two development plans to house 70 people in a water recharge area that supplies 300 wells ( village and school areas) and all this on one well. They plan to pump day and night to be able to do this and this is high demand pumping. To add insult to injury the housing is being placed in an area that is water stressed. The Trust policy 4.4.2 states that “neither density nor intensity of land use is increased in areas which are known to have a problem with the quality or quantity of the supply of freshwater.” Clearly, by approving two developments in this known water stressed area, as confirmed by the hydrologists, that the Trust is not following their own policy statements. It appears to many of us that the Trust’s only function is to serve the needs of developers.

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