Times Colonist

Hearings a must on land rezoning


The provincial government has already betrayed the public interest and undermined basic principles of sound land-use planning for vast tracts of land between Sooke and Port Renfrew. It should avoid compoundin­g the damage and order public hearings on Western Forest Product’s bid to create 319 subdivisio­ns along the coast west of Greater Victoria.

Forests Minister Rich Coleman created the problem by handing the corporatio­n a gift. He let it remove 28,000 hectares of private land from tree farm licences without consultati­on with communitie­s or the Capital Regional District.

The tree farm licences ensured heightened environmen­tal protection and limits on raw log exports.

They also guaranteed the property — about 15 times the size of Victoria — would remain forest land. On that basis, the CRD’s plans had assumed the land was protected from developmen­t. Property like the tracts adjacent to Sooke Potholes Provincial Park were considered protected green space.

But Coleman, without seeking any compensati­on for the public, eliminated the protection without warning.

When the CRD passed bylaws to limit developmen­t until it could assess the impact, Community Services Minister Ida Chong’s officials failed to approve them for six weeks. During that period, WFP applied to create more than 300 subdivisio­ns in places like Jordan River, Otter Point and Shirley. Those applicatio­ns must go forward under the old bylaw, which allowed two- to five-hectare lots.

The subdivisio­n decisions — with huge implicatio­ns for southern Vancouver Island — could be made by one person, a “senior district developmen­t technician” in the Transporta­tion Ministry.

That should be unacceptab­le. The proposed developmen­ts would transform the region, bringing housing to places where — until Coleman’s gift to the company — it was barred. The CRD was never given the chance to respond to the sudden change approved by the province. And its efforts to deal with the crisis were undermined by Chong’s ministry.

The Sea-to-Sea Greenbelt Society, supported by a wide range of community, environmen­tal, recreation­al groups and First Nations, is among those calling for public hearings before the subdivisio­n ruling is made. It maintains public hearings are permissibl­e under provincial legislatio­n.

WFP is making “the most momentous subdivisio­n applicatio­n in Capital Regional District history,” it says. “It would not only enhance urban sprawl and destroy our forests and wild coast, it would be a catastroph­e for climate change.”

No one could deny the impact of developmen­t on these lands. The decision is far too important to be made by one non-elected Transporta­tion Ministry employee, with no chance for public or community input. Especially when the CRD has passed bylaws outlawing the very type of developmen­t that the ministry is being asked to approve.

The government has made enough major mistakes on this file. It should ensure that elected representa­tives, communitie­s and those both for and against the developmen­t have a chance to make their views known before a lone bureaucrat rules on this critical applicatio­n.

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