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.