Mr. Rosen used the word 'compromise' multiple times in his 90 minute presentation, but it was difficult to determine what compromises he was actually referring to. The plan certainly does not seem to contain any compromise between public interest and the developers' desire for profits. The plan makes little demands on the developers and gives away what seems to be maximum density in the area. The green-space and parkland that is allotted is largely located in the areas that would be impossible to develop anyway due to the steepness of the terrain and its geotechnical restrictions.
This is not so much a compromise as it is a statement of the obvious. The one concession to public interest is the allotment of 70% of the waterfront to parkland in exchange for high density development of the remaining 30%. But this comes at a price: either the Town or a wealthy benefactor has to purchase the 70% parkland from the current owner within the next 12 months. No one has yet said what happens if this purchase cannot be completed within this timeframe.
In an effort to calm public concerns over the proposed 800 plus density of new dwellings, Mr. Rosen clumsily said that very few people present would still be around when the maximum density was reached. His careless comment was unsurprisingly met with boos of disdain from the floor. Such a shortsighted attitude is exactly what has brought our planet to its current environmental crisis point.
This is particularly worrying coming from someone who is a professional planner employed by the Town to represent our interests. The point was perhaps best summarized by an environmental scientist from the Suzuki Foundation who was present and said that the supposed wildlife corridors represented in the current plan stretched the accepted definition. And a young boy also highlighted Rosen's outdated attitude when he said "your generation might not still be around, but mine will".
Many other people raised environmental concerns particularly in regard to the large number of Bears, Cougars, Coyotes, Deer, Eagles and other wildlife that currently reside in the Gospel Rock area. The point was well made that the impact of developing the vast majority of this habitat does not only present a huge challenge to the survival of these animals, it also will inevitably lead to these animals being forced into the surrounding residential areas along with all the potentially dangerous consequences, particularly in regard to the safety of young children.
The other main topic of concern on the night seemed to be the confused and inadequate provisions for road transportation in and out of the proposed neighbourhood. Mr. Rosen acknowledged in his presentation that the committee was faced with a huge challenge in this regard. They admit that road access to the area is very difficult yet that does not seem to have deterred the planners from proposing a housing density that one speaker aptly referred to as "Urban" and another as "Paved Paradise", in reference to the Joni Mitchell lyric. But surely the common sense solution to difficult road access would be reduced density!
The plan acknowledges that the main, long term route in and out of the neighbourhood would be via a northern connection through to Shaw Road via Inglis. This would be in line with Road Traffic Studies that predict 70% of vehicle usage would be heading north toward the highway. But in contradiction the Plan proposes to delay the building of this road until the latter stages of the development and in the meantime use seemingly inappropriate east and west access via Chaster/ Pratt Roads and a limited number of homes served via a proposed extension of Bayview Heights Road.
The extension of Bayview Heights is particularly controversial for many reasons. Town's staff have already stated that the existing cul-de-sac does not meet current road standards and if this subdivision was applied for now it would not gain approval. So exacerbating the problem by extending the road would seem illogical, particularly as such an extension would have to traverse up a slope with a 40% gradient through previously identified geotechnically hazardous areas and would also completely dissect that Plan's already inadequate eastern wildlife corridor.
The plan also proposes to turn the narrow country lane of Chaster Road, which currently serves about 20 homes, into a major through road for 300 more. One of the points I raised was that surely logic would suggest the main northern route connecting onto Shaw Road - which is already designated as a collector road - should be built at the beginning of the development to provide proper and appropriate road access to the area. Even if this requires making the difficult decisions to expropriate land it would mean that the acquisition and building costs could be met by ALL the developers.
Brian Sadler later pointed out that if the building of this road is delayed until the end of the development roll out, many of the more enthusiastic early developers will have already completed their projects, taken their profits and will no longer be around to share the cost of building this major route into the neighbourhood.
This neighbourhood plan should be the Town's opportunity to clearly state the concessions it requires from potential developers, both in the public interest and in regard to intelligent forward planning. We are informed that, should a property owner apply for subdivision the council has no opportunity to gain such amenities like park space. Yet again Mr. Rosen repeated last night that amenity packages would not be included in the plan but addressed at the rezoning application. Why? How is it that the developers can be given assurances on density and where they can develop but the Town cannot get assurance for its interests?
The Plan seems entirely developer centric and public concerns always seem to be met with answers like, 'this is a high level document and that will be addressed later'. I think last night the residents of Gibsons firmly stated they want their interests addressed now.
Many speakers accused our elected officials of being thus far complacent in representing the public interest. One could argue in their defence that this meeting was council's opportunity to gauge that pubic opinion. But that now being established they will have little excuse going forward and it will be interesting to see how they respond in the coming weeks and months.