Pirjo Raits: Common sense not emotion

Being on the unpopular side of the fence is never easy, but in the case of the ruckus over the resort development being proposed by Marine Trail Holdings, it is a matter of right versus might.

Opponents do not want development anywhere close to the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. They fear it will ruin the wilderness experience and bring too many people to the area. As it is now, only those who can hike in can experience the trail.

As a private landowner, Ender Ilkay has the right to go through the process of applying for a rezoning on the 583 acres he bought legally from Western Forest Products. While many may not like it, that is the law. A lot of time, consideration and input went into creating bylaws that are the best overall. In the end Ilkay may not get approval, but he has the right to try.

The Juan de Fuca Electoral Area land-use committee saw this as legitimate and five out of seven members voted to allow the proposal to proceed to the next step. This may have been in response to the call for a full vote by the entire Capital Regional District board on land use in the JDFEA, which would take away the committee’s responsibility for the vote.

It wasn’t the first time the voting structure was called into question. The previous area director had initiated a three-person system, with directors voting who were not in the abutting area. The province agreed that system was improper and changed it back to the system still in place today.

On April 21, Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, denied a request made by the CRD board to change the voting structure. She stated in a letter to chair Geoff Young, “The CRD is equipped with tools that provide the board with alternative approaches to address concerns that the board may have about its interest in a regional land-use matter.”

There has been much protest against the way the provincial government allowed Western Forest Products to take its land out of TFL 25 and sell it to pay off debt. But again, this was a private landowner.

Angry activists and confused locals battled it out at a number of town hall meetings. Friends and neighbours disagreed and tempers flared. Those protests and accusations went on for two years and have rolled over onto the rezoning application of Marine Trail Holdings. The whole issue should be one of legal rights and freedoms under the current regulations. No one wants to be told what they can and cannot do on their land.

The proposed development area is made up of seven parcels of land, some of which lie close to the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. The trail was built on land containing second-growth trees, not old-growth forest. It is a beautiful trail and deserves protection. No one is proposing ruining the trail or the public’s enjoyment of it.

Of the 583 acres owned by Marine Trail Holdings, 245 will be dedicated parkland.

It is also a phased development over 20 years and if the first phase doesn’t sell, there is little chance the rest will be developed.

Perhaps the CRD could look at how the first phase develops out and have some type of restriction on further building approvals if the first phase doesn’t live up to expectations. We are talking about 263 hectares out of 132,000 hectares in the Rural Resource Lands.

The Regional Growth Strategy and the Official Community Plan for the Rural Resource Lands both support access to the ocean and appropriately-scaled recreational uses. If the scale of the proposed development is too large, then negotiation should take place. There is a reasonable way to allow all of the issues to be addressed on both sides – if the will is there.

In 2010 the CRD spent $18.8 million on land in the Juan de Fuca/Sooke area to acquire Sandcut Beach and other areas. With no more money to buy land at this time, there is little chance for further acquisitions anytime soon. Chances are the environmentalists can’t afford it, either.

What is called for is some reasonable dialogue – between the CRD and the proponent only – with both sides coming to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement. Having heard the arguments from all quarters, it is time to let them do their jobs without being inundated with more rhetoric.

If the future is eco-tourism, let it be available to everyone, not just the physically able. Personally, I would look forward to a day-long hike along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail or the beach and then a long leisurely evening in front of a fireplace in a warm cabin. How bad can that be?

Pirjo Raits is editor of the Sooke News Mirror.

editor@sookenewsmirror.com

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