Opinion: Planning on rural gentrification

Lessons to be learned from recent public outcry to CRD Board

The District of Otter Point in the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area is in the process of reviewing  its Official Community Plan (OCP). Although Otter Point has an estimated population of almost 2,000, it does not have a locally elected government that makes decisions about its land use planning.

Under the CRD colonial system of local governance, those decisions are made by a Capital Regional District Board Committee A comprised of the mayors or a councilor from the four surrounding municipalities and a CRD director elected from the entire JdFEA. None of these committee members are full time residents of Otter Point. In short, as a decision making body, they are neither elected by nor accountable to Otter Point residents.

Granted, the CRD Board Committee A does receive recommendations from the residents of the entire JdFEA through a Land Use Committee (LUC) composed of the elected regional director and six other members who are either appointed or elected to represent the individual and diverse districts of Otter Point, East Sooke, Shirley/Jordan River, Port Renfrew, Malahat and Willis Point. However, LUC recommendations about OCP changes or other public land use planning in Otter Point do not require support from the sole Otter Point LUC member or approval by Otter Point residents.

This is not to say that CRD Board members cannot create other appointed advisory mechanisms to obtain advice. An Otter Point Review Committee composed primarily of self-employed businessmen in the construction industry and employees of large land owners was appointed by the regional director for the JdFEA to make recommendations to CRD planning staff about the Otter Point OCP. It was characterized as establishing the model for future OCP reviews in other districts of the electoral area. The review committee was given a $100,000 budget to hire a consulting firm, to carry out an inventory of local sensitive environmental areas and to engage in public consultations. The review committee held two community workshops and a public meeting.  Unfortunately these events were unable to attract significant public participation by Otter Point residents.

Perhaps predictably given the composition of the review committee, its recommendation focus exclusively on changing the Otter Point OCP to encourage future subdivision development and to make more and smaller lots available for residential development.  No recommendations were made about protecting the sensitive environmental areas identified through the review process or preserving the rural character and lifestyle that residents value. Although the committee’s recommendations support a vision of rural gentrification in Otter Point, no suggestions are made about how additional community services would be provided and funded to support that vision.

Supporters of the recommendations justify them as a way of promoting economic growth through expanded residential construction while simultaneously obtaining land for public parks and trails through amenity bonusing. Critics contend that the recommendations ignore the community desire to remain rural, will lead to increased property taxes due to increasing demands for publicly subsidized fire, policing, emergency, road and water services, and will set the stage for future developer requests and CRD approvals of even smaller lot sizes over wider areas.

The advisory review committee has completed its work. CRD planning staff have begun using its recommendations to develop a new OCP for Otter Point. It is not at all clear whether Otter Point residents support those recommendations or not.

Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t really matter much given the current CRD system of local governance for Otter Point. The CRD Board Committee A, with recommendations from the Juan de Fuca Land Use Committee will make those decisions. Otter Point residents do not have the means to approve or reject the decisions being made about the potential rural gentrification of their community.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be drawn from the recent successful public outcry to prevent the CRD Board Committee A from passing a rezoning bylaw to allow a 257 unit tourist resort in the forested Rural Resource Lands.  Strong, principled and persistent public opposition, particularly before fall municipal/electoral area elections, can persuade some CRD Board members to reverse their position and respond to public pressure.

Perhaps it is also time for Otter Point residents to insist on the opportunity to approve or reject any package of proposed OCP changes through a local referendum before the CRD  makes its decisions. Clearly, reforms to the CRD colonial system of governance over the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area are long overdue.

Wayne Fritz

Otter {Point