In late 2010, the regional director of the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area appointed an 11-person review committee to make recommendations regarding the development of a new official community plan (OCP) for Otter Point.
Seven of the appointees are local private businessmen (construction, property development, tourism) or employees of large timber companies, while four are retirees with backgrounds in the public sector. While one might question how representative these volunteer appointees are of the broader Otter Point population, it can be reasonably assumed that the OCP Review Committee will bring a strong business orientation to the review process.
Otter Point is facing some major challenges. Over the past five years its population has increased by about 25 per cent to 2,000 residents. Such growth pressures are likely to continue given the limited supply of property for new residential development in Sooke, Langford and Colwood and the desire of large property owners (including timber companies) to benefit by selling their land to meet this perceived demand.
Otter Point has no local government. The Capital Regional District Board, which includes a single regional director elected by residents across the entire electoral area, is responsible for making land use decisions and setting property taxes for local services. Local community planning for necessary services is often un-coordinated, fragmented or non-existent. Although the Kemp Lake Water District effectively distributes water from Kemp Lake to some 400 residences in Otter Point, there is no community planning process to address existing or future water requirements throughout the district.
Planning for fire protection services, which are provided by valued community volunteers, occurs largely independently from planning for future land use, policing or water services.
Another key challenge is preservation of the natural environment, especially sensitive ecosystems. This is a growing concern not only among urban residents within the CRD, but also among those who want to preserve the rural, green environment in which they chose to live. The anticipated impacts of global warming are making decisions about environmental conservation more complicated and more important.
The task facing the review committee for the Otter Point OCP is substantial. Its challenge is to develop recommendations for future land use that reconcile strong community environmental conservation values while supporting managed residential development and strengthening community planning processes.
Given its make-up, the committee may be tempted to take a traditional private property-business approach: limiting or eliminating environmental conservation constraints on future property development; facilitating small-lot subdivisions throughout much of the district; and largely ignoring public planning for water and other services. This would be an unfortunate approach, as the committee would miss an opportunity to provide leadership in dealing with some very important issues facing Otter Point residents. As well, the resulting recommendations might well be rejected by many district residents, resulting in prolonged political conflict at both the CRD and local level.
The OCP Review Committee has held one community workshop to gather residents’ views on the future of Otter Point. It will hold a second workshop on April 9, 1-4 p.m., at John Muir Elementary School, to solicit input about policies to include in the Otter Point OCP.
Active participation by Otter Point residents and careful listening by members of the review committee would be good for everyone.