Opponents of the Gospel Rock neighbourhood plan won a major concession from Gibsons council Tuesday night.
In a unanimous vote that triggered applause from the packed gallery, council agreed to designate the Gospel Rock waterfront as green space, removing any future option for housing development.
The motion also called for a review of density, aquifer impact and access and traffic issues — all raised as major concerns during the Oct. 11 public hearing at Elphinstone Secondary School, where speakers overwhelmingly expressed opposition to the plan as presented.
“The community has spoken,” said a visibly pleased Suzanne Senger, who at the public hearing predicted the plan would pass unchanged by a three-to-two vote.
In fact, it was supposed plan supporters Mayor Wayne Rowe and Coun. Gerry Tretick who proposed the amendments, clearly surprising Coun. Dan Bouman, whose own motion to protect waterfront lands within the plan area was defeated in July.
“I’m happy with the turn of events tonight,” Bouman said. “I like the way things are going.”
Bouman said he came to the meeting wondering if council would respect the will of the public.
“And I get here tonight and find that actually, there’s a lot of agreement,” he said. “I think that’s important to note. It’s important for each person who participated in the process to see that their input was respected and it made a difference. I didn’t expect to be saying that tonight.”
Rowe led the meeting by reading from a four-page statement, providing an overview of the plan process going back to 2005 and correcting a number of assumptions made by some opponents — that the plan would constitute a rezoning of the area, that amenities which are required during rezoning should be included in the plan, and that the town owns some or all of the 14 parcels in the Gospel Rock plan area.
“It is all private property,” Rowe said. “Many people spoke to us of the significance to them of being able to enjoy parts of this property. People do need to appreciate that they are presently doing so with the indulgence of the property owners. None of us has any more legal right to trespass on that property than we do to set up our barbecue on our neighbour’s lawn.”
Rowe also pointed out that the areas known as Cross Rock and Little Africa — and described as “Arcadia” by Elphinstone senior Sydney Keith at the public hearing — are now on private property, but “it is the very essence of this plan to set aside those areas as well as Gospel Rock itself for public park so that it will be preserved in perpetuity for public access.”
Before announcing his support for a plan amendment to remove the option of waterfront development, Rowe took his final swing at “a couple of presentations” from the public hearing “in which it was insinuated that members of council were in some fashion in the pocketbook of developers.” In particular, he said, an “attempt was made to discredit Tretick on the basis of a campaign contribution that was made to him in 2008.”
Rowe said he has worked alongside Tretick on two councils and “there isn’t a member of this council who puts in the time and effort on behalf of our community as does Tretick.
“It is absolutely reprehensible to attempt to tarnish his reputation or that of any other councillor in this fashion, and I can only hope that decent members of our community will not tolerate this behaviour,” Rowe said.
Tretick was next to speak, reading from a two-page statement that opened with an expression of his commitment “to the well-being and interests of our community.”
Saying he listened to submissions at the public hearing with an open mind, Tretick cited waterfront development, density, road access and traffic, and aquifer capacity as issues that “were broadly supported” and with which “I too have concerns.”
On density, Tretick said he reviewed the history of the select committee and refinement committee that worked on the plan.
“In both committees there was a predominance of town representation,” he said, yet “the density continued to rise from a low level of 450 to the present level of 1,100-plus” units.
Acknowledging that “now we have a density which I consider may cause problems in the future,” Tretick said the density should be “reconsidered at a future date when we have our aquifer mapping completed and a financial plan that addresses future infrastructure costs.”
But waterfront development, he said, was the most contentious element of the plan: “What I heard at the public meeting and through written submissions is that this is an issue that is too important to the community to allow it to proceed as it is included in the current plan,” he said.
Coun. Lee Ann Johnson, considered like Bouman a critic of the current plan, conceded she could live with the document if the waterfront was protected.
“It was clear to me that the community will is to avoid development on the waterfront and that is the overriding issue,” Johnson said. “I would like to see us achieve that. With that basic principle in place, I think it could be possible to work through the plan, and as applications come in, the appropriate revisions could be made.
“We also have to address the transportation problem and density problem for some landowners. Not everybody gets what they want, and that’s been a hang-up on this thing all the way along.”
Coun. Charlene SanJenko said she was in favour of revising the plan “with the changes we have in mind — namely no waterfront development,” adding that “moving forward with this plan while protecting the waterfront represents reasonable fairness to our community as a whole.”
SanJenko also responded to comments from the public hearing, denying there was a lack of political will to back community efforts to raise money to buy lands on the site for a public park or nature preserve.
“I believe there is political will on our council to support such an initiative. I believe that placing positive focused energy on taking action to do so after seven years of dissension on the neighbourhood plan is important. I’d like to see us move forward with that,” she said.
Answering a challenge issued by Senger at the public hearing to “prove me wrong” about having their minds made up, SanJenko said, “Now I’m going to throw out a challenge of my own. We’re ready to work together and move forward together. We need the community to do likewise.”
The revisions ordered by council Tuesday will mean another round of consultations and public hearings because the changes represent “a significant amendment to the plan,” Rowe said.
“But we intend to proceed expeditiously,” he added.