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Botanical garden project hits a road block

A proposed botanical garden project slated for Gibsons could be in trouble after several area residents have voiced concerns.

A proposed botanical garden project slated for Gibsons could be in trouble after several area residents have voiced concerns.

The garden is proposed for 25 to 30 acres of Town of Gibsons property bordering Charman Creek, between Stewart Road and Shaw Road.

The Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden Society (SCBGS) has been working for the past few months preparing an extensive business plan, two detailed grant applications and a preliminary design for the garden and support buildings.

The society has also applied for a $250,000 grant from the Softwood Industry Community Economic Adjustment Initiative (SI-CEAI). The society was hoping to get an answer this month from SI-CEAI, but recently, neighbours objected to the project and have asked SI-CEAI to delay the application.

Society president Glenn Lewis said if the society doesn't get the SI-CEAI grant, the garden project is likely a dead issue.

"It's very disappointing for all the volunteers who have come this far to see things turn this way," Lewis said. "We have lots of support and the letters to back it up, but without the grant, it's not going to be good. We understand the concerns and we want to address those concerns, but we can't with this type of campaign going on against us."

Concerns about the project were raised at an open house put on by the society on Jan. 22 in Gibsons attended by approximately 60 people.

Shirley and Don Sanderson, who live on Inglis Road nearby, are two of the concerned residents. The Sandersons say they have no objections to a botanical garden, but they object to the area chosen for the project.

The Sandersons have sent a letter asking the grant committee to delay its decision.

"The proposed site area is presently zoned for the development of single-family homes which is a continuation of the Inglis Heights subdivision," the Sandersons said in their emailed letter to the grant committee.

"As information regarding the plans of the proposed garden is just being more widely known, a delay in your approving the SCBGS request for funding would give the general public time to make an informed decision as to the impact it would have on them in the future."

Shirley said they also have issues with the design, parking congestion and noise in the area and the process the society is undertaking.

"The protest is in the development of the land, not the garden," she said. "I think if there would have been more information up front, this project would not even have gotten to this stage."

The Sandersons, with the help of other area residents, have a petition circulating in the community and have collected more than 100 names against the project. A delegation will also be voicing concerns at the Feb. 17 Gibsons council meeting.

For its part, the Town of Gibsons is trying to let the public know that no final decisions for the project have been made, and the process is far from complete.

At Tuesday's council meeting, administrator Bill Beamish presented a detailed report on the project, outlining the request of the society to establish the garden, the status of that request and the steps that must be taken before any decision can be made by council with respect to the disposition of the property in question.

"Council has consistently supported this project in principle," Beamish wrote. "Staff has informed the SC Botanical Garden Society that their request to obtain a long-term lease on the property is subject to a lengthy process."

That process includes: the success of the application for a grant to assist with funding for this project, public process under the Community Charter, a public hearing for rezoning of the property, a public hearing for an amendment to the Official Community Plan and a development permit application, which requires public notice and consultation.

"It is estimated that once an application is received, the review and public hearing process will take approximately four to six months to complete, unless, after the public hearing, council determines that the project should not proceed," Beamish said.

If the society does receive the grant, it would be eligible to apply to council to begin the rezoning and OCP amendment processes, Beamish noted.

The Sandersons contend most residents are just learning about the project, an assertion the report prepared by Beamish tries to dispel.

According to Beamish's report, the society first wrote to council in June of 2003 of its plans for the garden. The issue has also been discussed at the council and committee level five times since then.

Also in the report, Gibsons council maintains its position of resolving to provide the society with a letter agreeing in principle to the provision of a 20-year leasehold interest to the society, subject to the successful SI-CEA grant and stating the final disposition be subject to due process.

"I would like to see the society get to do its job," said Mayor Barry Janyk following Beamish's presentation. "I would like to see the project given a chance and let the process proceed rather than witness a pro and con letter campaign."