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Fence going up as Rock report completed

The recent rainfall won't mean an end to tree removal and work to install a fence around half the perimeter of the tinder-dry Gospel Rock neighbourhood in Gibsons.

The recent rainfall won't mean an end to tree removal and work to install a fence around half the perimeter of the tinder-dry Gospel Rock neighbourhood in Gibsons.

Cut logs have been piled at the intersection of Chaster and Shaw Roads, blocking access to the property, and access to polygon 82 (known as Little Africa) has also been cut off. Owners say the goal is to prevent a potential forest fire resulting from public use of the area.

Brian Sadler, who lives on the east edge of Gospel Rock and has been witness to the bush parties that occur within it, said he understands the owners' liability concerns, but questions the timing of the fence construction.

"The cynic in me wonders if it's a ploy to exert some leverage on the Town," he said. "But the bottom line is it's private property."

Plans to build the fence were announced before a 72-page consultant's report on the still-incomplete neighbourhood plan was released on Wednesday. The report, by HB Lanarc (formerly Holland-Barrs Planning Group), shows just 40.6 per cent of all survey respondents approve of Option A for the neighbourhood -the option which would have meant some waterfront development in exchange for a larger park area around polygon 82, and a $3.5 million amenity contribution to the Town. The survey package was mailed to each home in Gibsons, and was available for anyone to complete on the Town's website. Results show 73.7 per cent of responses came from Gibsons' residents, 16.4 per cent from Elphinstone residents and the rest from other areas.

Option B, which calls for no waterfront development and a smaller park area around the upper lookout, was supported by 59.4 per cent of respondents, while about nine per cent of responses were discarded as invalid. During the response period, option A was publicly supported by the block seven group of owners, whose property occupies the most valuable land in the neighbourhood, near the waterfront. Realtor and former Gibsons councillor Kenan MacKenzie, a spokesperson for those owners, said a recent bush party led to a grass fire near polygon 82. That close call spurred the owners to have a two-metre wide swath cleared to make room for the fence. Mackenzie said the owners are also concerned about youths drinking in areas near steep cliffs.

"The owners are trying to send the message that this is private property," he said. "Anybody who comes onto the site and gets themselves injured could find out who the owners are and try to sue them."

Although the work is occurring on the 56-hectare private property as the owners' collective response to perceived liability, some residents are upset at the scale of the work being undertaken.

"In saving it, they're destroying it," said Charlene Clark, a Gibsons' resident concerned the fence and tree clearing will affect local wildlife and waterways. "There aren't any parks like this in Gibsons."

No trees have been cut from the dryland arbutus forest portion of the neighbourhood, MacKenzie said. The Town's planning department said no development work is taking place and won't until the neighbourhood plan is complete.

Biologist Paul van Poppelen, who completed an environmental study of the area for the consultants, is overseeing the work to ensure old-growth trees aren't cut to make way for the fence and to ensure it doesn't extend into ecologically sensitive areas.