Town issues stop work order at Gospel Rock over possible tree removal

A stop work order has been issued to Greenlane Homes after at least one tree in a protected buffer zone at the Gospel Rock development lands may have been removed, and two in a conservation area damaged.

The Town received a report from a contracted registered professional biologist about the incident on Jan. 5, hours before the first regular council meeting since winter break. Councillors had been notified about the report but had yet to read it.

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“Unfortunately, work proceeded up there in terms of tree cutting,” Mayor Bill Beamish said at the meeting, adding the Town responded by issuing a stop work order.

In a release issued a day after the meeting, planning director Lesley-Anne Staats clarified “two trees in the lot’s designated Conservation Area had sustained minor damage during earlier tree removal,” and that “a buffer zone at the edge of the protected area had been surveyed and flagged at five metres, instead of the 10 metres stipulated in the Development Permit. As a result, at least one tree may have been felled in the buffering root protection zone.”

Two conditions of the development permit for Block 7 require an environmental monitor be present to oversee tree removal and trees in the buffer zone of the environmentally sensitive areas must not be disturbed. A breach of those conditions triggered the stop work order, said the release. The report recommends the two damaged trees be retained.

A newsletter by the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association said after learning about the incident, members walked the property Jan. 2 and 3 and documented “a freshly cut swath of the sensitive ecosystem along the eastern edge of the property.”

During the Jan. 5 meeting CAO Emanuel Machado said the matter is still under investigation. “In essence the line that separates those areas got infringed upon,” he said.

The stop work order was issued Dec. 21 and will remain in effect until the issue is resolved, said Machado. “Nothing will happen until council and the Town is satisfied work is to proceed as originally agreed to.”

More information would be forthcoming, he said, and staff would report back to council on the matter. He described the incident as “concerning” and “disappointing,” considering the site.

Suzanne Senger, executive director of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, which with The Land Conservancy of B.C. is working to establish a conservation covenant to protect environmentally-sensitive land in the area, asked that the report be made available to both organizations, without requiring a Freedom of Information Request (FOI), “so we can have a clear understanding of what’s taken place on the property.”

“It just makes sense for all of us to be on the same page, to have all of the available information in front of us because it does affect our process as we’re trying to move forward with the covenant agreement,” she said.

Staats said the development agreement between the Town and property owner outlines requirements to protect the conservation area either through covenants or statutory rights of way, and that it would be up to the property owner to release the information to a third party. She said the organizations could move ahead with an FOI or request the information from Greenlane Homes directly.

Coun. Stafford Lumley asked whether staff could bring the report to council so it could be discussed publicly rather than moving ahead with an FOI. “I can guarantee you there is more than [Senger] in this community with respect to Gospel Rock that would like to see that report.”

Beamish agreed. “There is significant public interest in this particular area,” he said. “We should facilitate whatever we can do in terms of making sure it’s a transparent process.”

He asked staff to ensure it’s released publicly or added to the project file.

Machado said the report could be brought to council but they had yet to discuss the report with the owner.

Staff have subsequently updated its webpage about the development, and said in an information sheet the Town doesn’t expect the incident to affect the covenant agreement.

In October, council abandoned plans for a multi-use path on the Gospel Rock lands near Gower Point Road over concerns about potential impacts on ecologically sensitive areas.

Development permits for environmental protection and geotechnical hazards were issued Oct. 19 and site work was underway at the 47-acre site in July.


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