OPEN LETTER TO LANTZVILLE COUNCIL
RE: THE FOOTHILLS
May 21, 2019
Dear Mayor and Council
The 730 acres transferred as parkland to the DOL by the Foothills development contains almost none of the significant parkland areas identified by the negotiating committee through a public process in 2003/2004 as having the highest recreational and environmental values. Thus far, there is no justification for the District of Lantzville to allow the Foothills development at all. These identified recreational lands were the basis for giving the development the millions of dollars in added value by allowing 730 housing units on the property. There are now only 170 acres forthcoming to meet these identified areas. Every one of those acres will now need to be carefully placed to fulfill the obligation which enabled the development and which will give residents the beautiful, useful and environmentally rich parkland they made the density sacrifice for. With 81% of the park dedication now in place and most of the recreation sites expected by residents still not included, it is important that council take control of this process. Council has the final authority to set these boundaries.
The single most popular recreational feature in the entire 1800 acre property as identified during the 03/04 OCP process has already been lost. The Lower Lookout on Copley Ridge has been subdivided and sold as lot 17 in the first development phase. This was not an accident or an oversight. Just as it was the choicest recreational site for its level meadow, fabulous views and proximity to the built areas of the District, it had very high value as a building site. What did District residents get after using this site for 100+ years and being told by their local government that it would be protected for their use? They got deceived. If there is a way to force the DOL and/or the developers to re-instate lot 17 as public parkland then it should be done.
What else is not inside the boundaries of the 730 acre park dedication? The negotiating committee identified as a unique environment in Lantzville the rock domes and their arbutus meadows and wanted the tops of Copley Ridge and Bald Mountain and a contiguous area of ridge meadows connecting them to be included in the park. Copley is in, Bald is out. Bald Mountain is the single largest area of natural upland meadow in Lantzville and, like Copley, is a popular hiking destination.
The Heikkila Creek Gorge to the south of Bald Mountain is also not included in the current park assignment. It was specifically designated as a park requirement by the committee because it is a unique feature and a significant wildlife corridor.
The most popular climbing rocks have so far been left out of the park designation. There are a number of rock cliffs in the 1800 acres that are regularly used by rock climbers as the many cliff sites with pitons will attest. The single most popular site and the one where the climbers built a warming hut is not currently in the park.
To summarise what is out and what is in, of the areas specifically identified as necessary to enable the development, only the tops of Copley ridge itself are currently in the dedicated parkland. With only 170 acres still to come it is difficult to see how the Upper Lookout, Bald Mountain, Heikkila Creek Gorge and the climbing rocks can now be accommodated as agreed upon. Can council ensure residents that these locations can be squeezed into the remaining 19% of park dedication still to come or will they go the way of the Lower Lookout? If that happens, what justification is there for approving any more of this development?
To counter any argument about the requirements of the deal being met, as the previous planner tried, one only has to look at the 2005 OCP map #9 showing the proposed Foothills development. The map shows the areas that were identified for parkland by the negotiating committee and agreed to by the then development consultants. It includes the areas designated as high value recreation and environmental sites as a requirement for the development. This is a conceptual map, of course, but it is part of the OCP and was intended to serve as the template for how these lands were to be apportioned to meet the agreements made between the District of Lantzville and the Foothills developers.
I am less interested in assigning blame than getting this mockery of public interest fixed. As one of the members of the 03/04 OCP Steering Committee which was assigned the task of negotiating the park/development balance for the Foothills, I brought my concerns to the former mayor in 2018 by email. At that time the previous planner was doing the actual park boundary “negotiation” with the developer for the first park dedication. The planner was “unable” to show me any exact boundaries and it was impossible for me to ascertain that the designated features were included or not. It is still difficult to ascertain these boundaries with any precision that can be related to the actual landscape due to the poor quality of the maps. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that this too is no accident. The former planner admitted that he had never been up into the 1800 acres, didn’t know any of the features personally and felt there was no provision for Council’s involvement in the process “and no need for it”. This left an uninvolved, uninformed Council to accept a staff recommendation of what our park should contain and not contain. My informed advice was ignored by the ex-planner and my concerns were ignored by the ex-mayor from whom I received no response at all.
There has been no attempt by the DOL (past and present councils) to seek advice or information from the original committee members who took the responsibility to consult with the public through the OCP process to get feedback on the unique areas to be preserved for parkland. There has been no public consultation at all for this vital public interest and, it seems, no Council oversight. Is anyone but the new planner even aware of the conceptual map in the OCP that shows the designated areas? This process has exclusively involved District staff and developers. So far, the developers have gotten almost all the high value recreational and environmentally unique lands and the people of Lantzville have gotten what is left over.
I should say here that my memory is quite clear that the majority of residents who approved the development did so because of the opportunities afforded by the large park dedication. Most of this group were recreational users of the private lands and were very specific about which areas they valued. Most residents consulted who did not use these private lands recreationally were not in favour of the development. The committee got this right. The locations repeated here are those chosen by residents as the most important. Without them there was no support for the rezoning and densification of this property and without their inclusion the development should now stop.
There may be many people who are at least partly to blame. The newly-elected members of the current council are not to blame because they were presented with a fait accompli. The new planner is not to blame for the same reason. The developers are not to blame; they are simply pursuing their interest. Does a coyote eat chickens? On the whole ‘though, we are all to blame; for allowing local government to become so dysfunctional for so long; for expecting that consensus arrived at and deals made will be honoured over time; for being rubes and trusting people we don’t know; for giving staff carte blanche to negotiate with developers without oversight and then risk criticism from other councillors for questioning staff recommendations. If staff gets to make the important decisions without council oversight or criticism we should elect them not you.
Realistically, functionally, this is a Council problem to fix. A failure will be this Council’s failure and it will be remembered as failing not just current residents but their grandchildren and beyond. And you are running out of time.
Brian Blood. 7075 Caillet Rd. Lantzville.