by Danny Zanbilowicz

This fall represents a turning point. In October there will be a provincial referendum on whether or not we switch our electoral system from “first past the post” to “proportional representation”.

The WORD supports this change. There are articles in this issue going into some of the reasons why.

But this editorial will focus on more local concerns.

We will have an opportunity in the next months to decide who we are and how we want to live here.

There are municipal elections in October, and among the many important issues to be discussed will be development.

3L Developments is very very fond of parks. That’s all it mentions when referring to its Riverwood project, in purchased ads and subservient advertorials published by compliant local corporate media as articles. (After public pressure, the Record apologized for running 3L propaganda on its front page as if it was news, and mycomoxvalley added that its fluff piece was paid for, again after pressure.)

People love parks, and Stotan Falls is a very popular summer destination.

But the Riverwood project of which the proposed park is part of will also contain around 1100 new homes, in an area (250 acres) that is currently zoned for a total of around twenty-four houses. (RU-20 allows for two homes per fifty acres ). Get the idea? Let that sink in. And consider with amazement that the company vigorously believed this qualified as a “minor amendment” to the zoning- no problem- rush it through without serious scrutiny. Hey everybody- look over here- free park!

The development game is a familiar one. It goes like this- developers buy a piece of inexpensive property, usually on the outskirts of a developed area, and try and get it zoned for commercial development and/or more density. If they succeed, they have made a whole lot of money, just like that. They can build on it themselves or sell it to others for a profit.

Zoning makes fortunes, and developers instincts are always to rezone a property in their favour.

There is nothing devious or diabolical in this- it is how the system works.

Just as much a part of the system are the people and policies set in place to control and regulate where, and how fast development occurs, in the interests of the public at large.

Again, there is nothing sinister about municipalities applying rules for growth.

This is what city hall does, what the regional district does. There are people who work in these places, especially planners- whose expertise is in controlled appropriate growth that takes in a whole lot of factors that members of the public do not have the time to properly assess. We pay these professionals well to look after these very important issues, on our behalf. Because you just know that the developers are bringing in all their best resources to get what they want.

The clash of competing interests is the system at work. Places like the City of Vancouver can afford the best and brightest to work for them. Smaller communities struggle to match the resources of huge corporations which come calling, trying to have their way.

Community plans, and regional growth strategies are official documents which lay out the rules of growth. Creating them requires years of work on the part of staff, outside experts, and members of the public who donate their precious free time to engage in the complex process of consultation. In the end there is a document which reflects a community’s best guess regarding where and how growth shall occur.

In our case, the Regional Growth Strategy is this document.

In an attempt to balance growth and development with concern for maintaining natural and agricultural areas, it created “settlement nodes” as places where growth is encouraged, and protects other areas considered valuable in their more or less natural state. You can see where these “nodes” are located in a map on the following website:

The 500 acre property 3L owns and intends to destroy with development is a more or less wilderness area close to the city of Courtenay, intended in the Growth Strategy for low density development- farms, hobby farms, and so on, consistent with current neighbouring uses- a scout camp, First Nations camp site, and recreational trails.

In addition to around 1100 homes, other proposed structures at Riverwood include a commercial centre and fire hall. There will also have to be a water pumping and distribution system, a system for grey water, and waste treatment. But hey- how about that park?

Aside from the creation of a huge new community roughly the size of Cumberland in a wilderness area, there are many other concerns with the proposal, including the company’s plan to remove water directly from the Puntledge River, and the reliability of a private waste treatment system.

And the cost to taxpayers- generally, the spread of single family home subdivisions ends up being a net cost to the taxpayers of older communities, for long term service, upkeep and repair. Developers leave town with pockets full, and residents are left with the tab in perpetuity.

Private enterprise is healthy in the Comox Valley, and that is a good thing. We enjoy our robust economy, and all the products, services, employment and so on.

But we also enjoy other things about living here. For native-born, and those who have chosen to come here from other places, there is a special appreciation for the physical beauty of this place.

If 3L succeeds, the entire Growth Strategy will be a meaningless sham. The precedent will have been set. If a project so obviously contrary to the Strategy is allowed, the floodgates will open. We won’t recognize the place, those of us who hang around. Crossroads.

When 3L got mad at us a couple of years ago they shut down the road into Stotan Falls. Then opened it and charged a toll for entry. Now they are presenting themselves as friends of the community, only out for the public interest, by offering us a park. Stotan Falls doesn’t need 3L- the only threat to the falls is from 3L

At every turn 3L has been manipulative and deceptive. They are tough, litigious, and accustomed to getting their way. This will be a long difficult struggle. The community has to really want to stop the project, or it will go ahead.

The people who support 3L are decent fellow citizens. I saw some of them at the last public meeting, and they seem to love this place, and the opportunities we have. There must be a point where our interests overlap- where we say- this is important enough for us all to believe in. We enjoy the wildness at our doorstep, the healthy nature, clean air, recreation. That’s why we’re here. Let’s preserve and not destroy it.

This October 20 election, we get to choose from among very different directions.

They say Robert Johnson sold his soul at the crossroads. What about us?

Save the Puntledge Triangle: