3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

Photo Caption

3L Developments is back, and again asking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy

By George Le Masurier

The 3L Development company is once again seeking to amend the Regional Growth Strategy.

3L Developments, an ownership group led by founder Dave Dutcyvich, has tried for 13 years to develop nearly 1,000 homes on its 500-plus acres situated between Browns River to the north and the Puntledge River to the south. The Inland Island Highway borders the property to the west.

The CVRD has denied 3L’s past requests for development permits because the site doesn’t fit into the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which only recognizes three areas as settlement nodes for growth outside of municipal boundaries, the Saratoga area, Mt. Washington and Union Bay.

The CVRD’s denials have triggered a series of confrontations with the CVRD staff and at least one director and triggered multiple legal actions against the regional district. Its proposals have incited community protests and, in response, the company has shut off access to the popular Stotan Falls recreational area.

As a result, the regional district last year realigned its policies with all other British Columbia regional districts to consider RGS amendments only when they are proposed by a government body.

But although private landowners can no longer propose Comox Valley RGS amendments, government bodies, such as the Electoral Services Committee (EASC), can do so on behalf of a private landowner.

This week, 3L representative Rob Buchan asked the Electoral Services Committee to support an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) and refer it to the full CVRD board that would clear the way for a revised version of their development plan, called Riverwood.

The Electoral Services Committee comprises directors for electoral areas A, B and C.

A long discussion at the EASC on June 15 culminated in a motion by Area B Director Arzeena Hamir, and seconded by Area A Director Daniel Arbour, to deny the application.

But this motion failed (only Hamir voted to deny the application) after Area C Director Edwin Grieve implored his colleagues to consider a long-term vision and move the application forward by seeking input from other agencies and First Nations.

Arbour then moved and Hamir seconded a successful motion to ask appropriate agencies, including fire departments, to provide feedback on the new 3L application.

This motion passed unanimously.

 

WHAT THEY SAID

Speaking for Dutcyvich, new 3L representative Buchan said the discussion over Riverwood has gone on over a decade and that his mission is to find a solution that ensures “public access and preserves the land.”

“The reality of where the owner (Dutcyvich) is at,” Buchan said, “is that he will liquidate his economic interest whatever way he can, which would make it more difficult to acquire the greenways in the future.”

Buchan said the assemblage of five separate land titles under one ownership is currently an advantage for the regional district to deal with this issue given the public’s interest in acquiring the land for parks, greenways and access to Stotan Falls.

“If this (3L’s current application for an RGS amendment) doesn’t go through, that will be more difficult to achieve,” he said. “It won’t be nearly as easy in the future.”

Director Hamir said the substance of the application didn’t “tick the boxes” for her to fully consider how the new Riverwood plan would meet the requirements of the Regional Growth Strategy.

Director Arbour initially said he would vote for Hamir’s motion to deny the application. But later, in deference to Area C Director Edwin Grieve, where Riverwood is located, changed his mind.

“But from what I saw today, we must first do a good job of meeting the goals of the Regional Growth Strategy before opening these settlement nodes.”

And Arbour took exception to a suggestion that his or other directors’ vote might be based on ownership or a possible sale.

“My vote would not be influenced by who owns a property because at the end of the day we’re talking about the Regional Growth Strategy,” he said. “That argument rings shallow for me.”

Director Grieve, who chairs the EASC, said Dutcyvich has invested a lot of time on the Riverwood project and suggested that he was at the point of wanting it resolved.

Grieve asked Arbour and Hamir to refer the application to other agencies and keep the process moving forward.

“If the proponents (3L) have the patience to move at the speed of government, which is moving even slower now during this pandemic, then we should put it out for feedback,” he said.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

The three electoral area directors eventually chose to consider the 3L application, rather than outright denying it. They will refer it to a list of agencies that includes the K’omoks First Nation and two other First Nations, provincial agencies, local governments, the school district and two public advisory groups.

The Electoral Services Committee will then consider the feedback from those entities, comment on the new information and decide how to proceed.

The committee could ultimately refer the application to the full CVRD board, which would, in turn, consider whether to initiate a Regional Growth Strategy amendment process.

Or, the committee could deny the amendment application and close the file.

 

SUMMARY OF 3L’S APPLICATION

3L Developments has revised its original plan to develop their Riverwood lands. They now want to develop 780 housing units (335 single detached units each with provision for a secondary suite, 54 townhouse units and 56 multi-family units), 1,400 square meters of neighbourhood commercial floor area, 97 hectares of open space or parkland and a 10-acre parcel for K’omoks First Nation.

The new proposal triggers the need for an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) because the properties are regulated by two Official Community Plans and designated by both as Rural Area and Rural Settlement Area/Settlement Expansion, respectively.

3L Developments Inc. is proposing to repeal the existing OCP designation on a portion of the lands and to amend the OCP designation on the remaining lands to a Settlement Node and Rural Settlement Area designation. This requires an RGS amendment.
CVRD staff recommended the EASC refer the applications to external agencies and First Nations for comment and detailed feedback and create an opportunity to acquire any additional information.

 

BACKGROUND TO 3L’S PROPOSAL

3L Developments first proposed a new, self-contained community that they named Riverwood on 500-plus acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers in 2007.

The CVRD rejected that first application at a time when the district was developing the Regional Growth Strategy. In subsequent legal action started by 3L, the CVRD was later told by the BC Supreme Court to give the proposal fuller consideration.

After reconsidering the 3L application in 2018 by what’s called the ‘standard process’ — which takes longer and gathers more feedback from a wider array of affected parties than the ‘expedited process’ — the CVRD board voted in 2018 to again deny 3L’s application. 3L then started another legal action to have that decision overturned by the courts, but it was unsuccessful.

At that time, the CVRD was the only regional district in the province to allow developers or other private parties to apply for RGS amendments. In all other regional districts, only another government entity could apply to amend the RGS.

In 2018, the CVRD amended its Regional Growth Strategy to match other districts in the amendment proposal process.

The revised RGS now states that amendments can be proposed by a member municipality, the Electoral Services Committee or the full CVRD board, and they can do so on behalf of an external agency or a landowner.

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New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

Three short-listed options for new conveyance routes for the Courtenay-Comox sewage system will go to public meetings later this summer

New Courtenay-Comox sewage master plan process to restart after virus lockdown delays

By George Le Masurier

More than a year ago, the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission launched a major initiative to develop a new master plan for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The new plan — officially termed a Liquid Waste Management Plan — was designed to address the immediate issue of preventing the failure of the large sewer pipes that run along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs, by moving the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Kris La Rose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water and wastewater services, who is leading the project, his staff and a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee spent more than six months discussing how best to reconfigure the system. At its March 22, 2019 meeting, the committees settled on a recommended short-list of three options, which were then the basis of consultations with the K’omoks First Nation.

It was expected these options, among other recommendations in the new LWMP, would be finalized this summer. But this spring’s COVID-19 virus security measures prevented public consultations planned for May and June.

With the loosening of provincial lockdown requirements, La Rose will seek commission approval next month to resume public consultations during a six-week period starting in August.

And that will push the regional district staff’s final recommendations on conveyance routes and treatment levels to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission into November.

 

A BACKGROUND REFRESHER

Back in 2014, the sewage commission surprised the public with the now-discarded plan to prevent failure of the Willemar Bluff beach pipe by building a new pump station on Beech Street in the Croteau Beach area, located in Area B, not the Town of Comox.

Croteau Beach residents raised concerns about negative impacts on their groundwater wells and the propriety of forcing sewerage infrastructure on a neighbourhood that neither benefits from it or has a legislative voice on its governance. There was no public input prior to the plan’s announcement.

They also presented an independent financial analysis that showed the regional district had less expensive options.

As planning proceeded, and La Rose was appointed to a new position with authority over the project, it was discovered that the regional district’s original cost estimates were low by at least half and that other red flags had emerged.

La Rose recommended abandoning the original plan for a highly consultative process to develop a long-term plan that would consider a broader range of issues and visions.

The provincial LWMP process recommended by La Rose included forming Technical and Public advisory committees (TAC and PAC), who would also meet jointly and make recommendations with a single voice.

 

WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?

The joint TAC-PAC recommendations are for three options.

First, a system to pump sewage directly from the Courtenay No. 1 pump station on Dyke Road over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. 

Second, the advisory committee collapsed three variations of conveying wastewater to the treatment plant via tunnels into one option. In one variation, the sewer pipe would tunnel through Lazo Road hill. In another, it would tunnel through both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill. And using a gravity tunnel from Comox to the treatment plant will also be considered. While tunnelling is considered one option, all three tunnelling variations will be studied separately.

Third on the shortlist is to consider the three variations of the tunnelling option but as implemented into two phases.

Earlier this year, the sewage commission unanimously approved the recommendations of its Technical and Public advisory committee.

La Rose says the TAC and PAC committees also recommended three options for treatment levels at the Brent Road treatment plant. They include continuing with secondary treatment, adding filtration for all but peak wet weather flows or filtration for all flows. All three options would include disinfection in the form of UV light.

This article was updated on June 15 to correct the three conveyance route shortlist options. 

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Union Bay opens new water treatment plant, eliminates boil-water advisories

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A new water treatment plant for Union Bay opened recently that is expected to eliminate boil-water advisories  |  George Le Masurier photo

Union Bay opens new water treatment plant, eliminates boil-water advisories

This is a press release from the Union Bay Improvement District issued last week

After years of planning and coordination, the Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) has completed a new water treatment facility to service 690 properties in the community – allowing a regular boil-water advisory by Island Health to be lifted.

The $4.2 million plant was officially completed on May 15 and includes filtration of the water (drawn from Langley Lake) – meeting provincial water treatment guidelines what were previously not being achieved.

“This project is a success that has been many years in the making by many people – from board members and staff who helped prepare the UBID many years ago for this investment, to Union Bay Estates for their donation of the land, to the construction crews able to wrap up the work amidst the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said Ian Munro, UBID chair.

“We are thankful to everyone A new water treatment plant was mandated by the province, and after planning, design and procurement was completed with the support of Koers Engineering, construction by Ridgeline Mechanical Ltd. began in June 2019. The original goal to complete by April was postponed due to additional constraints created by COVID-19. Along with the new treatment system, the project included the new building facility, a new glass-fused steel water reservoir and new water main and tie-ins.

The total cost of the Water Treatment Plant project supplied by Ridgeline Construction is $4.2 million, of which approximately $700,000 will be contributed from UBID’s Public Works Capital Reserve and $3.5 million will be borrowed and amortized over 25 years. Parcel taxes have increased from $345 to approximately $390 in 2020 – a $46 increase.

“The UBID’s most critical service is to provide clean, safe and reliable water to our residents, and completing this project so we could do so has been our top priority,” said Munro. “We know that the ongoing boil water advisories have been trying for many in the community and we’re thankful to all for consideration in this time,”

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Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

Image of ocean farming from the Greenwave.org website

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

By Gavin MacRae

The climate crisis will force a shift in where and how we get our calories. Farms in the future will need to produce more food on less land, all while cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.

For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean. Smith is the driving force behind the zero-input aquaculture system known as vertical or 3D ocean farming.

The 3D part may sound techy, but Smith says the concept is simple. A grid of ropes extend from anchors on the seafloor to buoys on the ocean surface. A horizontal rope scaffold is fixed off the vertical lines.

Supported by the horizontal ropes, seaweeds grow interspersed with cages for shellfish such as scallops and mussels. Oyster and clams grow in cages below on the seafloor. The resulting symbiosis produces high yields of diverse species on a small ocean footprint.

The farms are thriving ecosystems, Smith says, which create habitat for other marine life, offer coastal protection from storm surges, locally buffer against ocean acidification, and filter nitrogen from fertilizer runoff.

“Fresh water, fertilizer, feed, land, all those things, those inputs, the cost is going to go up in the climate era…. Zero-input food’s going to be the most affordable food on the planet. It’s going to move us to the centre of the plate.”

The cost of entry for 3D ocean farming is low relative to land-based agriculture (US$20-50,000 can bankroll a typical farm). Smith envisions 3D ocean farming as a vibrant new industry displacing extractive industrial fishing and creating jobs on small-scale ocean farms around the world.

 

THE BIRTH OF GREENWAVE

In an earlier life, Smith’s livelihood as a commercial fisher ended with the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland in the 1990s. After a stint at a Northern Canadian fish farm, Smith transitioned to oyster farming off the coast of New York.

Some years later, hurricanes Irene and Sandy left his oyster crop in ruin. At the same time, rising ocean acidification was killing oyster seeds, while warming waters drove lobsters further north. Determined to find a model of aquaculture more resilient to climate change, Smith teamed up with Charles Yarish, a seaweed expert from the University of Connecticut, to develop the 3D ocean farming system.

The result was so successful, Smith co-founded Greenwave to spread the word.

Greenwave’s training program has been inundated, Smith says. “Right now the demand’s too high. We have requests to start farms in 20 countries around the world. It’s just insane, we have a waiting list of 10,000 farmers.”

Despite Greenwave’s success, ocean farming hasn’t yet telegraphed to Vancouver Island – at least under the 3D banner.

But what Vancouver Island does have is a burgeoning interest in kelp farming.

 

IDEAL FOR KELP FARMING

“We’re in a region that has the richest kelp biodiversity in the world.” says Allison Byrne, a kelp researcher at North Island College’s Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation in Campbell River. “We have lots of coastline and lots of capacity in small coastal communities in terms of marine and boating experience that could be applied to the industry. And beyond that there’s a lot of interest, specifically in kelp farming.”

At a seaweed commercialization workshop in Courtenay in June, Byrne says the room was “absolutely packed” with entrepreneurs as well as established fish and shellfish operations looking to diversify.

“There are a lot of companies and individuals that want to push this ahead and are working to do so,” says Byrne. “I think it will look a lot different five years from now, there’ll be a lot more startup farms.”

Another promising ocean farming concept called Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) was pioneered on Vancouver Island by Byrne’s former academic supervisor, eminent aquaculture researcher Stephen Cross.

In this arrangement, the waste from a fed species such as a fish or shrimp becomes inputs for other species such as shellfish or seaweeds. Though not yet pursued commercially on Vancouver Island, IMTA and 3D ocean farming share the goal of remediating ocean ecosystems and creating high yields on small footprints.

For ocean farming, and kelp farming in particular, to grow on Vancouver Island, seed and processing facilities are needed, says Byrne.

“We need to reach that critical mass of having enough biomass from multiple different growers to create a demand for processing facilities.”

“I would love to see young entrepreneurs and First Nation-owned businesses take on the industry,” says Byrne, “and I would love to see small and medium sized farms working together, at least at this point, to create a demand for processing.”

 

A MARKET BEYOND KELP

And while forward-thinking chefs have created a boutique culinary demand for seaweeds, there is plenty more market potential for kelp at the grocery store.

Kelp salad greens, chips, sauerkraut, pickles, smoothie cubes, tea, beer, gin, and more could be on the menu.

The largest food market, Smith says, is as a healthy additive to replace the soy ubiquitous in many foods.

Other opportunities for seaweed are for use as animal feed, fertilizers, and for high value compounds extracted for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Byrne says the industry needs to continue educating the public on the environmental benefits and economic opportunities of seaweed agriculture. “I think it’s an unfamiliar sector, but once people learn about it, they love it,” she says.

“They’ve done such a good job marketing the concept in New England and on the east coast. But I think we can catch up in the grand scheme of things.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of The Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation. Readers can reach him at gavin@watershedsentinel.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS GREENWAVE AND 3D OCEAN FARMING?

Bren Smith, GreenWave executive director and owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm, pioneered the development of restorative 3D Ocean Farming. A lifelong commercial fisherman, he was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “25 People Shaping the Future” and featured in TIME magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2017”. He is the winner of the Buckminster Fuller Prize and been profiled by CNN, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and elsewhere. He is an Ashoka and Echoing Green Climate Fellow and author of Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer. 

From the Greenwave.org website

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North Island hospital board hesitates to take advocacy role, despite rights and precedent

North Island hospital board hesitates to take advocacy role, despite rights and precedent

Decafnation archive photo by George Le Masurier

North Island hospital board hesitates to take advocacy role, despite rights and precedent

By George Le Masurier

Jim Abram doesn’t have any doubts about his role as a director on the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board. Its crystal clear to him, and he’ll be happy to tell you exactly what he thinks.

“Every director on that board was elected as an advocate for their constituents, so as a board, we’re a collective of advocates. How can we walk away from what our constituents want, what they’re telling us to do?” he told Decafnation this week.

It seems perfectly clear to Abram that the board should advocate for health care issues like complete pathology services, but not every director sees it that way.

Abram made a motion at the board’s November meeting to send a second letter to BC Premier John Horgan and the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) reconfirming the board’s “strong support” for maintaining fully functioning pathology services at North Island hospitals.

Provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix did not respond to the board’s first letter of support sent in May.

VIHA, sometimes referred to as Island Health, is attempting to centralize many North Island health care services in Victoria. Earlier this year, it moved all onsite clinical pathologists’ services from the Campbell River Hospital to doctors in Victoria, a change the health authority intends to make at the Comox Valley Hospital next year.

Abram’s motion, which eventually passed, triggered a discussion about whether it is appropriate for the hospital board to advocate on health care issues, and whether the board should expand its interests into other areas of health care, such as facilities and medical services for seniors.

The board discussed this issue at its 2018 strategic planning session and in February of 2019 passed a motion that it recognized “the important role for communities and regions to advocate for health care services and programs through local municipalities and regional districts.”

But several directors said they still aren’t comfortable in a wider advocacy role and that the issue raises questions the board hasn’t yet answered for itself.

Hospital Board Chair Charlie Cornfield, a Campbell River city councillor, was one of those.

“I would like to comment on the business of advocacy,” he said at the Nov. 7 meeting. “Because this board was very clear (in the past) that we deal with acute care. And that advocacy issues around … operational issues are best dealt with by the community itself.”

That makes no sense to Abram, who represents the Discovery Islands and mainland inlets within electoral area C of the Strathcona Regional District.

“That’s an antiquated attitude to what’s going on in today’s world,” he said. “We’re advocates on everything else in local government. We’re there to represent the public. We can’t get stuck on an old concept. It’s habit. It’s historical. If people don’t recognize that things have changed, then there’s a problem.”

However, the board does have a recent history of advocacy.

When VIHA proposed building one regional hospital for the North Island, the board originally supported the idea. But later the board reversed its position and advocated for two hospitals, which caused many difficult and divisive conversations. And the board also took a unanimous vote two years ago for free parking at the hospital and most recently to restore pathology services in Campbell River.

There was enough hesitation among directors about advocating more actively and broadly about health care issues at the Nov.7 meeting that they deferred the topic to a future strategic planning session.

 

OTHER DIRECTORS WEIGH IN

After the 2018 municipal elections, several new directors joined the hospital board. Decafnation recently asked several new Comox Valley directors serving on the hospital board whether they felt advocacy was an appropriate role.

Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin said she’s just getting up to speed on the board’s mandate, history and responsibilities.

“I know (advocacy) is a question the board will be exploring. As we pay 40 percent of hospital capital funding, I think we do have some role in advocacy, but I am still unclear as to how broad this should be,” she told Decafnation. “I think there is a problem if we were promised certain services and amenities during the implementation of the new hospitals, and those promises have not been fulfilled. I think we need to investigate and see what role we have in advocating for those.”

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour said the board does have an advocacy role to the extent that it spends millions of dollars on health infrastructure.

He said the hospital board is primarily charged with raising tax monies to pay for hospitals, which “tends to be a lot of money.”

“Those hospitals are nothing without the health services that occur in them, and they are impacted by the “health ecosystem” as well,” he told Decafnation.

“While I would not argue for health care operations to be downloaded from the province, to me it is clear that we are a natural channel for local constituents to bring forward concerns and opportunities for improving health delivery. There are also questions as to whether we should be involved beyond just hospitals. Those questions may be explored at our strategic session next year,” he said.

Comox Councillor Nicole Minions said she thinks the 23-member board representing over a dozen diverse communities, should take an advocacy role, especially in extraordinary situations like the centralization of services, such as pathology, “that could negatively affect the health and care of our communities residents.”

But she doesn’t think the board should step into the operation of the two campus hospitals.

“However, as our taxpayers pay 40 per cent of capital costs, it is important to ask questions, listen to concerned residents and advocate to our province to find the right healthcare solution,” she told Decafnation. “As a council member in a community with an average age over 50, health care is important to our residents.
Abram says advocacy is “what we’re here for.”

“Our constituents don’t get to meet face to face and talk with VIHA or government officials, we do,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience go to board meetings and not advocate for the public.”

 

CAN HOSPITAL BOARD’S LEGALLY ADVOCATE?

The Comox Strathcona Hospital District has historically operated on the presumption that its only, or at least, primary role is to fund select capital projects.

By Oct. 31 of every year, the hospital board advises VIHA of its recommended annual funding allocation for equipment or project under $1.5 million in the next year, subject to final approval of its budget on March 31.

Then, by Jan. 31, VIHA tells the hospital board how they will distribute spending of those funds by equipment and projects.

The board also considers funding major projects proposed by VIHAS that cost more than $1.5 million, before finalizing its tax requisition for the next year.

That appears to comport with the BC Hospital District Act (1996), which states the purpose of regional hospital districts “is to establish, acquire, construct, reconstruct, enlarge, operate and maintain hospitals and hospital facilities. And it further requires boards “to exercise and perform the other powers and duties prescribed under this Act as and when required.”

And the Act goes on to state that the letters patent incorporating a district under this Act must specify the following: the powers, duties and obligations of the district in addition to those specified in this Act,” and “other provisions and conditions the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers proper and necessary.”

The Act does not address the role of advocacy by a board, neither requiring it or prohibiting it, although the Act does, perhaps oddly, include “operate” as one of the board’s purposes.

 

WHAT DO OUR LETTERS PATENT SPECIFY?

On Dec. 8, 1967, Lieutenant Governor George Peakes signed the original letters patent that created the Comox Strathcona Hospital District. Dan Campbell was the Minister of Health Services and Hospital Insurance at the time.

Section 9 of that document states that the duties and obligations of the hospital district include those in the hospital act, but also:

“… These Letters Patent, and in addition the District shall establish a Regional Hospital Advisory Committee as soon as possible. The said Committee shall, when requested by the Board, review the hospital projects proposed by the boards of management of the hospitals in the district and recommend priorities and revisions thereto if deemed necessary, and shall also recommend regional programmes for the establishment and improvement of hospitals and hospital facilities in the District for presentation to the Board and to the British Columbia Hospital Insurance Service for Approval.”

To date, the hospital board has not established an advisory committee.

But Section 9 does seem to open the door for a wide range of health care advocacy.

 

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Smit Field owners, neighbours, CVRD rural directors clash over testing of drag racing cars

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Dan Annand a co-owner of Smit Field on Forbidden Plateau Road  |  George Le Masurier photos

Smit Field owners, neighbours, CVRD rural directors clash over testing of drag racing cars

By George Le Masurier

Does the Comox Valley want to allow the testing and tuning of drag racing cars in a rural residential neighborhood along Forbidden Plateau Road next to Nymph Falls Nature Park? Directors of the Comox Valley Regional District’s three rural electoral areas will answer that question at their next meeting, on Dec. 9.

But it won’t be an easy decision. The case involves neighbourhood concerns about noise, pollution and forest fires, a defiant property owner and a federally regulated airport.

For the past three years, the Vanisle Airfield Society Inc. has tested and tuned their drag racing cars at a 50-acre Forbidden Plateau Road property owned by Dan Annand and Kevin Griessel in contravention of Comox Valley Regional District zoning bylaws.

The property is zoned RU20, which allows several non-residential uses, such as sawmills and dog kennels, but does not allow drag racing or the testing of drag racing cars.

However, the property also contains Smit Field, a private airport registered by Transport Canada with 1,200 feet of concrete runway where the Vanisle Society has been holding its test and tune events.

The CVRD shut down the car club’s activity this summer after some area residents complained.

Now the society has applied for a three-year temporary use permit that would allow up to 50 car owners to test their racing cars over three days, three times per year beginning next May.

Vanisle Society spokesperson Ken Pederson says there is no other site with comparable amenities for car owners on Vancouver Island. Members of the society just “want to have fun,” he says, and tune their cars before entering races.

That hasn’t swayed concerned residents, who say they initially complained about the noise because the cars reach high decibel levels that they say can be heard at homes up to two kilometers away.

But since hearing from the Smit Field owners, and suffering social media harassments from members or supporters of the drag car society, the residents now fear the property owners plan to grow the site into a major event venue and that the drag racing car events will become permanent.

Temporary use permits can be issued for up to three years, and are renewable.

And that, they say, intensifies additional ongoing concerns about air and ground pollution and forest fires.

But principal owner Dan Annand told Decafnation this week that he has no plans to create more large-scale public events on his property, although he does currently host Jeepapalooza, which in its second year last summer drew 700 owners of off-road vehicles.

And if the CVRD Electoral Services Commission doesn’t approve the Vanisle Society’s temporary use permit, a defiant Annand says he might continue to allow the testing of drag cars anyway because he believes the regional district doesn’t have the authority to regulate how he uses his property.

Annand has also hinted that he might turn Smit Field back into a “full-blown airport,” with fly-in gatherings for pilots that could attract more participants and make more noise and pollution than either the drag car testing and Jeepapalooza events.

Plus, he says, he would stop allowing other public service uses of his property.

The following five sections break down this complicated story:

  1. What is Smit Field
  2. Why have neighbors complained
  3. Who is the Vanisle Airfield Society
  4. Dan Annand’s frustrations
  5. What is the CVRD recommending

 

Aerial view of Smit Field courtesy of Transport Canada

WHAT IS SMIT FIELD?

Bert Smit and Dan Annand, who shared a love for flying, have co-owned the 50-acre Smite Field property for many years. Smit owned the property as early as 1977 and obtained classification as a registered aerodrome through Transport Canada sometime in the early 1980s.

The airfield features a grass runway 66 feet wide by 2,663 feet long at the base of the Beaufort Mountains forming Forbidden Plateau and Mt. Washington.

In recent years, Annand has covered 36 by 1,200 feet of the runway with concrete. The drag racing cars use roughly 325 feet of it to test single cars and sometimes side by side.

Smit died on March 3, 2010 when his homebuilt two-seater Jodel aircraft crashed in a forested area just below Forbidden Plateau. Witnesses to the crash say Smit was doing acrobatic maneuvers when a wing appeared to break away.

The airfield is rarely used. As a private aerodrome, pilots must call Annand by phone to request permission to land. Annand has two hangars on the property, one that houses his own Cessna 180 taildragger airplane.

But when Smit and Annand, and others, used the airfield more frequently, Annand said “there were a lot more noise complaints” than there has been recently about testing drag racing cars.

As a result of those previous complaints, Annand changed the circuit pattern for arriving aircraft to approach the runway from over the Puntledge River rather than over residential areas.

A media relations officer for Transport Canada told Decafnation that the federal agency “does not issue an approval to the aerodrome but rather validates the data provided so that it can be published in the Canada Flight Supplement,” which is information for pilots.

Transport Canada does not issue approvals to the aerodrome on the use of runways. It is the responsibility of the aerodrome operator to ensure that the aerodrome is operated safely and to notify Transport Canada of any changes to the flight supplement information.

Annand has not yet notified Transport Canada that he hard-surfaced a portion of the listed runway with concrete or that he plans to extend it to 3,000 feet.

Burned rubber from drag car testing on the Smit Field runway

WHY NEIGHBORS HAVE COMPLAINED

Residents along Forbidden Plateau Road started complaining to the Comox Valley Regional District by Sept. 16, 2017. They say the noise from revving high-performance drag racing engines is deafening in Nymph Falls park and at homes within about two kilometers of the airfield.

Dylan DeGagne was the first neighbor to go public with a complaint. He told the Comox Valley Record last May that while paddleboarding on the Puntledge River near the BC Hydro dam at Comox Lake, “he could hear the cars roaring.”

DeGagne started a petition on Change.org to stop the activity. He immediately became the target of social media intimidation. He has now sold his house and is in the process of transferring to Victoria.

But other residents who spoke to Decafnation on the promise of anonymity, say they have also complained to the regional district. All of these sources purchased their properties before the dragster testing began. They say the noise since 2017 has affected their ability to enjoy their properties and potentially their long-term property values.

They have requested anonymity because of the threats issued through social media posts by either members or supporters of the Vanisle Airfield Society.

Screenshots of two previously public, now private Facebook pages include this post: “Yea, people complain its (sic) too loud. The noise isn’t going away, because I’ll make continuous passes on there (sic) street at 2am if need be, so get over the noise.”

And this reply: “I’ll just put a 353 Detroit in the box of my truck running flat out all night lol.”

Residents say they knew before they purchased their properties that there was an airfield nearby, but not that testing of drag racing cars would occur.

Their complaints include adverse market value impacts to their property, safety concerns to cyclists along Forbidden Plateau Road, forest fire risk, negative impacts to users of Nymph Falls park and wildlife, contravention of CVRD zoning bylaws and “an incongruence with climate change policies” (unnecessary pollution and carbon emissions from fossil fuels).

They say during the most recent Jeepapalooza event, some of the 700 campers set off fireworks during one of the driest periods of the summer.

“Why should we accept the devaluation of our homes, and the risk, to support other people’s hobbies,” one resident told Decafnation.

The concerned residents don’t see the Jeepapalooza and drag car testing events as separate issues.

“It’s not separate for us,” a resident told Decafnation. “The point is, where is this headed? The land owner has poured more than $200,000 into this property without without any approvals. He’s not doing it for three weekends a year that he says doesn’t generate any income for him. There’s a longer-term vision here.”

And they dispute Annand’s claim that the drag car testing events are just for his friends.

“Our complaint was filed only after we discovered that the test and tune events were being advertised on two Facebook pages, totalling more than 3,000 followers.

“This is not strictly a family and friends event,” the source told Decafnation. “All Vancouver Island and BC drag car owners now think there’s a drag strip in the Comox Valley.”

And they have no confidence so far that the CVRD can control these events through a temporary use permit. The regional district does not have a bylaw compliance officer to monitor such permits. It relies on a complaint-driven system.

The concerned neighbours do not understand the purpose of the CVRD’s recommendation to approve a one-year temporary use permit. The staff report suggests that one year would serve as a trial and give staff time to evaluate the events.

“But there’s no objective criteria mentioned how they would evaluate the events,” a resident said. “We already know it doesn’t work. What will they do, planners will drive around in their cars to see how loud it is?”

Concerned neighbors generally feel the CVRD recommendation disregards their concerns, the environment, the park and existing zoning bylaws.

 

Facebook Post showing cars lined up for testing at Smit Field

WHO IS THE VANISLE AIRFIELD SOCIETY

Comox Valley and Vancouver Island drag racing enthusiasts say they just want a safe place to test and tune their cars.

The Vanisle Airfield Society was formed in January of 2015 after approaching the co-owner of the Smit Field, Dan Annand. They formed the society in order to get insurance coverage, and are the official applicant for the temporary use permit.

“We want to do it right. We’re trying to make it safe for everybody,” Ken Pederson, a society spokesperson told Decafnation.

Prior they located at Smit Field, owners used to test their cars on the Comox Logging Road near Royston or on the lower sections of the Mt. Washington road, which was neither legal or safe.

The group has since purchased an expensive set of lights of the type used to start drag racing events and timing equipment to provide instant, printed feedback on driver response times.

In drag racing, a set of lights similar to street lights illuminate down from red to yellow to green. The driver to most quickly accelerate his car has a considerable advantage.

According to Pederson the test and tune events are really about tuning the driver, not the car. Smit Field is not used for drag racing where cars and drivers compete against each other side-by-side.

“Ninety-nine percent of drag races are won or lost at the starting line,” Pederson told Decafnation this week. “That’s why we need a place to practice. It’s more about tuning the drivers’ reaction time.”

Pederson says there are no other places to practice on Vancouver Island that appeal to his group of members. They tried Saratoga Speedway but the straightaway was too short for the faster cars and they could only get five hours of time. It takes two to three hours to set up their lights and timing equipment, so there wasn’t enough time to warrant the cost of renting the track.

And the Island’s other drag racing sites like Port McNeill and Western Speedway near Victoria don’t allow test and tune events. Drivers say they need the practice team to justify expensive trips to drag races, especially those off the Island.

Pederson says 35 of the 42 cars owned by members that might practice at Smit Filed are street legal.

And, he says, a suggestion to reduce the tuning events at Smit Field to one day, rather than three, won’t appeal to the society’s members. The society charges $700 for an annual membership, which pays for the portable toilets and food sold during events as well as the debt for purchasing the lighting equipment.

“Three one-day events don’t make it worthwhile,” he said.

Pederson said the society hopes to purchase carbon credits to offset the burning of fossil fuels before the CVRD’s electoral directors meet Dec. 9 to decide the issue.

“We’re trying to show we’re not a bunch of hillbillies. We want to do this properly,” he said.

Smit Field co-owner Dan Annand at the site of salmon habitat restoration on the Puntledge River near his property

PROPERTY OWNER DAN ANNAND

Dan Annand has co-owned the Forbidden Plateau Road property for over 20 years. He originally partnered with owner Bert Smit. When Smit died in 2010, Annand took on a new partner, neighbor Kevin Grissel, whose name appears on the title.

Annand says he’s not trying to become another Saratoga Speedway.

“It’s just friends having fun. I could do it every weekend if I wanted,” he told Decafnation this week. “Because of the hassle with the CVRD, I might invite a few friends up here with cars anyway, whether it (temporary use permit) passes or not.”

He says many of the drag car owners in the Vanisle Airfield Society are friends, whose parents were friends with his parents. And they share a love of racing, which he used to do 50 years ago, and flying. Three of the car owners own airplanes.

Annand is a member of the pioneering Piercy family and his wife’s family, the Picketts, were early settlers on Denman, Hornby and Cumberland.

“I probably have 500 relatives in Courtenay alone,” he says.

He doesn’t charge the drag car society or the Jeepapalooza organizers any rental fee. He has offered his property for free as long as the groups raise money for charity.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “If they didn’t raise money for charity they wouldn’t be allowed out here.”

Between the testing of drag racing cars and Jeepapalooza, Annand says $80,000 has been donated to cancer-related non-profits in the last two years, including sending a family to Hawaii through the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, and donations to the local Hospice Society.

But he says the airfield could make money by promoting fly-in events to pilots around BC and beyond.

“If this doesn’t go through, I’ll hard surface the whole runway and start having airshows and fly-ins,” he said.

Annand says the increased air traffic would cause more noise and more pollution than a whole year of drag car testing.

“The stupid part is that the drag cars burn on a 14-1 air to gas ratio. They burn clean. Aircraft burn lead-based fuel. One plane releases more carbon than all the cars on an entire weekend,” he said. “One airshow here would create 10 times more pollution in the air than a whole year of cars.”

And he disputes the claim that any of the events have exploded fireworks. There are two water tanker trucks on the property, so he believes the risk of a fire is next to nothing.

Annand also points to all of the other benefits he offers free of charge to the Comox Valley community.

He allows the military search and rescue squadron to have their year-end party on the property, usually landing a helicopter. He allows the Courtenay Rod and Gun Club and the Department of Fisheries to use his property to stage gravel for a Puntledge River salmon enhancement project in an area called Reach B.

Mountain biking groups use his property to access trails up to the top of the Forbidden Plateau, and have recently rebuilt a bridge using Smit Field access. Mountain search and rescue teams use his site for marshalling and as a launch point for training exercises.

Annand also built a parking lot for access to Barbers Hole, and says he plows snow from neighbors driveways every winter.

“If this TUP gets turned down, all of that goes away,” he said. “The skinny of it is, I’ll stop all public access and all the benefits and the donations to charity go away. Shame on the three neighbors who can shut this all down. The CVRD should represent the majority. It’s no longer a democracy.”

Annand said he went door-to-door asking neighbors about the drag car noise. He says 91 people said they were in favor of it, and some even help volunteer during the events. He believes only three or four neighbors have complained.

Annand says he’s “done just about everything we can to reduce noise.”

“It’s noisy, no question. But we’re asking for 24 hours total per year. If you can’t put up with that then … really?” he said. “I’ve just about had enough of the CVRD. If it doesn’t pass, I’ll go to a full-blown airport. I’m going to do that anyway.”

 

CVRD’S RECOMMENDATION

Since notifying Annand and the Vanisle Airfield Society that they were contravening Comox Valley Regional District bylaws, planners have met with him and representatives of the Vanisle Airfield Society, and separately with a group of concerned neighbors.

At the Nov. 4 Electoral Services Commission, CVRD staff presented a report that recommended approving a temporary use permit for one year that would allow three, three-day test and tune events for a maximum of 30 cars and 15 campsites.

Staff have recommended allowing car owners to only practice from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and 10.30 to 3.30 on Sunday.

The report notes that the test and tune events comply with CVRD’s noise bylaw, which restricts hours but does not regulate decibel levels.

The report said the bylaw compliance department did a full review and determined the past drag car test and tune events were not lawful.

Staff said that noise from the events could not be controlled, but the conditions of the permit were designed to minimize neighbourhood disruption.

 

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