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qathet Regional District parks and greenspace discussed

Regional director wanted legal opinion on requesting parkland in subdivisions
qathet Regional District Electoral Area B director Mark Gisborne

qathet Regional District parks and greenspace was a topic for discussion at the regional district’s planning committee recently.

At the September 7 planning committee meeting, Electoral Area B director Mark Gisborne brought forward a motion that the committee recommend the board request a legal opinion on the board’s options and ability to use the parks and greenspace plan to request parkland at the time of subdivision.

Gisborne said the Area B official community plan has policies with regard to parks and greenspace acquisition. He quoted the plan, saying the regional district will request the dedication of lands for parks and greenspace purposes, or funds in lieu, in accordance with section 941 of the Local Government Act. He said it also references the regional district’s parks and greenspace plan specifically.

“Our parks and greenspace plan has a lot of policies and a lot of language,” said Gisborne. “It’s a huge document and I don’t want to go into the whole thing right now. However, there are two references I’d like to point out.”

He said the document stated that to be effective, a parks and greenspace system must link to other planning objectives. It stated that not every environmentally significant site, wildlife habitat or corridor can be incorporated into the parks and greenspace plan.

Gisborne said the other part he wanted to bring up was the southern region official community plan in relation to parks and greenspace.

“In the very last section, it states that areas identified as environmentally sensitive development permit areas, or wildlife habitats, may be acquired as nature parks,” said Gisborne. “These parks will be used and managed in a manner that will preserve their sensitive and unique features.

“So, the concern I have is, in the past, the regional district has received applications for subdivisions, and the applicant has been told that the board would not, and could not, request parkland. This is where I’ve run into some concern, where the parks and greenspace plan seems to identify riparian areas and areas of natural habitat as an option for park acquisition.”

Gisborne said the Local Government Act specifies that those policies have to be in the official community plans. He said the reasoning for his motion is to get some legal clarification on which parts of the parks and greenspace plan the board can use as a tool to request parkland in areas such as riparian areas for natural habitat or greenway corridors, to hopefully reduce the conflict between wildlife and human habitat.

“The best way to protect riparian areas, in my belief, is to just acquire the land,” said Gisborne. “I’m just asking for a legal opinion.”

Electoral Area D director Sandy McCormick said she was not in favour of a legal opinion, but she would like a comment from the planning department regarding parks and greenspace plans now.

“It concerns me,” said McCormick. “I don’t think we use it enough and I’d just like to see it more actively part of what we do on a regular basis.”

Planning committee chair and Electoral Area C director Clay Brander said he didn’t think it was time for a legal opinion.

Manager of planning services Laura Roddan said she would be happy to provide a presentation at a future meeting on how the parks and greenspace plan is related to each of the regional district’s official community plans and how staff uses that information to guide its recommendations to the board on issues of park dedication.

“I would be happy to do that because each of the official community plans picks up on the parks and greenspace plan,” said Roddan.

Electoral Area A director Patrick Brabazon said he appreciated Roddan’s offer and he considered Gisborne’s motion completely unnecessary.

“There’s nothing that restricts the board from using the parks and greenspace plan as a rule when it wishes to do so,” said Brabazon. “There is nothing that denies the board the option to do so or not to do so.

“The planning committee has the same power. It can use the parks and greenspace plan or it can deny it. There’s no need to go to a lawyer and there’s no need to spend public money on an opinion on something that is very straightforward. We have the authority to use it as we wish and we have done so.”

Gisborne said he was willing to postpone his motion until such time as the planning department made its presentation.

He said in response to Brabazon, the regional district had two subdivision applications already where the applicants were told by staff that the board would not ask for parkland because it could not ask for parkland.

“That’s where this concern has come up,” said Gisborne. “That’s what the developers are being told and I believe that our parks and greenspace plan can be used as a tool to look at parkland or greenspace corridors.”

Brabazon said he was not aware of staff advising anybody that the board cannot do what the board has the power to do.

“I suggest that remark should not have been made,” said Brabazon. “I think this matter should be dropped and we can receive Ms. Roddan’s report when it comes.”

Gisborne said this was in regard to community parks, not regional parks. He said community parks come into effect in subdivisions.

“In response to director Brabazon, at the last planning committee meeting in August, I asked the applicant if parkland was something that was a possibility and at that meeting the applicant told us that staff had advised them that we would not be requiring any parkland,” said Gisborne. “I spoke to the applicant of the Verkerk subdivision and was told something similar. I am hearing that applicants are being told we will not be asking for parkland and I find that troubling.”

Gisborne’s motion to postpone did not get seconded.

The original motion regarding a legal opinion was then discussed and failed.

The committee then passed a motion that the committee direct staff for a presentation on the parks and greenspace plan.