Group opposes Linley Valley West development, set to rally

NANAIMO – Linley Valley developer says environment and ecosystems will be respected, will work within zoning regulations.

Armed with a newly completed bio-inventory and conservation assessment, a group of citizens is determined to put a wrench into a proposed 352-unit housing development in Linley Valley West, a parcel of land it says has too high of a biodiversity and conservation value to develop.

Save Linley Valley West revealed its report titled Baseline Bio-Inventory and Conservation Assessment for Linley Valley West, prepared by biologist Joe Materi, Tuesday in front of one of the beaver ponds in the valley.

The extensive report notes that at least 66 bird species, including hummingbirds, owls and woodpeckers, red-listed amphibians and reptiles, and mammals like cougars, beavers and deer, were observed on at least one of four land parcels prone to development. It also emphasized that the land in its natural state provides “habitat connections between lakes, wetlands and adjacent forest patches that are key to persistence of native amphibians and mammals and intact connections for a variety of wide-ranging wildlife.”

In total, 81 hectares in the valley is zoned for development.

Jennifer O’Rourke, spokeswoman for Save Linley Valley West, said a new zoning bylaw introduced by the city in 2011 paved the way for densification of single family dwellings on the property, resulting in a 30-per cent increase in land value and greater profits for the developer.

“It also allows for steep slope development,” she said. “The official term is bare rock but if you look at the bluff, it is anything but bare rock. There is a diverse ecosystem there with birds, trees and plants.”

According to the city’s property assessment report, the site of the proposed development, 5701 Vanderneuk Rd., was assessed at $972,700 in 2006. In 2010 it was assessed at $3 million and in 2012 it was valued at $4.5 million.

Seventy-three hectares of Linley Valley West property is owned by Mount Benson Enterprises, which has submitted the development permit application.

The land value jumped considerably in 2008 as well when, with a revised official community plan, the city included Linley Valley in its urban containment boundary for the first time despite protests from the public.

Development in the area has become a reality, with extensive housing projects beginning to leach into the park from several directions except for the eastern portion, where the city secured 58 hectares in 2002 to designate as park.

Lamont Lands has already developed a significant portion of Linley Valley West just off Rutherford Road.

Norman Blattgerste, owner of Mount Benson Developments, said his own environmental report contains similar information as Save Linley Valley West’s, and that the development he is proposing is respectful of the ecosystem.

“We’re leaving all of the wetlands alone, we’re not touching them, we’re working according to aquatic setbacks, and we’re not asking for any amendments when it comes to the zoning,” said Blattgerste. “I want to leave environmentally sensitive areas alone, it’s very expensive to deal with these areas, and these are important amenities in these areas. There is value in leaving as much natural as possible.”

He added he’s met members of Save Linley Valley West several times and admits he’s a little confused by what they want.

“It’s obvious they want to preserve it and not have any development at all there,” he said. “They’ve even mentioned they want to buy it but so far there haven’t been any offers.”

Save Linley Valley West is hosting Rally for the Valley at 2 p.m. on Sunday (March 24) at the end of Alta Vista Drive to bring awareness to its concerns.

Last year, Save Linley Valley West approached city council asking if there would be consideration toward purchasing the land to designate it as a park. Council agreed to search for funding mechanisms, but quickly reversed its decision after a strongly-worded letter from Susan Cudahy, former executive director of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, suggesting the city wasn’t legally able to downzone property for its own benefit.

Blattgerste added that new zoning in Nanaimo allows for better infilling and use of designated urban space to reduce the pressure on urban sprawl.

“This will be clusters of dense development set in amongst the plants and environment so people can live in that kind of environment. We’re not the [Lamont Lands] development beside us. The backdrop of nature will be right there … and I’m surprised the people of Save Linley Valley West won’t support this because we’re trying to stop development from occurring on the outskirts of the city.”

The development permit is still in its early stages and not yet ready to go before city council.