Marjorie Gang has been a resident on Denman Island for many years, though not always full-time.
She bought in 1987 and had erected a small cabin at first but could not add a house. She did add an extension after retiring to the island full-time. She lives in the extension with her partner, as they run a seasonal guest accommodation business with the cabin. She says she’s had various issues trying to develop the property, such as around adding provisions for cooking for guests.
The matter, she feels, ultimately reflects a problem with the Islands Trust, the agency that oversees certain aspects of life — in her case, land-used issues. It was established in 1974 to protect the islands and waters between the Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. While Denman and neighbouring Hornby Island are unincorporated areas within the Comox Valley Regional District, they represent the northern fringe of the islands in the Islands Trust domain. Ordinarily, a regional district would handle matters such as zoning or official community plan (OCP) amendments, so this land-use arrangement represents an anomaly.
For Gang, this is at the heart of her concerns about recent changes proposed by Islands Trust, which she also expects could result in an increased tax requisition running in the double digits.
“I’ve watched the Islands’ Trust grow from a worthy tool to control rampant development in the Trust Area to an over-priced, over-staffed, rather self-serving bureaucracy,” she wrote in an Oct. 16. email to Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osbourne. She did receive a response from a staff member in the Ministry’s Planning and Land Use Management Branch outlining the Islands 2050 process for Islands Trust to update its Policy Statement, which ultimately guides land-use, adding the Islands Trust Council is responsible for local engagement.
This fall, a number of islands’ residents have gotten together virtually to hold online video forums to discuss concerns and next steps. Gang was one of the people on the agenda at the recent meeting on Oct. 27, though moderator Mairead Boland actually read the letter she sent. The potential for an overarching bylaw to replace the local land-use legislation is one of the issues. In this case, Gang is concerned about Bylaw 183.
The matter of governance is also up for discussion, with some suggesting the Trust has become too bureaucratic. John Cowhig of Saltspring talked about how the Trust was turning into “Big Government,” something that residents wanted to avoid when coming to the islands.
Saturna trustee Lee Middleton, who chairs the Islands Trust Governance and Management Review Select Committee, explained the process of even conducting a review was controversial and barely passed before the 26-member council.
“It’s difficult to have dialogue to reach consensus,” he said. “It’s not a strong model for governance.”
If nothing else, some would like to see the first bylaw reading for the Policy Statement delayed until after next fall’s local government elections. The response Gang received noted that the Island Trust Council has held off first reading until December to allow more time for input.
A surprise speaker at the recent forum was former federal cabinet minister and senator Pat Carney, who outlined what she felt should be the process and also touched on the issue of the autonomy of the islands’ OCPs. Referring to a point made earlier by another speaker, fellow Saturna resident John Money, she said their own plan was the product of a decade of work.
“It worked pretty well on our island,” she said.
Carney said she had tried to engage Islands Trust but found challenges around getting clear information even on matters such as population numbers. With many years in federal politics, she admitted the language around the policy is bureaucratic and that the process needs engagement with senior governments.
“I can’t really understand what it is that they’re really trying to achieve,” she said, adding, “The goals are undefined. The data is inconsistent…. It’s unclear whether our autonomy is going to be taken away.”
As to the reason for the changes, the Islands Trust notes on its website it has been 26 years since it has updated its Policy Statement. The process is to help prepare the communities for challenges, particularly around land- and marine-use planning, over the next 30 years, especially in light of issues like climate change or First Nations Reconciliation — which the Trust points out are not contained in the current version. There is more information on the process and draft documents at the website at islandstrust.bc.ca