Nanaimo’s city council continues to wrestle with a decision to allow development on a Protection Island property that was first rejected for development in 2004.
The land at 25 Spyglass Lookout – comprised of three small islets bearing Garry oaks and other native vegetation and partly surrounded by salt marsh – was zoned for residential development when the island was subdivided in 1960 before environmental setback standards were established.
A development permit application was denied in 2015 and also to a previous owner in 2004, but the current owner was back with a new application before council Monday, Dec. 6.
Alfredo Tura, of Comox, wants to build an 840-square-foot log cabin on the largest of the three islets. The proposal also calls for construction of a raised walkway connecting the islet to Protection Island that would carry electrical power, drinking water and sewage.
Jeremy Holm, city director of development approvals, said at Monday’s meeting that in the two years since a development permit was denied, “the applicant has worked with a qualified environmental professional and a professional engineer to further minimize the impacts within the aquatic setback.”
Holm said the proposal meets the area’s development guidelines and doesn’t impact environmentally sensitive areas identified by the environmental professional who recommended a vegetation management plan.
But the proposal also asks that aquatic setbacks be reduced from 15 metres to 6.4 metres for the dwelling and from 15 metres to zero metres for the walkway. The cabin would be located on a previously cleared area.
“Staff supports the proposed aquatic setback variances with conditions that the site be developed in accordance with the recommendations of the qualified environmental professional,” Holm said.
Tura said his vision since 2017 is to create a protected private park, build a “state-of-the-art” log cabin on the property and be a steward for its Garry oak ecosystem. He said he was reassured that the lot is meant to be residential because city services were available to connect to the property and city officials also assured him his project is viable, but would take time and a team of experts to make happen.
“I don’t mind a long-term project because I understand that vision takes time and I have vision for this precious piece of land,” Tura said.
He said he removed invasive species, planted new oaks and other native plants, removed garbage and discouraged beach fires, which he said were common. He also spent $50,000 for a senior environmental biologist, a geotechnical engineer, civil engineer, coastal engineer, a registered land surveyor and a lawyer to help create a proposal for an environmental covenant and consulted with and received support from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Port of Nanaimo and B.C. Hydro.
“The reports were unanimous. The proposed cabin and overall project are viable and would not result in any significant detrimental effect to the local ecosystem,” Tura said.
The hearing drew 17 delegations, eight of whom – mostly Protection Island residents – opposed the development. Those speaking against the permit said the setback variances, if approved, could violate federal, provincial and municipal environmental regulations and also suggested rising sea levels due to climate change will ultimately inundate most of the property and create potential pollution hazards should the walkway be damaged and the service lines break. Several suggested the city buy the lot and designate it a park.
Corrine Brolewicz said the lot is zoned incorrectly and said a perimeter fence on the property would be detrimental to wildlife. She said the proposed walkway will violate federal and provincial legislation.
“Recent federal legislation has made new protections for fish habitat and I’ve seen seals hunting in the bay,” Brolewicz said. “Similarly, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act protects all navigable waterways from obstruction, which includes waters surrounding these islets. These waterways have been enjoyed by kayakers and other recreational boaters and the proposed bridge walkway will block these navigable waterways. It does differ from other boardwalks. It is carrying raw sewage.”
Following the delegations, Coun. Sheryl Armstrong moved that the decision be deferred to the next council meeting councillors could find out more information.
Sheila Gurrie, city clerk and director of legislative services, advised that council could hold a closed meeting to seek legal advice prior to making a decision.
“In light of concerns expressed by Coun. Armstrong and, reading between the lines, the comments of Ms. Gurrie, and any legal issues that may have arisen tonight, I think the appropriate thing is to defer,” said Mayor Leonard Krog.
The motion was carried with councillors Ben Geselbracht, Tyler Brown and Jim Turley opposed.