Ender Ilkay’s application to build nearly 300 vacation homes next to the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a blessing in disguise. It’s not a blessing because it’s a good idea or a well-drafted proposal that will benefit our community. It won’t protect the environment, promote sustainability, create affordable housing, or accomplish any of our regional priorities. The proposal—and the controversy surrounding it—is a blessing because it shines a spotlight on southern Vancouver Island’s land-use decision-making system.
Ilkay’s application to rezone seven plots of land abutting Juan de Fuca Provincial Park should have never been considered in the first place. It presents no cost-benefit analysis, minimal land concessions, and has inadequate fire protection plans and raises concerns over wildlife interactions, traffic congestion, water, and septic services that will eventually become an expensive liability for the regional government. The handful of politicians supporting it have clearly revealed they have more interest in facilitating short-term profit for one real estate speculator than long-term prosperity for our community.
On its own, this will be valuable information during local elections in November, but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the problem being revealed lies beneath the surface.
The Capital Regional District board on southern Vancouver Island has been passing the buck for over six months on this issue, searching for an easy way to enforce its own rules against urban sprawl. Barring an enormous cry of outrage from the community and some decisive action from progressive CRD directors, Ilkay’s plan is likely to be approved in September because the policies created to prevent reckless development are next to impossible to enforce. This isn’t the first time we have seen this happen. Silver Spray in the late '90s, the Vantreight application, and the Bear Mountain fiasco are just a few examples of when the community and the regional government have been unable to prevent real estate speculators from having their way with our environment. That pattern indicates a bias in our decision-making system that consistently favours reckless development projects.
This brings us to the base of the iceberg, the biggest part that keeps everything afloat.
It is no accident that rules and systems evolved this way. It was not a surprise or a coincidence that the CRD has developed processes to favour a real estate speculator’s interests above those of the community. These rules were developed in an economic system that functions on perpetual growth on a finite resource base and one of the key elements in economic expansion is the inflation of land prices. Simply put, our economy is enabled by reckless development projects and we have developed a system of rules that allow elite landowners the freedom to feed this cycle by bulldozing our natural areas.
If no one tried to take advantage of this situation then we would never have a reason to look at it closely, so, in a way, we all owe Ender Ilkay and the politicians who support him a debt of gratitude. A simple handshake will do, but then we have to get on with the job of breaking this disastrous cycle.
The CRD board does have the authority to defeat Ilkay’s proposal. The regional growth strategy explicitly prohibits reckless development proposals and the CRD board could make history next month by closing the loopholes in this policy and voting against his application. It would be much easier for them to pass the buck and allow Ilkay to squeak through a loophole though.
Politicians aren’t known for taking chances before an election, so we need to make it clear that this action would be supported by our community. On September 6 and 7, there will be a public hearing on the Juan de Fuca proposal and every single person who cares about the future of our region needs to be there and be heard.
Gordon O’Connor is the Vancouver Island campaigner for the Dogwood Initiative.