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General News · 21st November 2016
R. Lawton
Just like City Hall creates bylaws for a big city, the Regional District provides local government on a smaller scale. The opening words of the Local Government Act state:

“The purpose of a Regional District is to foster social, economic and environmental well being”.

- Social well being means stable homes for residents and their kids, and since we can’t achieve that from rental, it requires some form of land ownership.
- Economic well being means enough earning opportunity to live here.
- Environmental well being means we don’t mess up nature.

Just as a car without fuel isn’t much use, and nor is fuel without a car, social and economic well being go hand in hand. The essential ingredients of a healthy, stable population are sufficient earning opportunities AND affordable land (not houses!).

If we don’t manage that wisely we become an artificial society supported by money earned elsewhere with a constant turnover of people. (Does that sound familiar?)

Each Regional District is a group of areas, and rural areas have only one representative who must act in a neutral manner since there is no left and right.

Another handicap is Regional Districts have very limited powers. They can only regulate one of the three well beings - land use. Economy and environment are governed by complicated, overlapping Federal and Provincial legislation and any attempt to govern locally can be overridden by a higher level of government.

Our limited control is achieved in a two step process: 1. an Official Community Plan (OCP) must specify our wishes and intent and 2. only what we state in the OCP can become actual land use requirements in the Zoning Bylaw.

Long ago Cortes Island was a stable community. Families went back generations. Islanders built their own home, grew, gathered and hunted their food and drove beat up old trucks. Harvesting fish, shellfish and trees provided enough income to own inexpensive land. Everything worked because modest income and low cost were in balance.

The new Cortes is an artificial society supported by money earned elsewhere with a constant turnover of new people. Why?

Because we neglected the basic ingredients.

Troubles began long ago when the ferry took away isolation. After a delay land prices jumped and earnings didn’t. In the early stages it was easy to fix - keep land prices within reach by eliminating the cost of subdivision, and encourage value added earnings.

Once upon a time Cortes’ government was open and honest too. Public Meetings were “spirited” to say the least, but every household was fully informed and consulted and outcomes were not distorted.

The original Bylaw and OCP was a 2, 5 and 10 acre settlement plan* well suited to a rural community living inexpensively with minimal infrastructure and limited earnings.
(*2.5 acres was a limit imposed by an over-cautious Health Department and was later removed).

The OCP contains a simple instruction to solve the land problem:
“allow the grouping of dwellings on one property, following appropriate zoning density provisions, but without subdivision, in order to protect the environment and provide affordable housing”.
This means the number of dwellings on large properties can be the same as if the land was subdivided. There is no change in density or population. For example, a 70 acre property that is zoned for 10 acre lots could create 7 new lots, each with a house and cottage, so the same number of dwellings is allowed on the unsubdivided 70 acres. This provides many unique advantages and eliminates the cost of paved roads, hydro, well drilling, surveying and bureaucracy ($50,000 per lot at Siskin Lane and $70,000 for the most recent subdivision near the Whaletown ferry.)

1996 to 2012 was an era of tainted politics.

The 2002 bylaw update commenced in 1998 with an APC review behind closed doors. Having painted himself into a corner, the Regional Director asked a committee to improve what the APC had done. Fourteen volunteers voted unanimously in favour of the multiple dwelling requirement in the OCP. The manipulated APC removed all of the committee’s recommendations from the draft. Public Meetings were avoided in favour of one presentation that contained no mention of multiple dwellings. Loud objections defeated the Public Hearing, but with mere cosmetic changes and still no Public Meetings, it was taken straight back to another Public Hearing. Another wave of objection threatened to defeat it but the Regional Director persuaded the other directors to adopt it by undertaking to create zones that address affordability. Not only was this not done, the issue was actively suppressed and avoided for the rest of his term.

In 2004 a “Planning Manson’s” extravaganza tried to sway public opinion in favour of high density development on my property at Manson’s.

In 2006 the “Cortes Housing Initiative” was a series of closed door, invitation only meetings that tried to create and control high density housing and specify the properties where it would happen. (Mine!)

In 2009 the OCP update began by feeding misleading information about housing density to a consultant who became concerned about bias and asked for my help, and was quickly fired when the community reacted negatively. Public information was manipulated as Steering Committees and APC provided a smoke screen. Everything I submitted vanished. Despite a cleaned up process towards the end, several biased issues remained intact and the update failed to address our social and economic problem. It was an unfortunate waste of three years.

I published a series of articles describing what had happened and put a ban on corrupt government. (I mean it.) The manipulation appeared to subside.

But we have done nothing useful since.

We have also done nothing useful to improve earning opportunities. Half the population lives on pension income or are seasonal residents who earn elsewhere in order to spend part of the year here. The other half is the remnants of the local population and a constant turnover of new people who lack adequate income.

To restore stability, between 200 and 300 new incomes are needed.

Attracting visitors will keep land prices constantly advancing ahead of us, and each new recession will dump us in the gutter as it did in 2008 - after inland property doubled and waterfront tripled in value we suddenly lost our major source of income. Not cool.

The only resource capable of supporting us is the forest providing we add substantial value to trees before they are sold. The issue is not whether we save people or trees.


I’ll elaborate later.

Finally, after two decades of interference and avoidance, we have another opportunity to research the implications of multiple dwellings and have open community dialog. If we choose to do it the instructions in our OCP are easy to implement - just remove the words “to a maximum of (x) dwellings” from each zone. Nothing more is needed. Any attempt to interfere and control will prevent participation.

If you are one of the many people who are concerned about your future on Cortes, I suggest you get involved in the Bylaw update process. It’s boring, legal, bureaucratic and awful. But essential for our future.

This article just skims the surface of some large and complicated topics. I’ll elaborate as the process continues.

already in OCP should result in bylaw
Comment by Max Thaysen on 22nd November 2016
If I'm understanding correctly, the provision for multiple dwellings without subdivision is in the OCP, then it should become a bylaw as well, easily. why not?