Executives at Western Forest Products (WFP) must have been dancing on their board room tables last Thursday. That was when the BC court of appeal released its decision to quash the CRD’s progressive zoning by-laws on a legal technicality presented by WFP’s lawyers. Outraged community members from across Vancouver Island are now appealing to the government to protect their forests from urban sprawl.
Western owns 70 000 acres of recently privatized Forest Resource Land on Southern Vancouver Island and as of August 10 at 11:00 AM it was open season for them to build strip malls and condos up and down our Wild Coast. This opportunity for reckless development was created when the government privatized our land so it falls to them to intervene and protect our forests until the CRD is able to draft new by-laws.
Disdain for the Community
The privatization happened in January 2007 when the Liberals removed the 28 000 ha in question from the Tree Farm License (TFL) agreement. They argue that WFP needed freedom to sell land to pay down their debt*. Local Residents, First Nations, environmentalists and nature lovers were unanimously outraged. They condemned the government for violating First Nations Rights, jeopardizing forestry jobs and for failing to protect Vancouver Island’s iconic forests from reckless development. CRD residents rallied together to stave off urban sprawl and drafted new zoning bylaws that limited lot sizes to 120 ha minimums in Rural Resource Lands. WFPs response to this clear articulation of the community’s interest was to put their lawyers to work and sue the CRD over a legal loophole that they could use to stay in the Real Estate game.
Since the TFL deletion WFP has re-financed their debt away from their parent company and now wants to sell the contested land to raise cash. The court decision paves the way for this to happen. Chances are they are now looking for the highest bidder, and if the land is sold before the CRD is able to re-draft their by-laws we could see disastrous and poorly regulated urban sprawl on our beautiful wild coast and throughout the CRD’s Rural Resource Land.
Province Must Act
The Provincial Government initiated these circumstances by lifting the TFL agreements for Western Forest Products. They were condemned by the auditor general for acting against public interest and now it’s up to them to solve the problem that they created.
Click here send a letter to Gordon Campbell and tell him that to represent community interests on this issue he needs to use the Municipal Enabling and Validating Act to protect old CRD bylaws and declare a moratorium on the sale of Forest Resource Land until the CRD can draft and approve new zoning plans. If he fails to act in this regard one of the most valuable parts of our Island could be paved over forever.
* This rationale was invalid because at the time WFP’s debt was owned by its parent company who was profiting off of the interest.