Land-Use “Bullies” Put On Notice

Update: Langford’s mayor has given in and scheduled a new public hearing. News report here.

When I don’t blog for a while, it’s usually because I’m out causing trouble for malevolent public officials or unethical developers. But it’s all good, because then I can come back here and dish the dirt with photos and video and all that happy shit.

I’m a founding member of Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network (VIC FAN), a tiny non-profit group that’s challenging the big boys of Bear Mountain. This week, we scored some points in the mainstream media.

Here’s the VIC FAN posse backing me up at Langford City Hall, February 27, 2009. Photo: Edward Hill/Goldstream News Gazette staff

VIC FAN is challenging a public hearing where Langford’s mayor verbally abused and intimidated residents opposed to the Bear Mountain Parkway and South Skirt Mountain Village development. News reports from the hearing on February 23 show an angry Mayor Stew Young browbeating a retired schoolteacher, calling her remarks “negative” and telling her to “sit down.” Other speakers were repeatedly interrupted and confronted by the mayor, who had earlier told reporters that he believes the development should be approved regardless of the public’s objections.

My neighbours want to protect wildlife habitat and water quality for the enjoyment of the whole community, and the way they were treated at the hearing is absolutely appalling.

The media frenzy is still in full swing. Behold:

Critics of Langford Development Assail Mayor’s Conduct
(Times Colonist, front page — above the fold, February 28, 2009)

Activists seek fresh public hearing
(Goldstream Gazette, March 4, 2009)

Langford mayor tangles with citizens over Skirt Mountain development (Times Colonist, February 24, 2009)

VIC FAN has since learned that the city and the developers have failed to notify — let alone consult with — the Tsartlip First Nation, which claims SPAET (Skirt) Mountain as part of its traditional territory. For thousands of years, the mountain has been a shared site where families from the Esquimalt, Songhees, Tsartlip and other First Natons would gather for ceremonies and celebrations.

Now we’re demanding a new public hearing on the South Skirt Mountain development. A February 27 letter to Mayor Stew Young and Langford City Council spells out several violations of the Local Government Act, and warns that if Langford adopts the controversial Skirt Mountain rezoning bylaw, it could be quashed by the Supreme Court.

I went down to City Hall yesterday, gave the letter to a city staff person and told him, “We’re putting the City of Langford on notice that we won’t tolerate bullying citizens who raise legitimate concerns about environmental destruction.”

In the letter to Langford’s mayor and council, our lawyer Irene Faulkner notes that:

  • Pertinent documents, such as an archaeological report, were not made available to members of the public;
  • Some speakers were interrupted and berated by the Mayor;
  • Audience members heckled and jeered at speakers.

The letter continues: “Such conduct suggests that those charged with making the decision were not amenable to any persuasion, but rather went through the motions of holding a hearing with a totally closed mind.”

Provincial statutes and past Supreme Court cases set a clear standard for public hearings on land use, which are considered “quasi-judicial” and expected to maintain “courtroom-like decorum.”

The controversial South Skirt Mountain Village proposal includes 2800 housing units, a village centre and an ecological centre that will decimate the remaining native garry oak and arbutus ecosystems on the steep hillside east of Goldstream Provincial Park and south of Bear Mountain Resort. The west side of the development plan abuts the Florence Lake neighbourhood.

Mayor Young revealed at Monday’s meeting that the city is seeking federal and provincial infrastructure funding for the South Skirt plan, in addition to the Bear Mountain Parkway and the Spencer Road Interchange, which are already under construction.

The interchange project and Bear Mountain Resort itself have been dogged by protests from environmentalists and First Nations people since November 2006. Two caves considered important cultural sites were destroyed during the construction of the interchange and the resort’s second golf course in 2008. In February 2008, more than 60 RCMP officers raided a protest camp and arrested five people. Their charges were later dropped, and a Public Complaints Commission investigation is ongoing.

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