Living under the radar in Victoria's Inner Harbour
Mere metres from an airport is no place to call home, according to one recent resident of the Wharf Street marina.
Elena Yovovich and her partner first moored their boat in the marina in the summer of 2008.
“(We moved in) because there was nowhere else to go and I did not know how bad it would be,” she said.
Noise at the marina, wedged between the Hyack Air and Kenmore Air terminals and Harbour Air and West Coast Air terminals, never ceased for more than 10 minutes at a time, she said.
“You can’t actually breathe outside,” she said, demonstrating how she used her sleeve to filter the fumes created by the float planes.
Yovovich’s complaints have sparked a series of reactions, including an investigation into live-aboard vessels at the marina by the City of Victoria and a review by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.
Yovovich is not opposed to the working harbour. But the harbour authority needs to better accommodate residents at its marinas, who are charged a live-aboard fee, she said.
Her complaint to the city – the zoning authority on the waterfront – alerted planners to a conflict.
Live-aboards are not actually permitted at the Wharf Street marina, confirmed senior planner Jarret Matanowitsch. “Now that it’s come to our attention … we’re doing our research to see what our jurisdiction is.” When it comes to the harbour, however, jurisdiction is far from clear.
“There’s so many different levels of governments; we’re working to clarify that issue,” Matanowitsch said.
For Yovovich, her irritation came to a head last fall when the city rezoned a water lot to allow Harbour Air to reconfigure its floatplane docks.
The rezoning effectively moved the planes closer to the Wharf Street marina. Live-aboards were not notified of the application because they aren’t technically downtown residents.
“The non-status of people living on the boats is a problem,” said Coun. Lisa Helps, council’s liaison for downtown residents.
“I don’t know what to do about it. But there’s something backwards or uncertain in my mind about (the harbour authority) saying (to residents) ‘you have to pay us to live on your boat, but we don’t care if there are airplanes flying by, because you don’t actually live here.’”
Helps calls it a social justice issue.
For some, it’s about housing affordability, she said. “Living in the Inner Harbour – as toxic as that can be – (affordability is) part of why it’s complicated and why people can’t just lift anchor and leave.”
Other live-aboards at Wharf Street marina, however, don’t share Yovovich’s concerns, and worry her complaints could get them kicked out.
“It is a working harbour,” said Rick Schnurr, a marina resident and director of the B.C. Nautical Residents Association, which has a mandate “to preserve and support the tradition of living aboard one’s vessel.”
Schnurr and his wife moored their 42-foot converted fish boat at the marina two years ago, but have lived on the water for 15 years.
“We’re here, the airplanes are here, the tugboats are here, the barges are here, the tourists are here,” Schnurr said.
“We’re all part of the mix and quite frankly, my wife and I choose this environment because it’s exciting, it’s interesting. We don’t want to be in a yacht club.”
Meanwhile, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is doing its own review.
Curtis Grad, who took over as president and CEO last year, said Yovovich’s complaints are symptomatic of deeper-rooted issues.
“That whole Inner Harbour, from Belleville all the way to the Blue Bridge, needs to have a comprehensive view so we can start making good planning decisions.”
That means finding the most suitable location for all marine activities, including float planes, ferry terminals, transient moorage, whale watchers and live-aboards. Such master plans, however, are years away from implementation. For now, Grad is looking for a short-term solution for the Wharf Street marina.
“We will be looking next fall at whether or not we put live-aboards in that particular area of the harbour,” he said. “We haven’t decided yet, but that is a review underway between now and September.”
Grad wants residents of the 40-odd live-aboard vessels moored in the GVHA’s various marinas to be part of the process, and he has encouraged them to form an association to represent their interests.
Schnurr is stepping up to the challenge.
“It’s kind of like herding cats, because we’re such a bunch of independents,” he said, laughing.
Challenges aside, he said, “we’d like to be a part of that discussion. That’s the whole reason we’re happy that Curtis proposed that we form this liaison group.”
By the numbers
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority hosts live-aboard residents on their vessels at three locations.
• Causeway marina: 12 vessels (Oct.-May)
• Wharf Street marina: 8 (Oct.-May); 11 (year-round)
• Fisherman’s Wharf: 28 (year-round)