Way back in 2011, Ender Ilkay tried to slip 260 cabins under the Capital Region’s radar in the hope of creating a secret haven for tourists along the Juan De Fuca Trail.
Being more developer than slight-of-hand magician, he failed to keep his proposal out of the public eye. The resulting controversy generated thousands of letters and phone calls to Capital Regional District directors and drew hundreds of protesters to a dozen events in Sooke and Victoria.
After many sleepless nights for politicians hounded by environmentalists, hiking enthusiasts and angry Jordan River residents, the vote was a unanimous ‘No’ and the proponent slunk back into the shadows for the next two years.
Recently, Ilkay made headlines once more when he made good on his earlier promise to start clearcutting the 236-hectare lot as revenge on activists for effectively destroying his property’s investment potential.
While his proposal’s defeat may have been the end for Ender Ilkay, for the rest of us this small victory was only the beginning. Since 2011, a group of Jordan River residents and local environmental NGOs have formed the Jordan River Steering Committee to lobby for a halt to future subdivisions in the Juan de Fuca area.
Stretching from Sooke to Port Renfrew, the area in question accounts for nearly two thirds of the entire Capital Region. While the committee has yet to issue a formal vision for the area, member and Western Wilderness Committee campaigner Torrance Coste said future developments like Ilkay’s must be avoided.
“What we don’t want to see happen out there is urban sprawl,” Coste said.
Residents of the Juan De Fuca area have plenty of reasons to worry. A decade ago, two subdivisions owned by Totangi Developments – The Shores and Wildwood Terrace – were accidentally rezoned when CRD planning staff misplaced a bylaw which restricts lot sizes in that area to 120 hectares. At that time, CRD staffer Bob Lapham said the mistake would not be repeated, and assured the public the accidental developments would set a precedent for future projects.
Just a few years later, Ilkay’s proposal similarly ignored both the minimum lot size for the Juan De Fuca area and the Regional Growth Strategy – the other major CRD policy concerning development outside of the region’s downtown and West Shore centres.
In place since 2003, the Regional Growth Strategy proposes “keeping urban areas compact and largely contained,” while ensuring that the region’s wild spaces are left for future generations. That a proposal which failed to accommodate any existing plans for the Juan De Fuca area even made it to a vote reveals The Shores and Wildwood have indeed set a precedent for development outside of the region’s urban areas.
Why am I boring you with all of this ancient history? In 2003 and again in 2011, the CRD promised us that developments like The Shores and debacles such as the one I’ve just related to you would never happen again.
A decade later, nothing has changed. As the Regional Growth Strategy awaits integration into a comprehensive Regional Sustainability Strategy next year, it’s time for the public to ask when the CRD will start to back up its promises.
Simon Natrass’ opinion column appears Fridays in this newspaper and at vicnews.com.