A secret committee could end up reviewing contentious land issues in the sprawling Juan de Fuca electoral area and, while its decisions would be made public, its membership would remain anonymous.
The committee is part of a proposal created by Capital Regional District staff in response to Juan de Fuca director Mike Hicks’s request for a dispute-resolution process that would apply when the CRD board disputes Juan de Fuca land-use decisions about what’s acceptable under the regional growth strategy.
“The electoral area does not receive the same dispute-mechanism right as a municipality — plain and simple,” Hicks told members of the planning, transportation and protective services committee this month.
Under the Local Government Act, each municipality is required to prepare a regional context statement — the essence of its official community plan — that addresses how local planning and land-use policy fit in with the overall regional plan, which is known as the regional growth strategy.
The CRD can accept or reject a municipality’s context statement. If it rejects it, the municipality can appeal to the province for dispute-resolution remedies ranging from peer review to arbitration.
But provincial legislation does not provide for any means of appeal for electoral areas like Juan de Fuca — a situation Hicks is lobbying to see changed.
In the interim, CRD planning staff are suggesting a type of internal dispute-resolution process be established.
Under the proposal, if there was a dispute, the director (Hicks) would notify the board chairperson. A technical review would then be undertaken by a sub-committee of three planners from municipalities in the CRD.
To protect the planners’ independence, CRD staff are recommending that they remain anonymous. They would make recommendations to a panel, which would decide whether the board should review its decision.
Giving the members of the technical review committee anonymity would insulate them from their political masters and their municipal roles, CRD staff say.
“We don’t want them to feel pressure. We just want their knowledge. We don’t want to know who they are,” Hicks said.
Hicks said one only has to look to the controversial Marine Trail Holdings resort proposal of 18 months ago to see how such a dispute might occur.
Marine Trail proposed to build a 257-cabin resort on 236 hectares of land adjacent to the popular Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
The high-profile development attracted interest from across the region and was made even more contentious by the fact that, because it was in the unincorporated Juan de Fuca electoral area, the decision on whether to allow it to proceed was not made by the entire CRD board, but by a committee made up of Hicks and four directors from nearby jurisdictions.
Had the committee approved the development, the CRD board could have decided it was contrary to the regional growth strategy, Hicks said.
“The board could have taken a vote and if the majority of the board voted that it was inconsistent — even though the Juan de Fuca planners said it was consistent — it would have been stopped dead. And there was no dispute mechanism,” Hicks said.
“This [dispute resolution] would give it breathing room.”
The CRD board approved the proposed internal process and will also write to the province asking that Juan de Fuca be given the same dispute resolution process as a municipality.
© Copyright 2013