The residents of Britannia Beach have spoken, and it appears that local government is listening.
At an SLRD board meeting held Monday, directors decided to table a motion to stop the rezoning of an almost 16-hectare property overlooking Howe Sound from mixed residential to institutional after residents at a recent public hearing strongly opposed the development proposed for the land.
About 45 members of the public attended a meeting held at the Britannia Beach Community Hall on Jan. 31, and voiced concerns about deviating from the Official Community Plan, as well as increased traffic and the amount of tax that would be generated by the proposed rezoning.
But some of the underlying concerns in the community are surrounding the development’s connections to Opus Dei, an organization tied to the Roman Catholic Church.
“The main thrust behind this — and it was veiled by some of these people — is that they had opposition to the fact that it was Opus Dei making the application,” said John Turner, director of Electoral Area D.
Turner says the proposed institution is non-denominational, and would provide training and counselling services to its members.
He points out that Opus Dei has established similar retreats in other places throughout Canada – like in Toronto and Quebec – which haven’t caused problems in the other communities.
“They are environmentally friendly, they’re quiet, there’s no concerns with it, the whole routine,” said Turner.
The development proposed by the Institute of Research and Communication Development (IRCD) would consist of a 40,000 square foot and 20,000 square foot building on a 27-hectare site, and support a total of 50 beds which would mainly be used on weekends.
Turner says at the public hearing he was adamant that there would be no comments about religion, and the discussion was limited to land use concerns.
A staff report presented at the SLRD meeting stated there were no “show stopper” technical issues with land use.
“Visual, environmental, noise and traffic issues could be dealt with so as to result in minimal impact on the Britannia Beach community,” the report states.
From a taxation and traffic standpoint, Turner says the proposed development would be better than a residential zoning. As a residential property, the land has the potential to support 30 to 40 dwellings, which would translate to an approximate tax base of $65,000 per year, while taxes for this institutional facility would be about $135,000 per year.
And the impact on traffic would be minimal, as the facility would be used on weekends.
“The reality is that the number of car trips for 40 homes each day is way more than what would be required for this particular facility,” said Turner.
But many residents are opposed to the project, and recently began mobilizing against the development. They delivered a 135-signature petition just before the public hearing.
“Britannia hasn’t got that many people,” said Turner. “If you’ve got 100 people signing of their free will, then that’s a major chunk of the population, and I would take that as being the dominant position.”
At Monday’s SLRD meeting, board members decided to refer the rezoning issue back to staff to allow the developer time to go back to the community and address their concerns, whether they are about religion, land use, or both.
“I think what we did do is exactly the right thing. We didn’t shut them down, but we didn’t force them on the community, either.”