Beautiful landscape picture of Sechelt Inlet during a vibrant sunny summer day. Taken in Sunshine Coast, BC, Canada.

History of Advocacy for Gospel Rock

The area within the Gospel Rock Neighborhood Plan (GRNP) is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and ecologically sensitive places on the entire Sunshine Coast, and the last stretch of natural waterfront within the Town of Gibsons. Trees over a century and a half old stand in the mature dryland Douglas Fir-Arbutus forest which stretches from the upper bluffs down to the shoreline.

This type of forest grows exactly where people want to work and live - in sunny areas near the shoreline. As a result, we have logged and developed almost all the stands on the Sunshine Coast. Only a couple of small parcels like this remain between Gibsons and Pender Harbour. This is the rarest of the rare - and all the more valuable for being right next door to the heart of a community.

The Friends of Gospel Rock Society (FoGRS) have a long (35yr) history of actions to defend and protect land on Block 7 in what is now the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan area (GRNP). As well, the Friends are one of the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association’s (SCCA) oldest member groups.

In 2004, the Town of Gibsons initiated the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Planning process (GRNP). FoGRS was given a seat at the Standing Select Committee (2004-2008) table of the planning process. FoGRS requested assistance from the SCCA, which brought us into the planning process. The SCCA participated in and/or monitored all public meetings including council meetings, GR Select Committee meetings, Refinement Committee meetings, public planning events and Public Hearings hosted by the Town of Gibsons.

In 2008, the Town dissolved the GR Select Committee and formed the "Refinement Committee" which eventually produced a draft Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan (GRNP). The GRNP plan went to an official Public Hearing on October 11, 2012. The plan included waterfront housing, development of 'little Africa’, blasting and widening of Gower Point Road and high-density housing in upper Block 7. Approximately 350 people attended the hearing. There were also about 300 pages of written submissions. Only 3 speakers supported the plan. A large majority of speakers stated that they were not opposed to some development up top but were opposed to any development on the waterfront, the forested slopes, the cross rock and 'little Africa'. The written submissions were overwhelmingly opposed for these same reasons.

The Council met to consider the results of the hearing and subsequently voted to reject the GRNP. After an election,   a new Council agreed to amend the GRNP to protect the environmentally sensitive areas that included the forested slopes, waterfront, cross rock and a particularly important polygon containing a rare plant community near the area known to many a 'Little Africa'.

Another Public Hearing was held in January 2013. This time only about 40 people showed up. We don't recall there being any opposition to the new plan. Thus, it appeared that after 30 years of fighting to protect Block 7, a compromise had been struck that the community could support. The amended GRNP was passed unanimously by Council and incorporated into the Official Community Plan (OCP).

In 2017, Green Lane Homes Ltd (Green Lane) acquired Block 7. Through their consultants Modus, they reached out the SCCA and other interest groups to discuss their plans for development. Initially, the SCCA asked Green Lane to donate the property to a land trust organization for a tax benefit. Green Lane was not willing to sell or donate the property for protection. However, the Owner committed to honour the OCP and protect the Environmentally Sensitive Area and Open Space on Block 7.

The SCCA and the Friends, explained to the developer’s consultant that a legally binding covenant would be necessary in order to fully protect the forested lands, waterfront, etc. in perpetuity. In a follow-up meeting, Modus informed us that Green Lane, would agree to a covenant over the natural areas that the Friends, Lovers and SCCA had fought so hard to protect over the last 30 years.

Since the SCCA doesn’t have the organizational capacity to be the sole covenant holder for this property, we sought to find a larger land trust organization to partner with in holding the covenant. In 2018, we were successful in bringing The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) in as a partner. TLC brings significant experience in setting up covenants and has considerable resources with which to defend a covenant over the long term and capacity to respond to issues that may require scientific or legal work as part of the ongoing monitoring of the Covenant area.

In 2018, the Town convened a Public Hearing to approve a zoning and OCP amendment application for Green Lane’s proposed development. The agreement to establish a conservation covenant over the natural area was written into the plan. Approximately 100 people attended the hearing. Many of those in attendance were Elphinstone residents opposed to the project mainly due to traffic impacts and the lack of access to the development area through the Town. There was still some opposition to any development on Block 7 and general opposition to high density housing.

SCCA Chair, Lee Ann Johnson and FOGRS Chair, Daniel Bouman both spoke at the hearing. In his comments Dan characterized the situation as an historic opportunity to protect the environmental features of the property that the public has wanted to safeguard since 1989. In her comments, Lee Ann indicated SCCA support for the plan and encouraged the Town to adopt it because it would finally secure an agreement to legally protect nearly 50% of Block 7.

The SCCA and TLC began negotiations with Green Lane (through their consultant Modus), to establish the conservation covenant and to protect the environmentally sensitive dryland forest. In 2019, the SCCA and TLC were informed that the Town wanted to be a partner in holding the covenant. The Town committed “defer to our expertise” and promised that it would not try to change or write the agreement but would only be a signatory to the final agreement. TLC and the SCCA agreed to partner with the Town.

A first draft of the covenant agreement was tabled in September 2019. However, negotiations stalled  in 2020 due to disagreement over a proposed multi-use trail through the sensitive forested area. This issue was resolved in late 2020 and covenant negotiations moved forward again. A draft agreement was completed in late December 2020.

Sadly, on December 18, 2020, additional tree cutting took place on Block 7. The  tree cutting appeared to violate approvals issued to the owner by the Town in 2020. Consequently, the Town issued a Stop Work Order to prohibit any further cutting.

Gospel_Rock_tree_cutting

The SCCA reached out to the Town in early January to access environmental reports and the legal survey for the property, and to discuss next steps. The Town has agreed to provide the survey and environmental reports to the SCCA, once it receives and reviews them. The Town and SCCA agreed that the Stop Work Order will remain in place on Block 7 until all issues around the environmentally sensitive area can be resolved. The Town has been concerned as well and holds the authority to ensure all requirements…

Moving forward the SCCA remains committed to working with TLC and the Town in good faith, to ensure the sensitive forest on Block 7 is protected and any issues of reparation are addressed.

Gospel Rock. Photograph by Carl Olsen.
Gospel Rock. Photograph by Carl Olsen.

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