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 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.
Town of Gibsons Planning Process
In 2004, the Town of Gibsons initiated the GRNP process. 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, Gospel Rock (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 GRNP document. The GRNP 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. Council met to consider the results of the hearing and subsequently voted to reject the plan.
After some consideration, 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 (82) containing a very rare plant community near the area known as 'Little Africa'. Another Public Hearing was held in January, 2013. This time only about 40 people showed up.
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).
A New Owner
In 2017, Green Lane Homes Ltd (Green Lane) acquired Block 7. Through their consultants, Modus, they reached out to the SCCA and other interest groups to discuss their plans for development. Initially, the SCCA asked Green Lane to donate the whole 45 acre 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 new Owner committed to honour the OCP and protect all of the Environmentally Sensitive Area and Open Space (20+ acres) on Block 7.
The SCCA and the FoGRS explained to Modus that a legally binding covenant would be necessary 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 FoGRS 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 partnering with The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC). 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. A Development Agreement was registered on the title of the property. 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, Bouman characterized the situation as a historic opportunity to protect the environmental features of the property that the public has wanted to safeguard since 1989. In her comments, Johnson 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.
This was a difficult moment for the community as they simultaneously were grieving the loss of half of the land, meanwhile celebrating that half would be saved.
Establishing a Covenant
The SCCA and TLC began negotiations with Green Lane (Modus), to establish the conservation covenant 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 to following 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 a 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. The first draft of the covenant agreement was completed in December, 2020.
Sadly, just as first draft of the agreement was being completed, over an acre of sensitive Dryland Forest was cut down on Block 7 as Green Lane cleared the land in preparation for development. Polygon 82 ("little Africa") was affected. The community was in shock and the Town issued a Stop Work Order to prohibit further cutting.
The SCCA reached out to the Town to try to understand what had taken place. The Town agreed to provide environmental reports on the cutting once it had received and reviewed them. We agreed that the Stop Work Order would remain in place on Block 7 until the issues around impacts on the environmentally sensitive area could be resolved.
Since then, no further tree cutting has taken place on Block 7.
Over the next few months, it was gradually revealed that over an acre of sensitive forest had been cut down due to a missed step in the development process. In fact, a portion of the ecologically sensitive lands had been left out of the covenant area. The conceptual planning boundaries that were used for initial planning phases did not account for all of the sensitive forest. Although the sensitive area was refined in 2019 through expert field study, the lands were not incorporated into the covenant area.
Ideally, the Town’s Environmentally Sensitive Development Permit Area (DPA 2) boundary would have been updated after the field visit in 2019 to ensure all of the sensitive lands were subject to permit guidelines, however this step was missed. Consequently, a large swathe of the dryland forest ecosystem, was left unprotected. In June 2021, Gibsons Council directed staff to “to ensure the sensitive lands outside the covenant area … are protected as quickly as possible.”
Green Lane, and the Town of Gibsons have now recognized the sensitive nature of this area and agreed to work together with the SCCA to ensure it is protected going forward.
In 2021, we also faced an issue on the waterfront lands. Under section 75(1)(c) of the Land Title Act, the Town has an obligation to attain 20m wide road dedications to the ocean every 200m through any subdivision application. In this case, the Act would require two 20m wide road access strips through the protected lands. Both the SCCA and TLC were concerned about the long term impacts of leaving these lands out of the covenant area.
Through ongoing dialogue and negotiation with Green Lane and the Town in 2021, we were able to resolve the issues that arose during the development approvals process. Green Lane and the Town agreed to work with us to ensure all the sensitive areas on Block 7 are conserved.
The Town and the SCCA agreed to work together to formally protect two road dedications on the waterfront that the town was obligated (under the Community Charter) to attain through subdivision. The work to protect these lands will be done once the subdivision is completed, the dedications are registered in the Town’s name and become Town land.
As well, the Town, Green Lane, and the SCCA have agreed to work together to protect the ecologically sensitive lands that were damaged in December 2020. To protect lands on lots 576/57 and the Phase Three Townhouse lot directly adjacent to the covenant area that were so unfortunately left out of the Development Permit Area 2, Environmentally Sensitive Area.
Over the winter of 2021/2022, all parties worked to strengthen and clarify the language of the legal conservation covenant, develop a Memorandum of Understanding between partners and agree on a final contract.
The covenant agreement protecting 16.6 acres of sensitive forests on Gospel Rock was submitted for registration with the BC Land Titles office on March 16, 2022. When combined with the acreage acquired by the Town (through subdivision) as park, the total protected area will be over 20 acres.
There's something about the Gospel Rock property that is hard to explain. We can look at its attributes from a scientific point of view, noticing its rare ecological classification and unusually diverse assortment of flora and fauna. Or we can consider the deep social, emotional and spiritual connection that people all over the region have for this special place. And the great affection our community has for the forests and ocean frontage.
While we wish we had able to protect this property in its entirety, it is remarkable that the current owners joined the movement to preserve the sensitive lands and were willing to give the gift of a conservation covenant to for all time. Something that previous owners were never willing to do.
- Gospel Rock Press Release Covenant Registration (March 28, 2022)
- Tree Cutting on Gospel Rock - EBlast Update (January 2021)
- Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan (July 2017)
- Powers of Municipalities to Designate Land Use Zoning , UVic Environmental Law Center, March 30, 2011
- Gospel Rock brochure (March 2011)
- Comparative Analysis of the Town's Official Community Plan to the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan prepared for the Friends of Gospel Rock (December 2010)
- Request to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) for a review of the Town's response to our FOI request (February 2011)
- Freedom of Information request to the Town of Gibsons (December 2010)
- Letter to the GR developer's biologist asking for clarifications and corrections of environmental assessment studies (November 2010)
- News Article: Conservation Values in the Gospel Rock Neighbourhood Plan Area (October 2010)
- Questions about Gospel Rock (June 2010)
- CDC Response to Questions (June 2010)
- Letter to Town (July 2010)
- Letter to Town re Refinement Committee Terms of Reference (March 2010)
- The Battle for Gospel Rock SCCA Newsletter (Fall 2009)
- Gospel Rock Ad - SCCA (October 2008)
- Response to Environmental Assessment from SCCA (February 2008)
- Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference
- Letter to Town requesting Environmental Impact Study (October 2006)
- Letter to Town re GRNP Phase II Report (July 2006)
How did one of Sunshine Coast's most scenic lookouts get its intriguing name? Explore the mystery of Gospel Rock and enjoy the stunning ocean views with this historical video vignette from the Time Travel Sunshine Coast heritage walking tour. http://www.sunshinecoastmuseum.ca
Produced by: Tamar Kozlov
This short film is a meditation on beauty in the natural world.
The film maker, Sarama, made the film to share his feelings for the sacredness of life in the natural world, of which humanity is an indivisible part.
Gospel Rock is a cultural heritage site that has long been enjoyed for its serene winding trails, rare natural landscapes and panoramic vistas.
Photography by Alan Sirulnikoff
Music: 'Footprints' written by Richard Nelson and performed by Richard Nelson with Keely Halward
A Homeplanet / Sirulnikoff Co-production
The reason for writing the song, Forever Lost, was to bring more awareness for Gospel Rock which is a community gem. People have treated it like a park, walked through, sat with friends and loved ones, had picnics, took pictures, drew pictures, wrote poems, stories, sang songs, etc.
Song writing and film production by Loretta Macklam & Lowry Olafson.
Filming, editing and orchestration by Veronica Alice & Ben Ged Low, among many others.