A conditional groundwater licence (file 20006356/search number 500810) has been approved for a major housing complex on Park Drive near downtown Ganges. The licence, issued by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, allows for the diversion of a maximum of 19 cubic metres of water per day.
The groundwater diversion relates to a rezoning application currently before the Islands Trust. The proposal, by Eric Booth representing Salt Spring Ventures Inc., involves amenity zoning, meaning that there is a request for higher densities in exchange for a benefit to the community.
A 3.28 acre parcel on Park Drive, which contains Swanson’s Pond, was rezoned in the late 1980s allowing for 33 dwelling units.
In 2013, the applicant submitted a rezoning application seeking 83 densities on the property. That application was rejected by the Trust, and the applicant was invited to submit “a revised application more in conformance with Official Community Plan guidelines”.
In 2014, the North Salt Spring Waterworks District declared a moratorium, leaving the property with piped water for only one unit.
In 2016, Mr. Booth submitted the current rezoning application which seeks to increase the total allowable units from 33 to 49, with the understanding that 8 of the additional units be designated as affordable housing. The proposed density would be serviced through a combination of groundwater and rainwater catchment.
In their report, Trust staff indicate the application “has merit for consideration”. However, they recommend that the LTC not proceed until the owner can demonstrate, among other things, there is sufficient water “for all proposed units” and for irrigation and fire suppression. This would include an assessment of “how groundwater use on the site will impact nearby wells or other neighbourhood water supplies”, as well as “agriculture activities” and “springs necessary to maintain fish habitat”. Any pump test should be “of sufficient duration to establish the long-term reliability of the water supply”.
Staff recommend that the applicant be asked to provide a water servicing plan, and that the plan be referred to the Secretary to the Comptroller of Water Rights, Island Health, CRD Building Inspection and the North Salt Spring Water District for review and comment.
In 2007, a great many island residents lobbied to have the Swanson’s Pond property protected from development and set aside as wetland. A petition organized by local high school students garnered 442 signatures from teachers and students. This was followed in 2009 by a local campaign, supported by West Coast Environmental Law, to subject the property to a full environmental review. There is no mention of these campaigns in the background information provided in the Trust staff report.
The report states that the applicant “wishes to provide the LTC with a letter of undertaking to enter into a housing agreement at the time of bylaw adoption.” Trust staff, however, “do not support proceeding on the basis of a letter of undertaking and recommend to the LTC that a housing agreement to which all parties are amenable be drafted as early as possible for registration before bylaw adoption.”
It further states that “submission of a concurrent development application at the time of rezoning can be seen to demonstrate that the rezoning underpins a genuine intention to develop, rather than a speculative exercise.”