Despite sunny summer weather, a standing-room-only crowd packed into Chaster House on June 29 to hear about proposed changes to the Elphinstone Official Community Plan (OCP) that will affect properties on Ocean Beach Esplanade.
Ocean Beach Esplanade is a scenic two-kilometre stretch of road that runs along the shore of Georgia Strait from the mouth of Chaster Creek. It is a very popular year-round recreation spot for beach users and pedestrians. However the neighbourhood has presented challenges for residents, SCRD planning staff and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI).
“There’s nothing like Ocean Beach Esplanade anywhere on the Sunshine Coast,” said Area E Director Lorne Lewis, in a later interview. “This was one of the first areas subdivided. A minimum of survey work was done, and the map was drawn out in Victoria. Then the area was sold before there were roads.”
First subdivided in 1907, the Chaster Creek waterfront became a popular summer vacation site for visitors coming from Vancouver by steamship. The area wasn’t accessible by land until Gower Point Road was completed in 1929. Due to inaccuracies in the original survey and the haphazard way that summer cabins were built over the years, many properties have irregularities.
An SCRD survey in 1998 found 13 encroachments of houses, decks, retaining walls, driveways, accessory buildings, landscaping and parking areas onto the road right-of-way or its setback zone, and more encroachments have occurred since. Many properties are also affected by waterfront flood zones, geotechnical hazards on steep embankments, and riparian zones along creeks.
Until recently, property owners who wanted to rebuild or renovate encroaching buildings have faced significant challenges in getting permits from the SCRD and MOTI. So the SCRD has developed a draft policy aimed at bringing consistency to how applications for redevelopment are evaluated and approved.
The June 29 presentation of the proposed policies by SCRD Senior Planner Yuli Siao brought mixed responses from homeowners, some of whom were worried about how changing regional and provincial regulations will affect their properties. Others spoke in support of the SCRD’s attempt to bring a more consistent and fair process that balances the needs of the public roadway with the rights of private property owners.
However, during a lengthy question and answer period it quickly became evident that many residents wanted to talk about other challenges along Ocean Beach Esplanade, most of which lie outside of the jurisdiction of the SCRD because roads in the rural areas are the responsibility of MOTI.
Residents expressed concern about the high volume of traffic in summer, parking congestion, and unsafe driving behaviour on a narrow road that attracts throngs of pedestrians. Others pointed out that allowing property owners to buy back portions of the right-of-way to legalize their properties will leave less room for the road, which is already squeezed between a steep hillside and an eroding shoreline.
The SCRD’s draft OCP amendment for Elphinstone has received first reading, and been referred for comment to other parties, including the Squamish Nation and MOTI. The bylaw amendment will go back to the Planning Committee for second reading, and then a public hearing will be scheduled.