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Dionisio Point Road Access and the Future of BC Public Lands
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ArticleId: 3840 Written: 2012.05.29 by: Robin Tivy

As you may know, on the long weekend in May, there was an unfortunate confrontation on the road which leads to the provincial park at Dionisio Point on Galiano Island. Three men in a red Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck were stopping all visitors to the Provincial Park, and telling them they could not go onto the road. They then went to the park itself and began harassing campers who may have used the road before they were there. I received a phone call from one of the woodlot owners several days later, complaining about things written on Bivouac.com by various people. He initially demanded that all postings be removed, under threats of legal action. In particular, he objected to references to the woodlot owners as "developers". As I talked to him, I could sense he was not necessarily happy to be ruining people's weekends. His reason for harassing cyclists was to hope to bring pressure the Islands Trust or government to resolve zoning issues on his woodlot property.

So I am spending some time looking into this issue in depth, so as to become more educated, and try to understand his viewpoint. Some of the stuff posted on this website and others in the past has not reflected a full understanding of the situation. So I spent several days thinking about it, and looking into more of the facts. The issue of access to parks and public lands is important to me, so I thought it was worth finding out as much as I could. My explanation below may not be very good yet, but I'm working on it and I will make more corrections as I find out more.

My dream is that somehow the whole thing can be resolved in a reasonable way that gives public access to the provincial park, and at the same time compensates the woodlot owners in a fair way.

A world that works for everybody. You might say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

As you will find out if you investigate, the Dionisio problem has been developing since the early 1990's. Like all land, at one time it was free to everybody. Then at some point it became a forest land owned by Macmillan Bloedel. Then in the 1990's, Macmillan wanted to sell it. The island would not buy it, so they broke it up into 100 pieces and sold off to various families as "woodlot" properties. On paper, people were buying "woodlots", but to the buyers they were buying "land", just like my back yard in Vancouver. There was every expectation by the buyers that once they had the land, they would be able to get the zoning changed to residential, so they could build retirement houses on their land. So they built the road, at considerable cost, as part of this process. There are 100 such woodlots, but only 17 of them overlap the Bodega beach road. So it is those 17 families I am talking about. 17 waterfront lots.

As I said, the owners expectations were that they would eventually get the right to build houses on these lots. But midstream, the rules changed and they were prevented from doing this by Islands Trust who controls the zoning). What they want is to build 1 house per lot on the waterfront side, which would be 10-20 acre lots, for a total of 17 houses.

So now the unfortunately are stuck with owning woodlots that they cannot legally build a "house" on. They pay taxes on their land, but they can't build houses. What to do? It should be pointed out that the 17 owners are not necessarily all of the same opinion. Most are pretty reasonable people, and have become victims in a savage battle that has divided the island, and has them paying taxes for 20 years on land they can't use. Only a minority endorse the strategy of using the general public as a bargaining chip in their dispute with the Islands Trust. So I'm addressing this to the people in the red pickup truck who were turning back cyclists from the park.

Those people feel they have the right to deny the public the right to cross their property. To them, its their land - it's not a woodlot, and they expect everybody to recognize their rights as land owners. . They paid for the road, and now they can't build their houses. They feel the Islands Trust doesn't really have the right to restrict what they can do with their properties.

They would say that a mere hiker or cyclist has no rights to get to the park. They own the land, so they make the rules. But its not entirely that simple. In most northern European countries, everyone has a basic "right to roam", and land ownership cannot be used to deny people access to forest lands. They did not get those rights automaticallly out of the goodness of the land owners of England. The rights were established by "mass trespass" demonstrations, and graduallyl their ownership rights were curtailed to be closer to a world that works for everybody.

So perhaps the message to the land owners is to not push too far in over playing their "land ownership" card. Do they truly have the right to use the public as third party bargaining chips in a zoning dispute? Or will exercising such rights simply result in legislation to limit their rights?

The tactic of making things hard on powerless third parties as a bargaining strategy is not limited to land owners. The same thing has happened in transit strikes or teachers strikes. The land owners should keep in mind that the "rights" of land owners are no more sacred than the rights of unions or anyone else. "Rights" have been given to them by society, and can be limited by society.

The public certainly has the right to question the process whereby what was once public land gets converted to private land. And to question exactly what "rights" go with land ownership.

In general, there have been too many cases where historical trail access has been cut off by someone getting control of the property at the base of the trail. (This is slightly different case than Dionisio Point, but still relating to the issue of land ownership. When I came to British Columbia, the Lake Lovely water trail was in frequent use by lots of people. You used to go down a little road, then cross the river by canoe or fisheries cable car, and then hike up through spendid old growth forest, right from sea level.
  But then someone got the piece of land at the bottom of the trail, and the right to log it. One time when John Baldwin and I were hiking down the trail, two surveyers were at work. They told us to "just keep on hiking" and mind our own business. A few years later, the land was clear cut. And now that land is for sale. The following advertisement appeared in various publications:

 

Property Type: Vacant Land Size: 94 Acres Property Price: $3,000,000 This amazing acreage (94 acres) fronts the Squamish River and offers breath-taking scenery and views of the Squamish River Valley, Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains and the only access trail to Lake Lovely Water and the glacier above. Development potential is only limited by your imagination. The bluff has been cleared and could accommodate a lodge and recreation centre for outdoor enthusiasts. There is considerable remaining uncut timber. At this time, access to this property is by the river (cable car) or helicopter. River and rafting adventures, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and back-country skiing are but a few of the activities that would adapt well to this site. This is the opportunity to own an ADVENTURE DESTINATION!

Property Address DL 1510 Squamish Valley Squamish

Realtor Information Company Name: Sutton West Coast Realty Contact: Candice Dyer or Patrick Saintsbury Tel. No.: 604-306-8911 or 866-978-8866

  So someday soon, you'll be told you have no "rights" to cross someone's land. Not only that but on the other side of the Squamish River, there is also now an issue. It has always been that the road to the river crosses First Nations land. But now, on that road, long time Bivouac member Frank Baumann wrote the following road bulletin:

 

It is important to recognize that the road to the Squamish River gauging station that is used to access the Lake Lovely Water Trail crosses Squamish Nation territory. Their rights, like those of any private property owner, must be respected- which means that the road should only be used with their express permission, and in accordance with any conditions that the Nation decides are necessary to preserve and protect their land. Currently, this road is closed to public use, and I am not aware that this status will change any time soon. This means that other ways must be found to access the Tantalus area.

So effectively, Lake Lovely Water is now a helicopter destination. Is this what we want BC to become? A set of carved up little "properties" so that everybody can play the "property game". England could have been the same, but they decided NO in that country. Is this the solution to the injustices done to our first nations - to convert them into petty "land owners", so they can use land ownership as a pressure point to address other issues?

 


Comments

#6115 - 2017.08.21 Robin Tivy - Therah Village will be wheel locking vehicles on their Easement road
I received the following email from Andrea, who I think is expressing a concern of Tehrah Village.

The Tehrah village website says: "The purpose of the Therah Project is to create a village community in which individuals are nurtured and empowered to express their humanity in a way that contributes to all members of the global community."

The email I received said the following: "Therah Village has been having a significant and persistent problem with people trespassing on our land; by foot, bike, motorbike and cars. We would like to remind the community and visitors to Galiano that this is private property.The access points are clearly marked, with "no trespassing" , "no parking" and "private property" signage. There is no public access to the beach or park.

The residents are concerned about fire hazards, environmental destruction, safety issues and privacy.

Therah Village would like to alert the community that as a solution to this problem Therah's management will be wheel locking or towing vehicles found on on property or parked on our easement rd. Trespassers who are caught will be fined and reported to the police. It is not permitted to come through or use the property at Therah without the explicit invitation of a resident.

Thankyou for your understanding and cooperation.

#1617 - 2012.06.04 Steve Grant - Thanks for the updates.
It's great to hear that despite the more than ample grounds for people to refuse to deal with each other, the parties in this dispute finally seem to be approaching reconciliation and agreement.

It occurs to me that the parties involved may want to consider keeping the park as a basically walk-in or paddle-in site. At least for some of the year. Making it directly accessible to motor vehicles will lead to it being filled to capacity with people arriving by car (since they can reach it faster from the ferries than cyclists), will encourage "party" problems (since goons generally don't want to walk very far), and will also result in more car traffic on Galiano.

The existing access, which means several Km on foot or bicycle, minimizes problems such as hooliganism and car traffic. With legal but hike/paddle-in access, it might be just the right balance of capacity, impact and use.

Something to consider.

#1616 - 2012.06.04 Bowie Keefer - History of the Road to Dionisio Point from one of the reasonable owners
It's time to solve an impasse that has dragged on disgracefully for 17 years!

The road to Dionisio Point Park was built by 17 families, who in three separate groups had purchased 380 acres of waterfront forest land in three large parcels (District Lots 79, 85 and 86) adjacent to the Park. The road was completed in 1995 to comply with Provincial subdivision requirements, so the three large lots could be subdivided into 17 lots so that each family might enjoy a vacation residence on its own 20 acre forest lot as allowed by zoning then in effect. Direct construction cost of this 3 kilometer paved highway at the time was $1 million, not including right-of-way land value, project management and labour contributed by the owners. Its value today would be increased by a large multiplier for financing costs and inflation over 17 years.

This road was built with active encouragement from the provincial government, which wanted to have public highway access to Dionisio Point Provincial Park. Indeed, the owners were encouraged in a letter from the recently retired Deputy Minister of Transportation that Provincial reimbursement for paving expenses to the Park might be expected. Ministry staff were accordingly directed to guide the owners in their construction tendering and cost-accounting procedures, to facilitate contemplated reimbursement by the Crown with "a minimum of red tape".

Under a temporary public access easement agreement that was requested by the Province, the owners of DL's 79 and 85 were contractually required by the Province to obtain subdivision approvals diligently so that the road could be promptly dedicated to the Crown 17 years ago.

Shortly after the road was completed, an appeal court decision made it possible for the Islands Trust to enforce a downzoning of the Galiano forest lands. Minimum lot size was increased from 20 acres to 50 acres. Residential use was sterilized, except under covenants empowering a private society to control detailed forest management by the owners on their own private property, or alternatively after "donation" of ¾ of the land and 2/3 of the waterfront to another private society. This downzoning prevented subdivision approval, and the road was not dedicated.

The owners were personally advised by the then Minister of Municipal Affairs in 1995 to barricade their private road to bring pressure for some resolution of their predicament. One owner group (DL 86) had already closed their portion of the road against public access. The Ministry of Environment tried to force this private road open as a de facto public road, arguing that its service easement for park maintenance would enable unrestricted public use of this private road. The government entered the private property of DL 86 with machinery to remove a gravel mound barricade that the owners had placed across the road. The owners had their contractor raise the barricade to a greater height with more gravel. The government again physically invaded private property to bulldoze the barricade. This unseemly earth-moving contest continued until the government threatened a court injunction. Seventeen years later, the huge gravel pile still remains on the pavement.

The provincial government then took the owners of DL 86 to court in order to obtain public access over the private road. The court determined that the service easement over private land could not be interpreted as a de facto public highway, and recommended expropriation with fair compensation. The government ignored that advice, instead dragging the owners of DL 86 back to court for an appeal which the Crown lost. Having been advised by the court to expropriate the road, the government ducked all responsibility by denying that it had any need for the road, although it evidently had needed the road enough to justify its repeated efforts to seize this private road for public use by physical action and litigation.

Over recent years, the Provincial Government has taken a positive interest in resolving this matter. Excellent collaboration between BC Parks and landowners has resulted in plans for achieving major expansions of Dionisio Point and Bodega Ridge Provincial Parks and solving public access issues. BC Parks invested $700,000 in 2008 to acquire a key area (DL 87) of 160 acres, while the owners contributed $68,000 to that purchase and agreed to donate another 120 acres to Dionisio Point Park. A joint rezoning application between BC Parks and the owners was submitted to the Islands Trust in order to complete the original subdivisions so that the road could be dedicated without any need for expropriation.

While the Islands Trust had encouraged BC Parks and the owners to go forward with this plan in the spring of 2008, the Galiano Island Local Trust Committee rejected the park expansion proposals in March 2009. The rationale was that Galiano Island's Official Community Plan was about to be revised, and the Trustees didn't want to make enabling amendments to facilitate this proposal at that time. The forest policy advisory committee of the Official Community Plan review process recommended a sufficiently flexible approach to this kind of rezoning application, for this proposal to be considered and accepted if the Trustees are so inclined.

Good progress is now being made by the Trustees in supporting proposals to expand Bodega Ridge Park. It is hoped that the Trustees will also be receptive to the somewhat different proposal for expanding Dionisio Point Park, together with public dedication of the access road.

Prepared by: Bowie Keefer revised 3 June 2012

#1615 - 2012.06.04 Robin Tivy - Some Corrections based on input from Islands Trust
I am becoming more educated about this from various people. The first correction is that my term "woodlot" is not the correct term. The correct term is "Forest Lots". So straddling the road there are three "forest lots". (District lots, from north to south: 79,85 and 86). The original idea of "forest lot" was that people would carry on forestry on these lots. The zoning was intended that people would carry on "forestry" on the lots, the idea being local jobs, etc.

But Macmillan Bloedel took it to court, because the land would have more value if they could be subdivided into 20 acre lots. At first, they won in court, but upon appeal, they lost. It was during this 2 year gap that the present forest lot owners bought the lots and built the road to the park (at a cost of 1 million) having the expectation that they could subdivide. Although legally they knew this was not guaranteed, they had the expectation it would be resolved in their favor.

Shortly after the road was completed, the appeal decision changed things, so the owners were not going to get their hoped 20 acre lots. In fact the minimum lot size was now 50 acres, not 20 acres.

The forestry lots could have one house plus one cabin each. But the lots were bought by 17 families, in 3 separate groups. The total is 380 acres. Each family had the expectation to build vacation residences on their own 20 acre forest lot.

From 1995 onward both the Islands Trust and some of the landowners have worked on various proposals. One sticking point is the issue of "clustering". The islands Trust wants the houses to be "clustered" onto 5 acre lots. One idea of this is to allow their to be public access to the waterfront. The owners proposal is that there would be 17 contiguous private lots, without that public access corridors. The public would not have ownership to any of the land east of the road.