A proposal by Metro Vancouver to buy nearly a square mile of forested and waterfront land on Bowen to create a park with 100 walk-or-bike campsites has sparked fears among islanders
Campers with kids and coolers in tow could soon flock to the southwest tip of Bowen Island, where waterfront homes are selling for as much as $18 million and real estate lots are hyping “topographies perfect for tennis courts and patios,” “carefully.” positioned between nature’s rocky outcrops, beneath the smooth-skinned strawberry trees.”
What could go wrong?
That’s the question locals are asking – not because they want to protect the interests of the privileged few who own property on Cape Roger Curtis, or to keep outsiders away from the pristine forests and arid coastal bluffs, but because the island they… call home is already under pressure .
Locals say gentrification, crowded ferries and an affordability crisis are driving renters and low-income families away and changing the feel of the place, which they describe as magical, unique, artistic, accessible and welcoming.
Inviting from a historical perspective except for overnight campers.
Now a $40 million proposal by Metro Vancouver to buy nearly a square mile of forested and waterfront land on Bowen to create a park with 100 walk-or-bike-campgrounds has raised fears among islanders over the Ferry and road traffic and the impact awakened about the intangible gifts of a place that offers peace, creative inspiration, nature, safety and community to those lucky enough to live there.
On a sweltering summer’s day, the island’s tiny seaside town comes alive with activity. The line outside the Snug Café is crammed with tourists clamoring for a table, trucks laden with construction materials rumble up the inland dual carriageway, and a long line of cars, noses down, waiting for the ferry clogs the streets other track .
In the shade of a nearby terrace, Peter Frinton watches the action.
“We have become Whistler Light. Gentrification is already here.”
His voice is briefly drowned out as a chainsaw screams through a metal pipe across the street. In over 50 years on the island, Frinton has built and transformed much, both as a resident, as a local council and as a representative of Metro Vancouver.
The proposed new parkland isn’t just for visitors, he explains. It is for islanders and “offers a stable land use that aligns well with the island’s mandate to create parks and trails.”
What worries Frinton is how the campsite will be managed and who will be coming.
“If it attracts Yahoos that are currently going to Cultus or Harrison or Shuswap where they basically have to have a police unit ready, it’s going to change the face of the community.”
The proposal has the potential to settle a long debate over Cape Roger Curtis.
“This country has probably been the most divisive thing on the island since I’ve been here, 29 years,” said musician Shari Ulrich, who lives on the island.
For decades, the Cape Roger Curtis acreage and waterfront were vacant, privately owned, and open to the public. The forest is dense with firs, cedars and 400-year-old junipers, and its arid coastal cliffs are rich in rare lichens and mosses. Both locals and visitors used it as parkland.
When the site came up for sale in 2002, residents hoped to purchase the land on behalf of the community but could not raise sufficient funds.
In 2004, the property and valuable waterfront promenade was sold to developers for $16 million. Although the official community plan called for 10 hectares of land, a survey showed that islanders wanted to protect more than half of the land from development and reserve at least 60 percent of the shoreline for public access.
Developers Don Ho and Edwin Lee had a plan to preserve much of the shoreline as a park, but to make handing over the prime waterfront commercially viable, they insisted that density had to be increased.
Among the various proposals was a subdivision for 666 units, including 114 affordable housing units, well above what the official community plan allowed. The plan was rejected by the municipal council.
Ultimately, developers reverted to the original zoning, which allowed 59.10 acres of lots suitable for “home ownership.” A subdivision for the rich.
Then came reports of locked gates being erected to keep local migrants out, calls for work stoppages building private docks that one local resident described as “sheer horror,” and concerns about preserving the area’s delicate ecological balance.
“It was very breaking for the community,” Ulrich said.
A 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, the island has long been a haven for artists and musicians like Ulrich, and for commuters who want to raise their kids outside of the city, but still within Metro Vancouver and close enough to commute to work. Around 45 percent of the island is public green space. The population is about 5,000.
Longtime resident Ron Woodall, 87, said upon arriving in 2002 that Bowen was “a cheap place to find an existing shelter and do your art and music”. It was, he said, “hippie outsider heaven and a cheap place to live.”
“The most dramatic change has happened in the last few years,” said Tim Rhodes, a real estate agent at Bowen. “A lot of people from the tech industry and the film industry have moved here, people with younger families and empty nesters.”
Real estate prices have increased by 83 percent in the last five years. In the past two years, prices have risen 64 percent, the biggest jump in Metro Vancouver.
“We desperately need affordable housing and rental housing,” Rhodes said.
While rising property prices are a boon for people looking to sell and move off the island, the higher prices are bringing a different kind of people to the island.
The median household income on Bowen is $111,000, 31% higher than the rest of BC, and 55% of Bowen families have household incomes over $100,000.
With higher incomes come other needs.
“The new people want convenience,” Woodall said. “They want doctors and dentists and community centers.”
There are some benefits to the new demographics: “Wealthy people pay a lot in taxes and don’t charge a lot,” said Frinton, 72.
The new upscale young professionals aren’t doing much volunteering, but they are giving money: $1.29 million for a new community center and theater and $6 million for the new community health center, which will provide primary care and a dentist on the island.
“They care about green spaces and are environmentally conscious,” Frinton said.
Owen Plowman, chairman of the Bowen Island Conservancy, which manages a 13-acre conservation area — about the size of Granville Island — that was created when an anonymous buyer donated three of Cape Rogers’ waterfront lots, said the area “needs to be protected around.” any price.”
Although the expensive waterfront properties have been sold, most inland properties in the Cape remain unsold. Whether it’s because of the downturn in housing markets or, as Plowman suggests, a “limit on what wealthy people are paying for off-water properties,” the sale to Metro will take them away from developers.
“Metro Vancouver is very good with parks — they know what they’re doing, they’re going to put up trails, a lot of the country is being kept in pristine form,” Plowman said. “It’s a win for the developer, a win for Metro and hopefully a win for the islanders.”
Helen Wallwork, who works at the local Phoenix bookstore, isn’t sure it’s a win for the islanders. Wallwork, who grew up on the island, has lived here since it was owned by the Union Steamship Company, the roads were unpaved and life was ‘magical’.
For them it’s not about people. “People have always come to Bowen. There is nothing wrong with people.”
It’s how many people. “We were a little appalled at the size of the campsite. What about the ferry?’ said Wallwork.
Ferries to Bowen regularly run full and late. BC Ferries’ policy is to load larger ferries first, so in the summer Boweners routinely wait half an hour or more past scheduled departure times to board their ferry.
According to BC Ferries, 59,369 people traveled to Bowen in June. A campground serving 100 could bring an additional 35,000 people to Bowen annually, an increase of five percent per month.
David Hocking, a Bowen Island councilor and director of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, said Metro plans to address any practical concerns.
“It will be a monitored campsite with someone on site 24 hours a day. At the moment the fire is of concern due to unsupervised camping and we have had no way of overseeing this.”
“We have to work out the details well and that’s what we intend to do,” Hocking said.
Hocking said transportation solutions could include a foot ferry departing from downtown Vancouver, with a shuttle from Snug Cove to Cape Rogers Curtis so campers aren’t tempted to bring cars.
Though the details have not yet been finalized, Ulrich said she was excited about the proposal — after all, sharing the island is a core value.
“Just because we’re here doesn’t give us the right to stop that kind of experience for other people who don’t live here.”
Each day Ulrich steps outside her home and looks across the Sound at the North Shore Mountains – a view that feeds her soul, her writing and her music. She wants everyone to feel that too, and she has no problem with visitors, whether they come for a day, an overnight stay, or for a lifetime, as she has done.
“It’s a spectacular place.”