I sent the letter last year out of concerns for the 30-acre forest at our southwestern end of Whiffin Spit. It had been sold after long years on the market (the lovely photo at right was taken by the realtor at the time), and all of us around here were concerned about its fate.
The good news was that District staff soon were to meet with the new owners (a Steveston family with ties to the commercial fishing fleet) and be reassured that they had zero interest in levelling the forest (as was the rumour in those early days after the sale).
Instead, there was talk of between one and three single-family homes as per allowable zoning limits. Earlier this year, I heard from a connection in the local tourism industry that the owners were interested in exploring ideas for an ecolodge, however there's been no confirmation of that and no activity on the land to date to my knowledge. Some campers set up a tent at the ocean's edge during the summer, and were politely asked to move on by District of Sooke bylaw officers.
My one-street-over neighbour Pat Forrest, the career deep-sea fisherman affiliated with the Sooke Lions Club and the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society, has been the long-time caretaker of the property. He let me know about some huge old-growth giants at the cliffside edge that he feared would be lost. (Spruce in the forest are already suffering due to our drier summers in recent years.)
And so with Pat as inspiration, I did some research and found evidence that other communities have enacted tree protection bylaws that could ensure that old growth and other notable species are saved in the face of development.
As you'll see in the latter stages of my letter below, I wrote:
"Investigate a tree protection bylaw similar to what is on the books in Duncan, Nanaimo, Victoria, Saanich and elsewhere. The District's estimable Laura Hooper suggested this as a possibility in her Nov. 18, 2013 Report for Information submitted to the Land Use and Environment Committee of the day. (File No. 6300-00).
Such a bylaw would protect 'significant trees,' defined in the Duncan example by 'unique characteristics such as size, age, species, aesthetic value, cultural significance, and ecological importance that provide considerable benefit to the community.' In Duncan, residents are encouraged to nominate what they deem to be 'significant trees' for protection."
As it turned out, my letter was discussed briefly towards the end of the June 12, 2017 council meeting along with that of another resident. Mayor Tait suggested it was a timely idea that might flow out of the OCP revision. Councillor Kasper sounded reasonable notes of caution and said he wasn't in favour given that "I've seen this in other jurisdictions" and "it tends to have the opposite effect" (as it inspires folks to chop down trees before any pending bylaw can be enacted).
"If there is an appetite for this, it should be done very cautiously," he said. "It could be viewed as, 'here's another infringement on people's property rights.'" Mr. Kasper also noted that a tree bylaw would have "prevented the District from removing alder trees on our property on Lot A." Of course, weed-like alders would not qualify as "significant trees" of the kind I'd suggested that the District would want to save.
May 19, 2017
Submission for Council Reader File
cc Maja Tait, Council <email@example.com>, Laura Hooper, Brent Blackhall, Sarah Temple, Teresa Sullivan, Britt Santowski, Kevin Laird, Mary Brooke
As you’re undoubtedly aware, the 32-acre oceanfront forest running parallel to Deerlepe Rd. in Whiffin Spit sold a month ago for a little over its assessed value of $2.7 million (a bargain compared to the initial $14.5m pricetag in 2008). The property includes the circa 1925 “Deerlepe House,” a 4,500-square foot character home formerly owned by Lee Thompson, the late Hollywood producer/director.
The other morning a neighbour who also lives on Briarwood Place (which dead-ends at the eastern edge of the forest) encountered a logger who has been directed by the new owners (names unknown) to apparently (quote/unquote) “clear cut” the forest beginning next week. We’re hoping this is an exaggeration and that we’ll see selective logging rather than wholesale destruction. Whatever the case, this is the rightful decision for the new owners as we’ve confirmed in phoning the District. (They live in Vancouver and we’re trying to track them down via their Richmond-based buying agent.)
None of us around here are happy about this, of course. Losing the forest will effectively change the microclimate of this neighbourhood. The forest is also home to all kinds of wildlife — deer, eagles, owls, raccoons, black bears, even the rare sighting of cougar and wolf. It serves as an effective buffer to the strong winds that blow in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And the green wall at the end of our street has been a much cherished reminder that we’re living in Sooke by the Sea, not metropolitan suburbia.
Also, I’m told by Pat Forrest, who had been caretaking the property on behalf of the Thompson family, that there are a number of magnificent old-growth trees on the land as well.
All this said, it seems we must deal with reality and get on with life. The good news is that the current zoning (RU3 - “small lot agricultural” - in the Agricultural Land Reserve, I understand) allows just one home (plus secondary suite) per 9.88 acres. So in theory (and pending any rezoning applications with sewer expansion) we’ll be seeing a maximum of three new homes, not a subdivision. Our hope is that the new owners purchased the land as a semi-private — less so with the trees gone, naturally — waterfront getaway, not as speculative investment.
I write not merely to vent but to suggest that perhaps it's time the District of Sooke considered a Tree Protection Bylaw similar to what is on the books in Duncan, Nanaimo, Victoria, Saanich and elsewhere.
Laura Hooper suggested this as a possibility in her Nov. 18, 2013 Report for Information submitted to the Land Use and Environment Committee of the day. (File No. 6300-00).
Even if it had been in place, such a bylaw (if we were to follow the Duncan example) wouldn’t prevent a private landowner from taking this action. But it would protect "significant trees” (such as those identified by Pat) which are defined as such by "unique characteristics such as size, age, species, aesthetic value, cultural significance, and ecological importance that provide considerable benefit to the community.” In Duncan, community members are encouraged to nominate what they deem to be “significant trees.”
I realize the District is operating with staff shortages and is faced with many other priorities (a bear-wise garbage bylaw, among them, I trust). Yet with tree protection legislation, we might save other local big trees in the future. Who knows, but with such legislation we might still have a row of cedars at Cedargrove Mall (if not the logging pole at Evergreen Mall).
7083 Briarwood Place
Sooke, BC V9Z 0T2
Feedback I received as shared on my Facebook page: May 20, 2017 10:02am
Update of the triple-plus good kind with this message received yesterday from the District of Sooke's Laura Hooper re: the Deerlepe forest: "We have just met onsite with the property owners. They have had an assessment of the forest to gather information on the trees as they move forward (and to remove deadfall) but we have been reassured that they do not intend to clear-cut the property. We were given the impression that they are likely to selectively remove trees once they work with professionals in the replacement of the house. We provided information on the BC Ministry of the Environment's Developing with Care guidelines and the federal Department of Fisheries & Oceans setback requirements from the ocean. We expressed our willingness to work with them as they make decisions on what to do with the property." Sincere thanks to all who brought this matter to the District's attention and to DOS staff for the prompt and timely follow-up with the new owners. :-)
Original FB post...
May 16, 2017 1:59pm
Sad to hear that the beautiful 32-acre forested lot at the end of our street (Briarwood) here in Whiffin Spit is set to be logged. The oceanfront parcel -- once owned by the late Lee Thompson, the Hollywood director/producer who made The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear-- has been on the market since 2008. It sold to offshore buyers for under $3m a few months back (a bargain compared to the original asking price of $14.5m). It's zoned RU-3 ("small-scale agricultural") and allows a maximum of one home (plus optional secondary suite) per 9.88 acres. Already standing is Deerlepe House, built in 1925 and which, by local standards, might be worthy of heritage status if indeed Councillor Parkinson had got any traction on her call last year for Sooke's first heritage (aka "character home") designation.
The District informs us that the owners are free to do what they will with the property within zoning restrictions and, who knows, we could potentially be dealing with Canada's first/only oceanfront feedlot (LOL, fingers loosely crossed). A neighbour encountered some hired hands this morning and they announced they'd be harvesting lumber from the property ... but hopefully not the entire forest, thereby leaving existing homes further exposed to the strong winds blowing in off the strait. And, of course, it's quite possible that the new owners will seek a rezoning either before or after the seemingly inevitable extension of the sewer system to the western reaches of town.
Anyway, so it all goes and further proof that change is the only constant. Frederique and Sinclair Philip rented the house for a few years, and the former noted that it would be perfect as an art school given its roomy two-storey charms along with the panoply of land and waterscapes. Me, I thought it might be a great spot for a retreat centre or even a climate-change research station, but buying lottery tickets isn't part of my life strategy. So there will be some grief hereabouts.
The forest (aka carbon sink) is a magnificent place, home to all kinds of wildlife -- bears, otters, owls, eagles, deer. It's a real shame to lose it (as well as local scenes like this one, borrowed from the realtor's property listing).
Back to the Present
My bottom line thought at the moment is that the District needs to insist that developers do a better job of leaving more trees standing. Two examples: The denuded "Broom Flats" (as one local wag has taken to calling the moonscape and controversial blast zone on the south, formerly thickly forested slope of what the T'Sou-ke Nation calls "sacred mountain"). And, closer to my home here in the Whiffin Spit area, a multi-acre parcel at the corner of Wright and Francis Roads that's been stripped of all trees in a zone that allows just one house. I'd like to be able to see the trees and the forest.
Image: Google Earth screenshot of the forest in question (that's Briarwood at the top right, our home is second in on the southside; Pat Forrest lives just out of frame on the waterfront side of Richview.)