Stoney Hill: A question of access

Public access to 73 lots on the northern edge and southwest corner of Maple Bay Peninsula is at the crux of a road building project under consideration in North Cowichan. - courtesy North Cowichan
Public access to 73 lots on the northern edge and southwest corner of Maple Bay Peninsula is at the crux of a road building project under consideration in North Cowichan.
— image credit: courtesy North Cowichan

Stoney Hill preservationists are ready to plead with North Cowichan council today for more time to gather signatures against a proposed public road project.

But folks fearing a new Stoney Hill Road will spawn sprawl, traffic, vandalism, trash dumping, nature loss and more may have to settle for singing Christmas carols unless council had a change of heart after nixing Councillor Ruth Hartmann’s motion last week to push the alternative approval process into January.

That AAP concerns removing land from the municipal forest reserve for the new Stoney Hill Road. The effort to halt it requires 2,150 North Cowichan residents to hand legal forms to staff by 2 p.m. Dec. 14.

It was unknown at press time how many forms had arrived regarding the $2.5-million gravel road system between Genoa Bay Road, and 73 peninsula properties along Sansum Narrows.

The Stoney Hill Road project is an outgrowth of a June 2009 mediated legal settlement reached between North Cowichan, Bird’s Eye Cove Farm, and Paul Bourke, owner of 39 landlocked acres abutting Sansum Point Park.

“I want access to my property, that’s my main motivation,” Bourke said of his land, which he has applied to subdivide into seven five-acre lots.

His argument hinges on what Bourke said is an old municipal promise for road access to his land, stressing many other peninsula property owners made the same claim and supported his initiative by voting nearly two-thirds in favour of the road project. Currently, Bird’s Eye Cove Farm charges Stoney Hill residents about $500 a year as a fee to cross their farmland and reach a rough municipal forest road.

“I was promised a road 40 years ago when I bought my property,” he said.

“North Cowichan developed a 40-lot (Fairweather) subdivision in 1952, and had to provide access. But North Cowichan didn’t register it as water-only access,” he said. “They tried later to register it as water-only, but were refused by land titles.”

Bourke said council’s approval of the settlement agreement supports his argument the municipal-forest road is public.

“Council admitted it’s been a public road since 1952,” Bourke said.

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure declined to speak about details of the settlement agreement approved by council in private, presumably on legal advice.

“There was a choice between continuing to fight in court and take our chances, or agree to a settlement agreement that was reasonable,” he said of the deal that cost taxpayers some $74,000 in legal fees.

“I’ve never heard council say it’s a public road; we have municipal logging roads. I suspect the legal case was about the merits of (the public road) arguments.”

Recently, 63% of Stoney Hill owners — including council, which owns six lots — petitioned for the road, starting the AAP. If the AAP green lights the road, the municipality will pay $500,000. North Cowichan plans to bankroll that by selling road timber, potentially selling two lots, and/or using reserves.

Bourke and the owners of the other 66 Stoney Hill properties would shoulder the remaining $2 million borrowed from the Municipal Finance Authority, and pay it back at about $1,700 annually per lot.

The road will not be paved, or serviced with snow plowing or trash collection. It will include future power-line clearance.

The whole situation has left some residents, such as Bird’s Eye Cove Farm owner Heather Skoretz and partner Paul Tataryn, upset.

“The process has been very disrespectful to the farm; that’s what hurts the most,” Skoretz said of her 300-acre spread.

She frets her fencing and cattle will be impacted by road building and use, plus trespassing ushering dogs, fires, 4x4’s and more.

“Our first option is to have no road. We really care for the land and environment; we’re just stewards,” said Tataryn, noting he and Skoretz learned of Bourke’s legal action when papers were served.

Legal proceedings cost Skoretz some $80,000 in lawyer bills, and split her neighbourhood, she said.

However, the agreement says she’ll receive $70,000 from Bourke, plus $230,000 from council for her land.

Bourke was emphatic he wants Stoney Hill to remain a rural neighbourhood.

Worries about council allowing more peninsula subdivision were further salved by Lefebure.

“Our official community plan calls for us to avoid rural sprawl,” he said of council’s land zoned as forest reserve.

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