Town’s ‘verbal approval’ of wetland destruction sparks legal challenge

On Monday, May 4, 2020 the Town of Qualicum Beach was presented with a legal challenge of an alleged ‘verbal exemption’ from regulations that the Town apparently issued to Ballard Fine Homes for housing development on a long-protected community wetland.

Issued by Arbutus Law Group on behalf of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS), the letter addressed to Mayor and Council details an investigation by the legal firm, and demands that “any exemption that was granted must be rescinded,” and that “[t]he land that has been altered to-date must be restored to its original condition and ecological functioning.”

The large wetland borders Laburnum Road and the Island Highway. According to the investigation led by lawyer Erin Gray, developer Ballard Fine Homes began “extensive land clearing activities” on the wetland about three months ago.

The Qualicum Nature Preservation Society began raising alarm bells in mid-February, 2020 when they requested Council to issue a stop work order on Ballard. As reported in The Narwhal environmental journal on April 29, 2020, Ezra Morse, QNPS’ communications director, said he “was having trouble communicating with [Luke] Sales, the Town’s director of planning until QNPS retained [Arbutus Law Group] lawyer Erin Gray.”

Part of clear cut seen at back, encroaching on walking paths and pond along Laburnum Road.

In April, QNPS launched an online petition to Stop the Development of the Qualicum Wetlands. The petition spurred Mayor Brian Wiese to issue a statement on the Town’s Facebook page accusing the concerned citizens of being “a small group of people who actively foster dissidence”. The petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures to date.

Mayor Wiese also stated that, “Previous Councils had the opportunity to buy this parcel and chose not to, more than once,” claiming that “… the Town has turned away numerous large-scale developments over the last twenty years.”

In response, former long-time QB Councillor Barry Avis posted on Facebook, “I served on council for 13 years and cannot remember any opportunity to buy this land.”

As stated in The Narwhal article, the Town has apparently now issued a Stop Work Order to Ballard Fine Homes. The company’s owner, Don Ballard told The Narwhal that, “the project has not received a building permit, but did obtain permission from Qualicum Beach to begin clearing trees and installing service infrastructure.”

According to the letter from Arbutus Law Group to Mayor and Council, a decision to exempt Ballard from regulations was “not explicitly recorded.” In a phone call with Luke Sales on April 9, 2020, Mr. Sales apparently “stated that he believed the exemption was granted by “staff” (when pressed, he said it must have been the Building Inspector), … and that it might have been granted verbally.”

On April 10, 2020 the Arbutus Law Group requested from Town administration records of the decision to grant an exemption but, as of May 4, 2020, documents have not been provided. As well, Ezra Morse submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for these and other documents. The Town chose to extend the deadline for production of the requested FOI documents until June 10, 2020.

As seen from Laburnum Road, clearcut in centre of treeline, opening onto pond and walking trails.