Monday, April 9, 2018

Land-use, parks, and indoor public space: a day in Snug Cove on Bowen Island

This weekend, I visited Bowen Island for the first time. Bowen Island is a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay. The island has always had a strong connection to the rest of Metro Vancouver. Post-colonization, Bowen Island was used for farming and other resource-based economic activities such as forestry and mining. During the first half of the 20th century, the island became a resort destination operated by the long defunct Union Steamship Company, providing an escape for people from Vancouver.

Today, the island is home to around 3,700 permanent residents. Many people commute to mainland Metro Vancouver whether for work, high school, or accessing “big city” amenities. Bowen Island is unique as it is part of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, the Islands Trust, and is the only island municipality in the province.

Metro Vancouver’s most visibile presence on the island is Crippen Regional Park which wraps around Snug Cove, the main village on the island. I had a chance to explore Crippen Regional Park with my friend Patrick. One of the things that we noticed was that the park’s trail network wasn’t only recreational, but also acted as the main way to get around by foot in the area.

Crippen Regional Park. Select image to enlarge.

As part of the Islands Trust, Bowen Island Municipality isn’t required to have its land-use policies be consistent with our Regional Growth Strategy. It must however ensure that its land-use:

  • Foster the preservation and protection of the Trust Area's ecosystems
  • Ensure that human activity and the scale, rate and type of development in the Trust Area are compatible with maintenance of the integrity of Trust Area ecosystems
  • Sustain island character and healthy communities

Patrick and I were given a tour of Snug Cove by Bowen Island Councillor Sue Ellen Fast. One of the things that she noted is that Bowen Island is encouraging mixed-use development in Snug Cove, and that was certainly evident. She also noted the informal shared-use nature of their main street, Bowen Island Trunk Road, through Snug Cove. It is used for ferry lineups, parking for businesses, walking, and cycling. Because of its various uses, people tend to drive with caution. In the future, I could see this road transform into a more formal shared space.

Mixed-use development in Snug Cove. Select image to enlarge.

New development in Snug Cove. Select image to enlarge.

Ferry traffic on Bowen Island Trunk Road. Select image to enlarge.

Like other municipalities in our region, affordable housing is a challenge. She pointed out that there is currently a “Grafton Lake Lands” re-zoning application which would see 120 market-priced units, 45 affordable housing units including rental units, and an 18-unit “spiritual, cultural, education, and wellness centre” built if approved.

Councillor Sue Ellen Fast also gave us a tour of Cove Commons, a new community space that was celebrating its grand opening while we were there. The $1.2 million dollar facility includes a 1,200 sq. ft. arts space, and a significant addition to the current library with much needed flexible use space. 69% of the funding to build Cove Commons was provided through private sources, with 25% of the funds coming from the federal government. The facility will be jointly operated by the library (which is funded by the municipalities) and the Bowen Island Arts Council.

Entrance to Cove Commons. Select image to enlarge.

Bowen Island Arts Council gallery space. Select image to enlarge.

New library space inside Cove Commons. Select image to enlarge.

Bowen Island was a great day-trip, though I was only able to see about one-sixth of the island. I look forward to exploring more of this unique place in our region in the future.

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