People play in Stotan Falls in 2009 when the area was still open to the public.

Photo Credit: Adrian Scott | Flickr

A Break from Sandbox Politics Could Get Green Space Going

But real estate inflation in the Comox Valley could make it challenging

A new bylaw might make it easier to buy much-loved places like Stotan Falls

Comox Valley has always struggled with regional cooperation. With three squabbling municipalities and a regional district to deal with, getting everyone to agree is like getting kids to share toys in the sandbox.

But on June 28, the region’s leaders set their differences aside. The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) board passed a bylaw to set the stage for a regional parks service.

It’s officially called the Regional Parks and Trails Service Establishment Bylaw. We know, it sounds bureaucratic and boring, but it’s not.

The hope is that the bylaw will make it easier for the CVRD to buy key chunks of property for parks and greenways, and to make it easier to plan parks across municipal and regional district boundaries.

Currently, each of the four jurisdictions pays for and manages the parks within their own boundaries. The system works, but not very well.

The new service will be funded through public funds collected by the three municipalities and regional district. The proposed amount for next year will be $5.95 based on a property with an assessed value of $600,000.

The concept isn’t new. Other regions like Nanaimo and Cowichan Valley have gone this route for parks planning and management.

It also smooths out an issue with how the regions share resources. Comox Valley citizens hike and boat and play outside their home communities.

Cumberland residents enjoy the beaches at Goose Spit Regional Park, which is funded by CVRD public funds.

And people from the Valley use Comox Lake’s only official public access point, the Cumberland-funded Cumberland Lake Park Campground and boat launch.

Comox residents stroll the Courtenay Riverway and Airpark, and folks from Courtenay flock to the Comox Municipal Marina for some takeout and an evening picnic.

It wasn’t easy getting everyone to agree. To move forward, the regional parks service needed buy-in from all three municipalities and the three electoral areas A, B, and C.

At first, Comox was playing the stubborn child. Its two representatives, Ken Grant and Maureen Swift, asked for veto power to block any land purchases with their two votes at the regional district board.

When Comox started making special demands, Daniel Arbour, the regional director for Electoral Area B (Baynes Sound-Denman/Hornby Islands), threatened to storm away from the table.

But in the end, cooler heads prevailed and they passed the bylaw.

And agreement couldn’t have come soon enough. The Comox Valley is booming. The demand for outdoor activities and green space has never been greater.

The question is, has this regional model arrived too late to make a big enough difference? Real estate prices have gone sky high in Comox Valley. Average property assessments were up 30% from last year. A dollar today buys a lot less land than it did 20 years ago, or even five years ago.

But peace in Comox Valley’s political sandbox is better late than never.

Now the real hard work begins: making land deals in a community where prices have hit the stratosphere.