An ongoing conflict surrounding a residential development has pitted an environmental group against the town of Qualicum Beach and a Parksville homebuilder.
Two homes set to be built by Ballard Fine Homes on the corner of Laburnum Road and the Island Highway sparked a petition from the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS), which has garnered over 14,000 signatures at the time of publishing. The society aims to stop Ballard from building Seacroft Estates, due to potential damage to wetlands on his property.
“In a world where climate change is becoming a bigger and bigger threat, we need our ecosystems that are sensitive to buffer and protect us more and more from these [effects of climate change],” said Ezra Morse, president of the QNPS, adding that the development can affect the environment both short and long term.
Historically, the town has denied building permits on the land to preserve the wetland areas. According to a release on the town of Qualicum Beach’s website, Ballard was granted permission to begin development because the project is smaller than previous proposals and the area was zoned for two homes before he purchased it.
“Although the land contains valued environmental features, two single-family dwellings are permitted in the zoning bylaw,” the release reads. “The land owner was required to identify an area for the two homes that avoids the environmentally sensitive areas and areas with potential flooding risks.” It states the town took “appropriate steps to minimize and/or avoid negative impacts” to the wetland ecosystem.
“I’m just a small business trying to make a living and it is really frustrating when you can have a group come in and say that I am am ripping apart a wetland and that I am doing things illegally and ‘stop Ballard Fine Homes, they are a monster!’ It’s just not fair, I have spent years trying to build my name and reputation,” said Don Ballard, owner of Ballard Fine Homes.
According to Ballard, three of the 10 acres are not wetland. He said a lot of the water on his property is from storm water being drained onto his land.
“If they continue to push me, I will look at taking legal action against the town because if they contained their water, that land would dry out so fast it would make your head spin,” he said.
Morse said he is concerned the town is not listening to citizens’ concerns and is set on allowing the development. Though construction has started at the site, Ballard has yet to obtain building permits for the homes. He said he has cleared one acre of trees, connected to town water and sewer and begun road construction — all of which he said were required before getting building permits.
“The town has been relentless with me trying to build these. I had independent biologist reports done to identify any of the riparian areas or hazard land areas… I have been trying to get building permits for two years on this development and I still don’t have them,” said Ballard.
Morse has expressed concerns that the town is giving “special friends special deals” when it comes to development, this led the QNPS to submit a freedom of information (FOI) request regarding the development. QNPS obtained documents last month, which Morse said, show changes were made to town policies to accommodate proposed development.
“What we need to know now is why — because unless we know why, we don’t have anything that is actual,” he said.
Morse added that the next step for the QNPS is another FOI request, asking for specific conversations.
“We need to know if there is a conflict of interest happening here. What makes the town so dead set on moving forward on this development which is completely against our official community plan?” He said.
Ballard said he purchased the land with intentions to build 8-10 lots and in conversations prior to purchasing it, the town told him this would not be a problem, so long as wetland areas are protected.
“I was trying to put forward an application to do a small subdivision and then the BC government came out with new proposed legislation for the 200 year sea level rise. After that came out, the town of Qualicum said it wouldn’t be possible to build a subdivision any longer,” he said.
After his proposal for the subdivision was turned down, he began trying to obtain building permits for the homes the land was zoned for. He said a road had to be built and a fire hydrant installed before the town would grant him the permits.
Before beginning construction, Ballard offered to sell the land to the town and suggested it be turned into a park. He said he wanted to avoid conflict and when the town turned down the offer, he countered with a potential trade for other lots where he could build.
“At this point because I have had no cooperation with the town and because I have already spent the money to put services in and to do all of that work, I am committed to building on it,” he said.
He said he would still be open to selling the land to avoid further complications, but he does not want to continue sitting on it without working.
Mayor Wiese did not respond to Mid Island Independent’s requests for an interview.