Thursday, November 10, 2005

I went down to the Cape today. Cape Roger Curtis comes alive in the fall rains, and there was a swell on the Strait from the windstorm last night, so the waves were pretty cool.

Last week, in the Undercurrent, there was a centrefold spread of the three options that the owners have for this amazing piece of land. All three options have lots built on the most sensitive ecological regions of the land, places where rare plant communities and unique ecosystems are still intact. These three options were also presented at a community meeting, hosted by the developer.

The developer of CRC and the owners have been paying for a process to engage the community in dialogue around values, ostensibly so that the development that happens at the Cape will be in line with the Island values. I have been steering people toward this process because I feel that some dialogue is better than no dialogue. The Cape is private land after all, and I thought the process was a bit of an olive branch to the community.

Having seen the three options and heard about the way the developer conducted himself at the community meeting, I think it's time to change tack. Something deep down inside of me is not in alignment with the developer's dialogue process. Part of it is what I sense as a dishonest intention. I don't think the developer is being fully honest about the role he wants to play with this development, and the aims he has for the dialogue process. Part of the discomfort also lies in the fact that they developer is clearly intent on a limited set of ideas for the Cape, and even after "listening" to the community he hasn't "heard" anything in a way that matters.

So I think no we need to cut through the bullshit on this and start asking the real questions. There are those of us that want large parts of the Cape preserved, and there have been several efforts over the past year to convince the developer that an ecological worldview needs to be considered.

For the developer's part, he is a generous man, having donated buildings and land to various cause around the Island. But one thing he is not is an environmentalist, and it strikes me that it is increasingly a waste of time to try to convince him to be something he is not.

It seems that all he cares about really, on this issue, is the interests of the owners and that is how it should be. He is their developer and agent and they want to realize a return on their investment. I assume they want that return to come as easily as possible as none of the owners live on the Island, and there is no indication that they care to become part of this community at all.

No one disputes that the owners of the property have a right to extract value from it. But surveys and dialogue and statements of values and principles are not the way to convince these folks that monetary value is not the prime motivation for ownership. And so I think maybe the strategy needs to change. I think we need to ask the question "How can we make it as easy as possible for the owners to realize some gains from this property and be gone from our community?"

My assumption in asking this question is that the owners want to cut and run. They want their profits and then they want to be done with us. I am certain that they don't want lengthy legal and regulatory processes to eat up the gains they are expecting from the process. I also assume that those on the "other side" of the question also want to avoid lengthy process wherever possible. But for those of us who aren't owners, process and cost are our only bargaining chips to salvage something of the precious nature of this spot.

So by asking the question about ease, we would be asking the owners and the community to figure out a way to work on getting rid of the off-island investment in this property. I can see that the owners may have to lower their profit expectations to buy peace and efficiency, and the other side will have to stay in the game raising money to buy back lots and what will be exorbitant prices for the purposes of preserving large chunks of land. In the end the Cape will be developed, but perhaps with fewer houses and less impact on the sensitive and important areas of the property.

If I was offering advice to everyone involved, this is what I would say. I think the developer's process is not opening him up to anything of value from the community and without the intention to do so, there's no point engaging there. Better we should spend our time asking the other question, and continuing to raise money to stay in the game.

there is still room for dialogue, but we need to change the focus, and we need to be clear on all sides of the intentions and resources that everyone brings to bear on the conversation.