Growth Management

The Build-Out

The Issue

The specific policies of the OCP are closely integrated with an anticipated level of future residential density that forms part of the overall plan. For municipal council and the public, monitoring the total amount of future planned development, as well as the rate of growth and character of development, is essential to determining whether the objectives of the OCP are being met.

This level of future residential density envisioned in the OCP is referred to as the “build-out”.


The build-out is an important planning tool to anticipate future infrastructure needs and is an invaluable aid to achieving Bowen Island’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The current OCP (1996) is committed to retaining the same level of future residential build-out as the previous OCP (1982). To this end, Policy 3.1.C states that “an inventory of vacant lots on the island that are suitable for residential purposes should be maintained…to assist in the management…and the allocation of development rights”.

Unfortunately, the municipality has never established such an inventory. There is no accurate calculation of how many dwellings there would be if we adhere to the OCP residential build-out. Therefore, nobody knows the answer to the question: how far are we along the trajectory of our envisioned future, and what will the final product, envisioned by the OCP, be like?

There is a wide spread misconception about the ultimate population level that the OCP build-out would produce. This issue has become even more pertinent since secondary suites were approved in 2008.


  • The new OCP must contain stronger measures to require that the municipality conduct proper land use planning about the current extent and future potential for development on the island. Without such information, it is not possible for community members to give informed opinion at public hearings about specific development proposals.

The Foundation of the Build-out

The Issue

Effective management of the OCP build-out rests on three foundations:

  1. The ecological carrying capacity of the land;
  2. A social consensus about desired community character;
  3. Flexibility of implementation within the overall OCP density limit.

Each of these foundations for the OCP build-out needs to be updated.


  1. Growth management of the build-out in an updated OCP would benefit immensely by incorporating new ecological mapping of Bowen Island recently completed by the Islands Trust as part of the Trust’s 2010 – 2015 Regional Conservation Plan.
  2. At the same time, it must be accepted that Bowen Island’s residential build-out is also partially based on a socially determined process, codified in the OCP, and confirmed at periodic public hearings.
  3. Finally, new challenges facing our community, to address the need for affordable housing and to reduce greenhouse gas, would suggest that the future development anticipated in the OCP build-out should be directed into certain designated village or “hamlet” areas that are more suitable for attached, energy efficient housing.

Accompanying this strategy for potential development that is identified in the OCP must be some form of enhanced “cap and trade” system for currently permitted building rights that are codified in the Land Use Bylaw (LUB).

A difficult and still unresolved issue is how to determine the exchange value of transferred density between the donor and recipient areas. The essential element however, is that the density entitlement that is assigned to “development rights” in the transfer between donor and receiver areas must be included within the overall anticipated build-out.


  • New ecological mapping completed by the Islands Trust should be incorporated into the updated OCP to guide future land use.
  • The updated OCP should include a calculation of the residential OCP build-out that conforms to desired community character as expressed in the OCP objectives.
  • Existing density designations on the OCP map for properties outside of Snug Cove and Seymour Bay should generally be shifted into certain designated village or “hamlet” areas. Because the Snug Cove Village Plan (SCVP) has already undergone a comprehensive OCP review in 2005 that allows for ample density increases, Snug Cove should not be a receiver area for additional density beyond that envisioned by the SCVP.

Managing Growth: How it Works

The Issue

For an accurate understanding of how development is managed on Bowen Island, it is necessary to appreciate how the OCP interacts with another crucial planning document: the Land Use Bylaw (LUB).


The OCP is the ruling document for municipal council. The OCP articulates the objectives and policy directives that govern overall development, but it is only binding on the municipality itself, not on individuals. It is left to the LUB to contain the actual regulations and bylaws, such as permitted land use and subdivision standards, that landowners and the general public must adhere to. The LUB gives legal effect to the principles dictated by the OCP.

For example: this is how the OCP policy of “phased, gradual development” is achieved. In the LUB, every parcel of developable land on the island has an allowance for a certain level of building density; say, one house for every five acres. On a five acre lot, the owner can build one house. This building allowance is the “zoning” level and can be thought of as the “base density”.

At the same time, the OCP contains a higher “conditional” density – or potential building allowance – that varies for different parcels of land on the island; say, one house for every one acre as an example.

A land owner is generally free to develop his or her land at the LUB zoning level after meeting only certain requirements, such as proof of drinkable water etc. If however, the land owner wishes to build at the higher OCP density level, he or she must apply for a “re-zoning”. As part of this process, the landowner must provide certain ”amenities” to the community, such as enhanced park dedication, or affordable housing etc. This system, called “density bonusing”, is how Bowen Island generally obtains its needed community assets. Essentially, the community “purchases” these amenities from the developer in exchange for granting a higher level of building allowance.

Density bonusing ensures that there is some public benefit when a private landowner chooses to build beyond the LUB zoning level. In our example above: by obtaining re-zoning approval to the OCP density level, the land owner with a five acre lot would now be able to build five houses.

A rezoning application typically involves a negotiation by the developer with the municipal council, to obtain a building allowance up to the maximum OCP permitted density. Approval to build at a higher density than the level designated in the OCP for that parcel of land requires the consent of the Islands Trust. This is because under the Islands Trust Act the local government on Bowen Island is legally bound to “preserve and protect” the island’s natural environment as a legacy for all the people of British Columbia.

The progressive issuance of “development rights” that is made possible by the difference between the permitted building allowance in the LUB and the potential building density that is envisioned in the OCP, is Bowen Island’s most precious community-owned asset. More than any other planning mechanism in the OCP, the ability to ensure phased, gradual development up to the level permitted in the OCP safeguards our quality of life and the Island’s natural environment.


  • A Broad Objective in the updated OCP should acknowledge the role that the relative density relationship between the LUB and the OCP plays in the “progressive issuance of development rights” and “phased, gradual development” of the Island.