Delisting Wilkins Beach has more to do with EP zoning than COVID-related issues: staff memo

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The move to delist Wilkins Beach and allow the area to revert to a more natural state does not mean the complete loss of a sandy spot by the waterfront, according to a memo to council from staff.
“Staff have heard concerns about aspects of the proposed restoration plan, specifically with respect to the loss of sand as well as drainage/washouts. As part of the restoration work, the entire area will not be shrubbed, planted or stabilized with cobble stone and boulders,” writes Kevin Bradley, Manager of Parks Planning and Development, and Kevin Rankin, Manager of Parks and Forestry Operations.
“The proposed plan can accommodate retention of a partial sandy area although it will not be maintained in any way. This will give the experience of a naturalized shoreline area for passive enjoyment after the restoration work is completed in 2021.”
The memo arrived just before council is to hear from numerous delegations on Monday responding to general committee’s support of a staff report which recommended delisting the beach, a strategy designed to protect the area by allowing it to revert to a more natural state.
“Staff and (council) have heard from many residents in the area and this memorandum is intended to respond to and provide clarification to the most common matters raised.”
While the drive to maintain the area may have been driven by concerns raised last summer about crowding and waste-related issues, current zoning does not allow a beach at Wilkins Park, according to the memo. The park’s shoreline and stream are deemed environmentally protected lands (EP), due to the sensitive nature of the area (as a cold-water fishery). As such, zoning compliance is required.
“It is the EP zoning that is requiring the City to delist Wilkins as a beach and restore Wilkins Park to allow it to regenerate to its natural state over time. In addition, the approved Waterfront & Marina Strategic Plan recommends that the City ensures that key natural heritage features are retained and protected along the south shore, including the open creek systems such as Hewitt’s Creek that drain into the bay,” reads the memo.
“It is important to understand that this zoning conformity is not tied to COVID-related overuse in the summer of 2020; however, summer 2020 did bring the zoning issue to a head.”
What the zoning allows:
• ecological management measures
• environmental conservation
• lookout points
• naturalized buffer
• natural restoration
• trails and other similar uses where there are minimal impacts on the environmental features and functions
Other City beaches are zoned Open Space (OS), which is not as restrictive as the EP zone and permits active uses as well as playing fields, courts, parks and playgrounds and other structures.