A BC Supreme Court justice has ruled that development permits issued for the George Hotel and Residences project in Gibsons were issued properly and the developer should be allowed to act on them.
The Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community (GABC) filed court actions last year, after Gibsons council approved development permits in August.
One of the approvals was based on a 2017 letter from the Ministry of the Environment indicating support for the developer’s plans to remediate the site after decades of industrial activity.
GABC argued the Town was required to do its own evaluation under the Environmental Management Act (EMA).
The Town responded that it acted properly because it opted out of parts of the provincial contaminated sites regulations in the 1990s, making the province the final authority.
Justice Robin Baird of Nanaimo handed down a 10-page decision (available here) March 21, after hearing the case in mid-January.
Baird found the Town was correct when it asserted it has no role in approving the site remediation plan because it opted out in the ’90s.
“The developer has committed to complete site remediation to EMA standards up to a certificate of compliance. The process of achieving this objective is well in hand under active ministry supervision. The developer was entitled to the permits and the Town … had no lawful basis to refuse them.”
Developer Klaus Fuerniss told Coast Reporter in a statement Wednesday that he was “very pleased” and “not surprised” by the ruling.
GABC did not respond to requests for comments before Coast Reporter’s deadline.
The Town and George Gibsons Development Ltd., the company set up by Fuerniss for the project, also argued in court that the challenges were an “abuse of process” because the petitioners’ claims in the Supreme Court case opposed their claims in an appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB).
In his statement, Fuerniss said he felt the ruling was also a recognition of the potential abuse of process.
Baird wrote the developer has been put “to the time and expense of responding to contradictory arguments advanced simultaneously in two different forums.”
Fuerniss said the costs for the project have now gone beyond the norm for similar-sized projects.
“This project should have started already. People should already be employed in well-paying jobs that support them and their families,” he said. “With this ruling, it is good to have another hurdle out of the way so we can prepare for the start of construction.”
Acting mayor Silas White said from the Town’s perspective the ruling speaks for itself and upholds the validity of the process for issuing the permits. “It was pretty black and white and supports the Town’s handling of this matter,” he said.
This week’s ruling does not affect the case the GABC has taken to the EAB.
The EAB will conduct a hearing in Sechelt in late October on whether the letter of support for the remediation plan from ministry officials is valid.
Late last year the EAB handed down a pair of decisions.
One confirmed it has jurisdiction to hear the appeal because the letter can be considered an appealable decision under the Environmental Management Act, despite arguments from the ministry and the developer that it was not appealable.
The other decision denied GABC’s application for a stay against the developer acting on the letter.
White said the Town will not be involved in the EAB hearing.