We began in-camera at 6 pm for an hour. I now realize why such meetings must be private given how they involve sensitive, process-oriented, suitably redactable matters concerning staffing, land and legal. In confirming what I've grown to understand in recent months, there was no advance discussion about the night's agenda. The Local Government Act dictates that we must conduct business entirely in public when four or more of us, i.e., a quorum, have gathered. Council agendas are assembled by the Corporate Services team without our input and are based largely on the current flow of municipal business. (I have little idea about what's ahead of us this coming Monday night, for instance, until the agenda is published later this afternoon.)
The council meeting proper began as usual on the dot of 7. We adjourned four and 3/4 hours later. Not sure about the record length of a Sooke council meeting to date, but we may have been flirting with it. (A couple had gone past 11 pm during the previous council's term, I recall.) For me at least, the time flew and I held up well enough minus any caffeine nor stretch breaks (the latter wouldn't be a bad idea; I might follow Councillor Logins' lead by getting up and stretching as required). I confess I lost the plot a bit during the hour-long conversation about the sale and cultivation of cannabis locally, but that's not unusual for me when meetings slip past the three hour mark (or when binging on a compelling mini-series for that matter; as I've experienced in some other contexts, it might be wise to put strict time limits on open-ended discussion items in the interest of our staying somewhat sharp.)
Overall, I reckon from my seat on the far right of the council table, we functioned well under the quality leadership (yes, I'm all the more a fan) of Mayor Tait. We passed most items unanimously while also revealing we have some diverse views and opinions via a pair of 4 vs 3 votes and some useful dissent about a proposed tree bylaw that generated healthy debate. Contrary to the write-ups, the "honeymoon" is assuredly not over for the new council (we seem to genuinely get along, like and respect one another). Neither in the least were/are we "bedevilled" by the prospect of the Lot A charrette as another reporter suggested. (As a number of council veterans I've spoken to have advised, I must relax, enjoy the unpredictable ride and not sweat the small stuff if I'm to survive these next four years.)
It was a good night: We got some business done, heard from a range of constituents, questioned staff intelligently enough, absorbed a fair bit of information and emerged on the far side with smiles and good grace intact. No molotov cocktails have landed on my and Carolyn's doorstep just yet, so I take that as a good early sign, haha.
The reliable Ms. Santowski did a smashing job with her summary as ever (even with the clickbait fin-de-honeymoon headline, bless her), however here's my take on the night ...
* CAO Search Begins: The headline news was delivered late in the proceedings when Mayor Tait offered a "rise and report" (i.e., she publicly announced a matter that had been finalized in-camera) about the fact we've selected a recruitment firm (Waterhouse Executive Search of Vancouver) to begin seeking the District's (and council's only) next hire ~ Sooke's next Chief Administrative Officer. Further details on the process TBA.
* 1923 Maple Road rezoning/public hearing: No major hesitation from any of us in approving a pair of micro-lots (250 sq. meters each for a pair of 1200 sq. foot homes that will sell in the $300-400k range) at the street-front edge of an acre lot. The property, about 100 meters north of Buffy's, was already zoned Medium Density Multi-Family for 10 homes; it's part of a west-end residential area that shapes up as a future commercial node with its existing clusters of row homes and the eventual arrival of The Residences at Sooke Harbour at the Government Wharf.
A number of us were curious about how residental parking would be handled ~ just one car is allowed per home in a shared driveway, and yet this is the era of the two-income/two-car household. Good news is that a West Coast Rd. bus stop is not far away and one or more residents in these homes may be tempted to mode shift given the inconvenience of parking a second car elsewhere. There's certainly no room to park on Maple Road itself.
I took the opportunity to pay due respect to developer John Brohman, who I first heard about obliquely not long after arriving here in a passing reference to 'Brohmanville'. I've since seen him routinely appear in council chambers regarding land development matters and it was interesting to learn that he's also a landlord who built Sooke's first apartment block back in the day.
And I couldn't resist mentioning the fact that when Maple Road South was repaved in 2012 and transformed from a sleepy secondary road into a fast track, no consideration was given to also creating matching sidewalks or installing a rolling speed hump or three. A strange way to encourage a walkable community, either for local residents or anyone using the unofficial street/off-road network that links through Millennium Park.
* Woodlands Road rezoning/public hearing: Held at the night's outset, the public hearing ended with a 4 vs 3 vote that spelled doom for my first windmill tilt at "pressing pause" (as promised) on new residential upzoning outside the town centre until we get our masterplans and infrastructure needs sorted. Councillors Logins and St-Pierre also disagreed for their own excellent reasons, I think. You'll find a snapshot of their thoughts and those of all participants in this Sooke PocketNews summary here. My perspective in brief:
In permitting the switch from RU4 (Rural Residential) to RU5 (Neighbourhood Rural Residential), council has greenlighted five new strata homes on a five-acre parcel of raw land where just one dwelling was permitted previously. The subject property is in the v-shaped wedge bordered by Harbourview and Woodlands. This area is largely rural with large lots (mainly one or two acres, with larger ones of five and 12 acres respectively). There are several new-builds at the roadside frontage of panhandle lots. Other tracts of forested bare land still exist, and there are agricultural properties nearby (Laughing Duck Farm, for one). Not a single five-home compound among them, however.
Drainage issues, increased traffic, the loss of neighbourhood character, and (worst) the fact that area landowners will be tempted to seek their own subdivisions with this precedent were cited by area residents, either in person or through written submissions.
Councillors who voted in favour cited the staff report's mention of an OCP passage that allows "low density infill" in the Gateway Residential area. The applicant had crafted his ask so that he'd meet the 2500 sq. meter minimum lot size (while still finding room for five homes likely to be valued at $500k-plus each on a property whose 2018 assessed value was $430k). This portion of Sassennos is evidentally also in the "Community Growth Area" (the parameters of which I'm still unclear about ~ questions to DOS staff pending.)
When it was my turn to speak, I acknowledged I was a greenhorn on land use issues, then cited a passage from the Union of BC Municipalities' Local Government in BC textbook outlining (and I quote) "the three objectives of land use regulation -- greater certainty about the future, avoiding negative external effects, and assuring adequate infrastructure for new developments." (pg. 156; PDF copy available)
I noted that the dissenting neighbours had done a good job in listing the "negative external effects" of this rezoning. As for the word "certainty," I pondered (rightly, wrongly, perhaps naively) that it might mean that best municipal land-use practices would honour, not rewrite, established zoning bylaws. (I noted that Sooke's zoning Bylaw 600 has been amended 46 times since its passage in 2013 for reasons both good and logical, I'm sure, yet also to maximize profits in some cases.) "Certainty" would ideally mean that I, if I was a homeowner in the area, would have the confidence that local zoning would remain intact. Not so in this case, however.
* Cains Park Staircase: I was puzzled about this $55k spend by the District on a steep-slope staircase descending from Water St. (due south of Kennedy St. South in the town centre) to the shoreline atop Cains Park, a wedge of green space dedicated to the city by the Cains family. (As Ms. Peers notes, the family's Sooke Rd. gas station, the first of its kind in Sooke, is due north of the park and is now the home of West Shack Auto, run by my neighbour Steve Christiansen.)
My concern was that this location isn't cited among the nine priority seaside access spots identified in Sooke's current Parks & Trails Masterplan, most of which are "kayak/canoe pull-up spots" at sea level (such as Whiffin Spit's Possession Point, which is set for a short staircase to the beach next year). Nor, for that matter, is Cains Park one of the seven secondary "if funding/desire permits" recommended ocean access points.
It was good to learn, however, that nearby Sooke Elementary students and their teachers enjoy field trips wandering through this part of town and they needed a spot like this by which to beachcomb. The theory of "build it and they'll come all the more often" is solid in this case. Yet with no public parking opportunities whatsoever and a surrounding terrain suitable only for mountain goats or the very fit on this portion of Sooke's high-bank waterfront, I opted to vote against. Result: I again came out on the short end of a 4 vs 3 vote. (Paradoxically, I was still pleased that Sooke was serving the youngest end of our age-friendly community and so have no lasting concerns apart from the nagging thought that we need to do a better job of heeding community plans built through full public process.)
* Mick Rhodes Delegation: Sooke's valiant and effective Mayoralty candidate is staying the course with his big-picture vision of saving Sooke's last, best remaining town-centre waterfront viewpoint for this and future generations. As he stated again, and I concur, we need a creative, fluid approach moving ahead in discussions with the new landowners.
* SEAPARC: All systems go for the swank new entrance and long-awaited weight room. After 40 years of steady evolution, the CRD's community fitness centre, pool and arena complex continues to move from strength to strength under Steve Knoke's leadership.
* Cannabis Regulation: District staff produced an excellent, exhaustive report (see the website version here) as a prelude to public engagement (likely through a to-be-scheduled Committee of the Whole discussion) on how the District opts to regulate production, sales and consumption. We can draw on a growing number of working examples in BC and nationally; the night's report featured a comparison between policies and approaches in Victoria, Nelson, Courtenay, North Van and Nanaimo.
Good to know that our local RCMP have no issues with the fact that (like in many communities) two of our three stores remain open for business without a formal license while awaiting the finalization of provincial and municipal guidelines. Personally, and without knowing much at all about the nuances or complications, I like the idea of Sooke continuing with a maximum of three independently owned and operated stores. There's apparently been many inquiries from small-scale "micro-cultivation" (aka "craft weed") growers locally, so perhaps we'd like to keep things as local as possible and perhaps say 'no' (if we indeed we have the option) to a BC LDB Cannabis Store pedalling so-called "corporate weed" from across the country. A reputation for being home to a connoisseur array of 21st century BC Bud wouldn't harm our tourist and daytrip trade, I imagine.
* Tree Bylaw: Full credit and praise to Councillor Parkinson for introducing the motion and eloquently arguing why it matters; we voted (six in favour, one against) for a staff report into how such a bylaw might look here where, in a former logging community, every other home has a chainsaw. My thoughts from last month on this blog capture my position. I've since learned that the District has a policy (#11.6, Jan. 24, 2005) for trees on municipal property (but it's conditional on oversight by our Municipal Engineer and that position has been vacant since Elizabeth Nelson's departure in early 2016). The DOS also has created an "urban tree inventory" through its top-drawer GIS mapping technology and has an established "Street Tree Strategy." One of the District's parks employees is training as a certified arbourist. Ideally, we'll come up with a bylaw that does the job of protecting important, significant and/or character trees without any undue hardship to homeowners concerned about dangerous limbs and dying trees on their private property. Further investigation:
i) CRD tree protection bylaws (in 10 of the region's 13 municipalities; thanks for the link to Heather Phillips)
ii) "Love of Trees, Not Bylaws" ~ survey of 400 Canadian communities by Garden Making Magazine
iii) Creatively United's Community Trees Matter Network.
* Grantwriting: Kudos to Chief Mount and his team for doing the legwork in lining up the second in what will be a series of UBCM Community Emergency Preparedness Fund grant applications for Sooke ~ in this case for a $25k study exploring evacuation options for Sunriver, Phillips Road and Sooke River Road residents. Other District staff are tapping into the UBCM Commuity Child Care Planning Program for a local child-care needs assessment study. Both documents (like the Affordable Housing needs assessment approved at our second meeting) are essential planning tools going ahead.
* Committee appointments: My 2019 daytimer is on order. In addition to the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board, I've been assigned a seat with the Sooke Region Community Health Network's Age-Friendly Committee. It's a good fit for me, logically, given that I'm a geezer of a certain age myself who has his (euphemism alert) sunset years to anticipate. I'm looking forward to joining SRCHN's Rick Robinson, Christine Bossi and others in helping shape "a community where everyone enjoys a safe, enriched and dignified life." The group can trace its roots to a 2008 "age-friendly dialogue" held at the Community Hall, following which Marlene Barry and other local VIPs got busy in doing the hard work (launching the Sooke Region Volunteer Centre, for instance) that led to official recognition for Sooke as a BC Age-Friendly Community in 2015. (reference: UBCM page)
My other role is as Sooke council representative to the Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee, a one-year appointment that opens up a new world to me. I have some modest understanding of issues facing youth-at-risk through my years with the EMCS Society, but I'm sure this will be a real eye-opener. Monthly meetings begin in the New Year with a big group that features front-line restorative justice workers, police department appointees and reps from the CRD's 13 municipalities and four school districts.
Okay, long meeting, long post. Onwards to prepare for tonight's opening round of the Lot A charrette. No guarantees, but my intention is to continue writing these recaps in the months ahead as a way of tracking lessons learned.