* Norman Amirault: Career firefighter with the Department of National Defence; former elected councillor with the town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, where he also chaired the Public Works Dept. and served on the planning commission; former owner/operator of Belvista Retreat B&B in Sooke.
* Terry Cristall: Former CEO of Number Ten Architectural Group with offices in Winnipeg & Victoria; extensive CV includes dozens of commercial, residential and institutional projects topped by the Winnipeg Convention Centre expansion; current board member with Harmony Project Sooke and trailblazing collaborator with the District and the JDF Community Trails Society for three new signed public pathways now in the works.
* Steve Grundy: Newly retired as VP Academic and Provost at Royal Roads University while remaining a professor in its School of Environment & Sustainability; served with Sooke's Economic Development Commission; ex-board member with the Sooke Chamber of Commerce; ex-chair of the Juan de Fuca Land Use Committee; Saseenos resident and mountain biking enthusiast.
* Ellen Lewers: Local force of nature and super-engaged citizen who served on Sooke's two previous OCP Steering Committees, chairing the 2008-10 edition; member of Sooke's Board of Variance since its foundation in the early '00s; former president of the Sooke Fall Fair; founding board member with Sooke Region Food CHI; owner/operator/grower-in-chief at Mrs. Lewers' Farmhouse, among much else.
* Linda MacMillan: Another much-respected #Sooke mover/shaker dating back to when she supervised the Sooke Cooperative Preschool in the 1980s; former board member with EMCS Society, Sooke Family Resource Society, Sooke Fine Arts Society, Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, the Classical Boating Society and the Chamber of Commerce; and first known to me and many as the Remax realtor (1992-2018) who shared an untold number of listings around town with her husband Bruce (who himself was on the 2001 OCP committee).
* Siomonn Pulla: Academic and specialist in Indigenous rights, governance and language revitalization; Program Head of the Doctor of Social Sciences program at Royal Roads; former senior research associate with the Conference Board of Canada; family man with three young children living in the town centre.
* Helen Ritts: Marketing and communications professional who telecommutes from Sooke while focusing on sustainable buildings and infrastructure for such clients as Metro Vancouver, the CRD, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University; former Marketing Director with Bing Thom Architects in Vancouver; smart growth champion for the town centre.
We selected Councillor Al Beddows to be council's non-voting appointee. Mayor Maja Tait will participate as is her ex-offico right with all District committees and commissions. Sooke's Senior Planner Katherine Lesyshen and the DIALOG consultancy team led by Jennifer Fix will work closely with all of the above. Also part of the team are specialists with Sustainability Solutions Group, Colliers International, WATT Consulting Group and, for the critical mapping sections of the OCP, Licker Geospatial Consulting.
All in all, I reckon, the process is in excellent hands. I know five of the public appointees to varying degrees, and can vouchsafe for them as smart, engaged, caring, passionate and, above all, knowledgeable and experienced in their respective fields.
As I noted in an earlier post on this page, "DIALOG reps have stickhandled first-rate OCPs over the last decade for Powell River, White Rock, Regina and, most recently, the City of Colwood (where prospective team lead Jennifer Fix - such a good name for the job! - and others associated with the current bid collaborated with our returnee planner Katherine Letyshin). It also masterminded the Abbotsford OCP (aka 'Abbotsforward'), which is frequently cited as an model of its kind in terms of public engagement and final product. (I spoke with Abbotsford councillor Brenda Falk at the UBCM convention last fall, and she had nothing but positives to say about DIALOG and the creative, systematic, legislatively precise approach it brought to the two-year process.)"
DIALOG has also played key roles in creating blueprints for Ladysmith's waterfront, a makeover of main street Tofino, a North Cowichan climate mitigation strategy, and a refresh of the University of Victoria campus masterplan.
Opportunities for COVID-proof public and stakeholder group input -- interactive surveys (via Metroquest), livestreamed presentations, Facebook and Zoom Q&As, a branded OCP website, etc. -- will be rolled out over the next year or so. (Which is great, of course, but far less satisfying and effective than the traditional OCP process involving rooms packed with citizens and interest groups, engaging in facilitated dialogue and etching out the future with maps and magic markers in real time. So it goes in this year or likely two of frustrating, patience-testing, disconnected living differently. One example: Council's desire to welcome a limited number of citizens back into council chambers for meetings and the challenges in so doing.)
In making its selections, council did its best to ensure the appointees covered the spectrum of expertise outlined in the request for applications: Building & Economic Development Community; Health and Social Services; Environmental Stewardship & Climate Change; Business & Tourism; Arts, Culture & Recreation; and First Nations Culture & Heritage Resources. The missing link is a young adult under 29, a demographic from whom we regrettably received no applications. (A second call for such a bright light might be issued at the committee's discretion. The consultants do plan to gather OCP input from students at the elementary, middle-school and community school levels as best they COVID can in collaboration with principals and teachers.)
The afternoon after the night we made these selections last week, council heard from DIALOG's team leaders at a Committee of the Whole session. They introduced the process ahead and laid out a four-stage timeline as per the likely unreadable screenshot below taken from its original proposal (you'll find the chart on pg. 82 of council's June 8 agenda; full proposal, the front cover of which is below, is on pp. 44-87). Ms. Fix noted that, in her experience in developing other OCPs, the essential community vision and desired outcomes expressed from one plan to the next rarely changes dramatically. The art lies in identifying SMART actions and streamlining the final document so that it can be enacted effectively over the plan's finite lifespan.
Last week's COW was also the opportunity for council to sing our individual refrains and chorused harmonies regarding what we hope/desire from the OCP. A few simple questions were circulated to us beforehand to spark discussion. Not surprisingly, I resonated with everything I heard from my colleagues. We're all fans of the infographic from the #PlanSookeNow engagement in 2015/16. We agree the current OCP is packed with gold yet a little unwieldy and contradictory; the new version needs to be more tightly crafted. And we all confirmed that we want Sooke to grow steadily into a complete, compact, sustainable, climate-smart 21st Century community that we're even more proud to call home.
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Footnote: One of DIALOG's questions was "If we dream big and act boldly, what can this OCP accomplish for Sooke?"
In the notes I prepared beforehand, I wrote: It can be a sturdy, useful, much-referenced planning document that further defines us as a progressive small town-turning-city that truly gets it that our quality of life is measured not by development activity, affluence and the number of different chain retailers that can be squeezed into a new shopping mall, but rather by the following:
* Smart Growth civic planning
* Local economic development
* Community safety & emergency preparedness
* 20-minute neighbourhoods
* Public/private/non-profit collaboration
* Enhanced transit service encouraging transportation mode shift
* Waste reduction, recycling and reuse - circular economy
* Green energy
* Housing initiatives: Affordable, alternative and/or Net Zero
* Reskilling education
* Regional food security
* Recreation, sports, active community living
* Voluntary simplicity
* Raising our Index of Happiness
The good news is that so much of the above has become 'new normal' 2020 (pre-COVID anyway) thinking in Canada. Sooke's suite of new planning documents -- Transportation and Parks & Trails included -- capture aspects of these aspirations well in practical, action-list fashion.
Other thoughts from my pre-COW notes that I shared to a degree with the consultants ...
- General consensus of all I've talked to over the years is that we must retain Sooke's small town character, charm and singular environmental beauty as we carefully, strategically manage the current and future waves of growth (now all the more so given our declaration of a climate emergency). #LetSookeBeSooke
- We need to develop a focused, practical yet still visionary Official Community Plan that will serve as the master planning document for the next ten years while also locking in land-use patterns and development growth areas beyond that timeframe.
- The OCP should reflect current community thinking while retaining the essence of earlier OCPs and CRD area plans. These, to me, have one common theme: Growth is focused in our town centre while the rest of the District retains its rural character.
- Woo and recruit developers, gap independent businesses and new residents to the town centre to begin realizing the long-standing community vision of an age-friendly seaside village with ample waterfront access.
- Steps need be taken to reverse to some degree our status as a bedroom community while becoming more of a complete community through ...
* #Sooke Smart Growth densification in the town centre;
* Local Economic Development with enhanced town centre business space and development of existing light industrial and commercial zones outside the core east of the Sooke River;
* Continued expansion of local health care and ongoing advocacy for a primary health care centre;
* Relief from the growing traffic congestion choking Hwy #14 through the development of local jobs, ongoing transportation mode shift, and home-based telecommuting.
* Creation of community gathering spaces as identified by the Sooke Lions Club and the Sooke Elderly Citizens Society.
* Food security initiatives that revitalize currently fallow ALR properties.
- We are a small seaside community whose growth potential is necessarily limited by geography and access via a two-lane highway increasingly choked with commuter traffic.
- We in Sooke have zero desire to be another Langford. Yet what can we learn from how our neighbour developed so systematically with a consistent strategy established in its 1990 OCP and maintained to this day.
All this said, the devil is in the details and the real business of a municipality involves one relatively micro decision after the next -- a zoning change here, a parking exemption (or not) to allow a much-demanded child care centre there.
While council remains largely focused on the small stuff along with action items in our 2018-22 Strategic Plan, it's reassuring (exciting! says the enthusiast) to know that staff, consultants and our estimable new OCP committee are shaping a big, beautiful frame Sooke can grow into over time.