Tomorrow afternoon's Committee of the Whole meeting will introduce draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for two new committees: The revived Land Use and Development Committee and a newly envisioned Community Economic Development Committee.
A good time, then, to update this entry from earlier this year as a head's up to anyone who may wish to apply when the call is released before year's end. On other fronts pitched earlier, the Official Community Plan Steering Committee and the Sooke Program of the Arts Committee have had their inaugural meetings in recent weeks, and the Climate Action Committee is into its second year (with its next Zoom meeting set for this Tuesday at 5:30 pm.). Council has had some very tough decisions to make so far, and hopefully that will be the case again when selecting participants for these additional committees. Sincere thanks from us all to everyone who applies. (And if you want to make a difference here and now, by all means dedicate some quality time to the current OCP survey before Nov. 6.)
These two new one-year committees will complete the picture for now. As with all District committees you're welcome to silently observe or actively participate (during public comment opportunities) in any of them via prior request to email@example.com or by phoning 250.642.1634.
As you're see in the draft TORs for the new committees published in Monday's agenda, the District has revised past committee practices in two significant ways: 1. Specific areas of expertise and interest are listed (as opposed to the generalized call-outs for public members) ... and 2. The Mayor's appointee from council is not automatically named chairperson and it's up to the committee itself to choose their facilitator at the first meeting (which, to me, is a suitable empowering sign of respect to those selected to serve.)
Community Economic Development Committee
The latest iteration of a long-standing focus in Sooke and every community seeking to create local jobs and a healthy business sector. From what I can ascertain, the municipality's first "Economic Development Strategy Session" was held in September, 2002; it's fascinating to look back to the minutes (pp. 11-15) and see how many wish-list items have been ticked and how much of what is at issue today was recognized back then (apart from today's top challenge ~ managing the kind of population growth likely unimagined by folks back then.) (Actually, I'm wrong: the 2001 OCP predicts 15,500 by 2026, and that's only likely to be a few thousand short of the mark) .
The Economic Development Commission was launched by Mayor Evans in 2006 in collaboration with what was then known as the Sooke Harbour Chamber of Commerce. Its positive thinking in the '00s is captured in the District's 2008 annual report (pg. 18 and 36), the EDC's "Age-Friendly Dialogue" report, the "Advantage Sooke" website, the Sooke Sustainable Development Strategy (pp. 27-30, "Strategy #7 -- Promote jobs and businesses that contribute to a locally-oriented, green economy") and the 2010 Official Community Plan (section 4.4, pp. 32-37; developing Sooke's "Wild By Nature" tourism economy is cited as a primary OCP goal on an extensive action list topped by ongoing support for the EDC, the hiring of an economic development officer and the creation of a "District of Sooke Economic Development Corporation" in the mould of successful models elsewhere.)
The EDC's six-year run ended when Mayor Milne replaced it with the Advisory Panel on Economic Development for 2013-14. The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce continued to do its vital work and is again working hard and strategically to navigate the business sector through this unfortunate year and beyond. Now council, though our latest Strategic Plan review, has asked that a new committee be launched to address "community economic development" -- distinct from textbook "economic development" and defined by the Canadian CED Network as strategic actions that "strengthen communities by creating economic opportunities to enhance social and environmental conditions."
Simon Fraser University's Five Principles of Community Economic Development sum it up neatly. The holistic goal is to "create inclusive local economies, develop nourishing livelihood opportunities, build on local resources and capacities, increase community control and ownership, enhance the health of the environment, and encourage community resilience." Pretty much consistent with Sooke's earlier thinking documented above and all very much in the spirit of the sustainable triple bottom line. (YouTube summary + this explanation by economist John Elkington on his thinking in coining that term).
Everyone agrees, I'm sure, that we must get through the pandemic without losing the heart/soul of our business community, then renew all these earlier efforts to create jobs locally, stem the commuter tide, support existing businesses and spur development of our relatively small sectors of commercial (C2) and general industrial (M2) zoned land. All while keeping Sooke's character intact and not undergoing Langford-ization (or Colwood-ization, for that matter).
The possibilities and best-practice actions going forward were documented in the Sooke Economic Analysis released last December (see pp. 13-69).
Much credit for this new phase of ED activity goes to the revitalized Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce under new president Karen Mason and executive director Britt Santowski. The Chamber came to council last year reapplying for community service agreement funds that it surrendered in 2016 when it became clear it was being asked by the District to effectively take on the work of a Economic Develoment Officer for a slim $28k per year. This May we okayed $16k as a one-year starter with the promise to consider stable funding in the 2021 budget.
A council and senior staff workshop in January with Cheryl McLay of the Province of BC's Regional Economic Operations Branch was an intro to a wealth of economic development tools and support available to small communities like our own via the province, the BC Economic Development Association and other avenues. Not long after this Sooke joined the South Island Prosperity Project in support of its efforts to keep the South Island competitive in attracting businesses and investment dollars to the region.
CAO McInnis followed up the council workshop by creating an informal working group that has met twice-monthly since the spring. It features McLay, Mayor Tait and representatives from six key local organizations: the Chamber's Mason, Sooke Region Museum and Visitors Centre's Lee Boyko, Sooke Region Communities Health Network's Don Brown, Sooke Region Tourism Association's Ryan Chamberland, WorkLink Employment Society's Peter Doukakis, and the Economic Development Group's Doug Wittich.
The Terms of Reference ensure all of the above organizations will have seats at the table along with a councillor and two public members. Their first critical ask is that the District find the dollars in the 2021 budget, live up to earlier intentions dating back at least 15 years and hire a Community Development Officer next year. (For its part, the Climate Action Committee understandably would like to see dollars dedicated to a part-time environment/climate specialist to help process a hefty workload passed down to it by council. Needs/wants/wishes, what is a community to do without blowing residential taxes -- currently 85% of the total annual haul -- through the roof? Cultivate more business tax portfolios, that's what.)
From the new committee's draft terms ... Mandate: The objectives of the Committee are to promote community economic development initiatives, engage and communicate with community groups, business owners and members of the public, and facilitate economic development and the planning and use of community spaces and resources. Topics for consideration by the committee:
· Hire a Community Economic Development Officer
· Review key commercial parcels, including those held privately, and explore opportunities
· Liaise with South Island Prosperity Partnership
· Address workforce challenges for local employers
· Attract and promote investment including the completion of the Community Investment Brochure and updates to Sooke profile on britishcolumbia.ca
· Support Buy Local initiatives, business retention and expansion
· Complete Municipal and Regional Destination Tax (MRDT) application
· Develop a Tourism Strategy for Sooke
· Support social and economic development initiatives of Social Services organizations
Here are links to community economic development overviews for Revelstoke, Vancouver, Bowen Island, Clearwater, the Thompson Okanagan region and Williams Lake, to cite a handful of provincial examples. Still more to learn on the subject from Cowichan Valley Regional District, Community Futures Cowichan, the City of Langford and a place to which we're often compared given our shared proximity to a major city, Squamish.
The province's Investment Readiness Assessment Checklist for communities is also likely to be given a workout by the new committee. Requirement one: "A designated point person for economic development," hence the call for a full-time CED Officer. An individual who could liaise with local businesses, woo new investors, execute committee and council recommendations, write grant proposals and cheerlead for #Sooke as we build out our town centre would surely be public money well spent. (Always with the proviso that we must stay fiscally conservative during an unpredictable pandemic.)
Land Use and Development Committee
This will be third time a Land Use Committee has been struck over the last decade. First was the Land Use & Environment Committee during Mayor Milne's term (2011-2014). Designed like the Finance & Administration Committee of the time to be a strong adjunct of council, it featured at least three council representatives (builder Herb Haldane included) and such expert appointees from the development community as Adrian Cownden and Geoff Steele. (I'm unable to find, at a first attempt, its Terms of Reference within the District's reliably tricky -- for me, at any rate -- electronic archives, aka the Civic Portal. Easy access to the committee's minutes from 2012, 2013 and 2014, however.)
The District organized a Development & Engagement Workshop in September, 2017 and it identified issues (many related to the notorious need to alleviate developer wait times for permits) that spurred the creation of a new Development & Land Use Committee in early 2018. It was chaired by Cllr. Berger and featured local building stalwarts Randy Clarkson and Herb Haldane along with former Sooke Region Food CHI treasurer Lynn Saur.
At the first of a half-dozen meetings during its one-year term, the discussion covered much ground starting with the need for a new Transportation Masterplan. Four areas of focus were determined for future meetings: A new Sooke Building Code based on the Municipal Insurance Association of BC's model bylaw and aligned with the then-newly updated BC Building Act; the delegation of Development Permit approvals to staff (as opposed to council) to speed the process; the District's need to cover the costs of staff time by charging applicants for consultation meetings; and the integration of the BC Energy Step Code into a new building bylaw.
Council received a draft Building Regulation Bylaw in mid-February (see agenda, pp. 27-91). The COVID-delayed public engagement process outlined back then is moving ahead now with this month's survey and Thursday evening's feedback session intended for local builders and developers. This is on top of earlier informal consultation, as noted in the staff report early this year: "This new edition of the bylaw has been under development for over one year, starting at the Development & Land Use Committee, followed by a heavy internal review, fulsome discussions with all affected staff and the building community, as well as several legal reviews throughout the process."
(That said, there is definite pushback in the survey responses to the proposal that the new bylaw launch Sooke at Step Code level three. Echoing sharply critical feedback heard when the code was introduced in 2017, the Victoria Residential Builders' Association summarized its objections recently, noting "our builder’s estimate of the added cost for a BC Step Code Tier 3 home is $28,000 not including overhead. The home was modeled by a Certified Energy Advisor and this was the lowest cost option. The BC government has previously claimed the added cost is $3,945 for Tier 3." Housing affordability and margins are the issue. The VRBA is calling for BC to adhere to guidelines in the next update of the National Building Code of Canada expected in December.)
With the OCP underway and a new zoning bylaw to emerge from it, the timing is definitely right for a new Land Use committee. It shapes up to be more balanced and inclusive than those in the past with one member each ideally coming from the following sectors:
* Land Development Communitiy
* Home Builders Community
* Business Community
* Agricultural Community
* Environmental Climate Change Community
* Ocean and Fisheries
* Plus two members at large, one councillor and, in her ex-offico capacity, Mayor Tait.
As the draft TOR states ...
"Mandate: The objectives of the Committee are to encourage adherence to District of Sooke land use policies, and when presented with alternative solutions to achieving the strategic goals of the organization, provide policy recommendations or best practices to achieve the desired priorities. Topics for consideration:
• Secondary Suites
• Town Centre Development
• Shoreline-Waterway Interface
• Development Incentives
• Subdivision and Development Standards
• Sub-Regional Land Use Planning
• Agricultural Land Reserve Parcels
• Official Community Plan Analytics
• Zoning Bylaw Updates"
Watch for the call for applications to both committees on the District's website, in a press release, and on a markedly more timely, creative and busy Twitter feed courtesy Sooke's new Communications Coordinator Christina Moog.
Original entry - June 7, 2020
In brief (and what i meant to simply say before the words piled up): There are and will be openings for public participation on District of Sooke committees ~ currently one spot each on the Climate Action Committee and the Board of Variance ... and, in the near-ish future, the Sooke Program of the Arts Committee and, ta-dah, the Official Community Plan Steering Committee. Other opportunities for TBD committees will follow, I'm confident. My point is that it's again the season for locals keen to contribute their time, expertise and vision to Sooke's near and mid-term future to step up and submit applications. Watch the District's website for the call and I'll share opportunities as they arise on my Facebook page.
In my COVID cocoon, I've been revisiting my campaign website to review the big ideas, hopes and what-ifs I shared before the election. In the rear-view of 18 months of local government experience, I now acknowledge a number of them are -- what is the right word? -- "naive" will suffice for now. I did try back then to frame my thoughts as ones that might be realized with planning and patience over time, rather than a set of campaign promises. That, I felt, was realistic. I've followed municipal government just long enough to recognize that the norm involves starts, staff reports, stops, rethinks, revisions and relatively glacial progress towards consensus ambitions that are, hooray, eventually realized. I hope a fair share of the possibilities I floated in 2018 -- many of them grounded in existing District plans and reports -- will be captured and/or reconfirmed in our next Official Community Plan (OCP) over this year and next.
One hope that will be realized (as it has been in the past locally and in all functional municipalities) in the near-ish future is the following: "Tap citizen expertise with an expanded range of committees, commissions and task forces. Sooke's people are our strongest resource. How can we harness these people and given them a chance to put their skills to work in shaping our community's destiny?"
On this note, bright, talented, eager-to-contribute locals will be interested to know that, at Monday night's special council meeting (agenda here), we will be looking at terms of reference for a new OCP Steering Committee and a revitalized Sooke Program of the Arts Committee.
The SPA Committee is returning a year after the sad passing of its former chairperson, the irreplaceable Cllr. Brenda Parkinson. In keeping with tradition, it will feature a mix of public members (hopefully a number of fine returnees among them) and one representative each from the Sooke Arts Council and the Sooke Region Historical Society. Other organizations will be considered. The new committee will, I imagine, be asked to initiate action on the previous group's top recommendations -- the painting of the town centre's three crosswalks (featuring, in turn, a rainbow, musical notes and the combo of whale's tail and leaping salmon) and a makeover of the tourism kiosk at Evergreen Mall. The new committee will also have license to conjure fresh ideas that will (to quote the existing terms of reference) "foster public awareness, recognition, education, support and celebration of the community arts in Sooke." (The Whiffin Spit memorial wall is also a legacy of Brenda's SPA committee; the staff recommendation for a display space for memorial plaques in Quimper Park near the Spit parking lot is being brought back by Mayor Tait for reconsideration Monday night; this is to ensure staff will work with the new committee and in consultation with the T'Sou-ke on a dignified, effective, respectful and yet also unique and artistic memorial facing the harbour.)
As for the OCP Steering Committee, the staff proposal (see below for excerpts from the report and a nod of appeciation to those who previously served on this most impactful of all committees) identifies the need for seven public members to represent and speak for the following key sectors of #Sooke: environmental stewardship (to cite #PlanSooke priority #1 at the outset); economic development; healthcare; culture, recreation and the arts; building and trades; First Nations; and youth.
A councillor would be appointed to join this group, a chair would be chosen among the participants, and staff support would be provided. Then, as ever with OCPs, a series of public meetings and consultations would follow under the guidance of a planning consultant. This will be the municipality's third OCP following the 2001 original and the current 2010 model. (The first advisory group involved six public members, two councillors and the Mayor; the second featured 12 public members and three councillors. The heaviest lifting was done by paid consultants and staff.)
The right consultancy firm is essential. The District received nine responses to the Request for Proposals issued in March. District staff is recommending the $200k contract go to DIALOG, a leading light among North American community design and planning groups with offices across Canada and the U.S., including a Van Isle outpost. It would work in consultation with planning experts from four other firms: the Sustainability Solutions Group, Colliers International, WATT Consulting Group and, for the critical mapping sections of the OCP, Licker Geospatial Consulting (which claims "geography is badass," no arguments here.)
Winner of multiple planning awards, DIALOG is particularly renowned for the Community Wellbeing Framework developed in association with the Conference Board of Canada. It's an early 21th century, infographic-driven version of the common sense #SmartGrowth approach to creating community via tight-knit town sites, trail/sidewalk connectivity, green spaces, recreation, shopping, active transportation routes and ideally jobs too all within easy walking/commuting distance. Studies (to reinforce said common sense) show that people are far happier in these kind of planned built environments than the far-flung sprawl communities that developed post-WWII. The framework was showcased at last year's Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in front of a full house in Quebec City that included Mayor Tait and five of we councillors. (Here's the executive summary.)
More to the point, 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.)
The company has also developed 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. All in all, the firm has a great track record and looks wonderful on paper (not, I should note, that we on council had an opportunity to vet the other submissions.)
HERE & NOW COMMITTEE NEEDS
Okay, all the above is ahead of us and subject to our council discussion on Monday night. In the meantime, a few engaged locals here in Vancouver Island's volunteer capital are required immediately for two committee vacancies at the District of Sooke ...
i) The Board of Variance
i) The Climate Action Committee
The three-person Board of Variance is "an independent body which considers requests for minor variances to the Sooke Zoning Bylaw, where compliance would cause undue hardship." The board is a requirement of the Local Government Act. The term is for three years and meetings are infrequent (the last was in 2015), though likely will be more frequent when a full compliment of board members is in place. (The current council has handled several tricky variances in its absence.)
Personally, if unelected, I'd jump for a chance to join the Climate Action Committee under the lead of Councillor St-Pierre. Two of the current group have had to step down for various good reasons The first of these slots was filled recently by Jeffrey Robinson, an energy audit specialist with Sunriver-based Enertech Solutions. One more willing soul is still required. Tony and his A-list team (Roland Alcock, Diane Bernard, Susan Clarke, Catherine Keogan, Andrew Moore, Christina Schlatter, Kyle Topelko) have spent the last year establishing sub-committees on four consensus priority areas -- Food Security; Transportation; Engagement and Education on Climate Change; and Sustainable Development and Land Use. Working groups focused on each have now developed short, medium and longer-term objectives utilizing the SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Specific) yardstick.
The draft of the committee's work plan was released in its May 26 Zoom agenda and I heartily recommend the read: it's an exciting, comprehensive, achievable vision over time. It will be brought to council for discussion in the near future. Paired with Transition Sooke's Community Action Town Hall report from last fall and the set of now-operational volunteer climate action teams that emerged from it, we are very much beginning to act like a community that was among the first in Canada to declare a climate emergency.
The CAC's food-security recommendations have already been approved for discussion and hopeful inclusion in council's four-year Strategic Plan; we'll be determining their relative now/next/later priority status during the plan's six-month at the end of June. (Revisiting the 2012 Agricultural Plan and establishing a Food Policy Council, as the CAC has recommended, seems vital at a time when localized food sources - from farms and backyards alike -- are so important as climate change threatens our supplies of imported fruit and produce (as alarmingly documented last year by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; New York Times coverage of the report here).
Bottom line: If you are contemplating applying to this lively, forward-thinking Committee, please peruse its archive of committee agendas and minutes, take a look at this post of mine from last year, and then submit the application you'll find here.
MORE ON THE OCP STEERING COMMITTEE, 2020/21
Okay, for those still reading, back to the preparatory steps for the OCP Steering Committee as stated in this excerpt from Monday's agenda (see pp. 89/90). The proposed Terms of Reference follow on pp. 101-104. Further background on the process ahead in my pre-COVID blog post here.
"Staff has prepared a draft Terms of Reference (Attachment 1) for Council consideration. The Official Community Plan Advisory Committee (OCP-AC) will be a Select Committee of Council, comprised of one council liaison member, and seven (7) appointed members of the public who will represent a balance of community interests on a broad number of local topics. Ideally, members would have an extensive knowledge or current involvement in one of the following:
1. Building & Economic Development Community
2. Health & Social Services
3. Environmental Stewardship
4. Business & Tourism Community
5. Arts,Culture & Recreation
6. Youth or Young Adult (Under29)
7. First Nations Culture & Heritage Resources
The purpose of the committee is to provide Council with meaningful, technical input on a range of community issues related to the creation of an updated Official Community Plan. The OCP-AC will provide technical guidance at key project milestones including identification of key community issues, input on draft materials, input on policy options,
and input on implementation strategies. Existing District committees may wish to encourage their members to apply to serve on this committee as well.
Staff and the project consultant will be available at each committee meeting to provide clerical and technical support. The engagement strategy prepared by the selected consultant, which will be forthcoming in the project start-up, will also refine meeting frequency and function. It is expected that approximately 6 meetings will be required in the duration of the project. The committee is intended to be advisory in nature, and will always include facilitated discussions. Committee members will act as ambassadors of the project and the expectation is that members will take part in helping to promote the project, and when possible, attend public consultation events that are planned.
The Terms of Reference also cover the eventuality that virtual committee meetings may be held in order to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 over the coming year.
Once Council has approved the Terms of Reference, staff will advertise for committee membership in accordance with Policy No. 1.4, Committee Structure and Function Policy, 2006 and report back during an in-camera meeting of Council for membership selection. Once committee membership has been announced, the committee will begin meeting following project kick off, which is anticipated at the end of August."
Before closing, I'll take the opportunity on this infinitely unfolding page to acknowledge members of the District's first two OCP steering committees. No small thing to step up and contribute in such a public manner where one can anticipate praise, blame or, given the fact that most residents are far too busy with the rest of their lives to notice, echoing silence. As I've repeatedly said before, we need to value the time, brainpower, hard work and, in the case of the consultants, significant public funding dedicated to previous reports and studies. We need to re-read them carefully, weigh their gifts and flaws, and only then set out on this latest attempt to repurpose (rather than reinvent) a wheel that's already rolled a long way -- 20 years as a municipality, 53 years within the Capital Regional District, more than 170 years as a settler community and at least 12,000 years with the T'Sou-ke. (Given our cultural ADHD and short-term amnesia, it's such a temptation with bright, shiny new toys/approaches to discount worthy earlier achievements.)
If you want to get the jump on other potential applicants and/or play a meaningful role during the public consultations, please download existing plans from the District's website and especially spend time in the depths of the current OCP. The menu of options will soon be expanded with the addition of Sooke's new Transportation Masterplan (which we'll receive at a Committee of the Whole meeting on June 22) and a refreshed Parks & Trails Masterplan later this summer.
Now a round of applause for those who have served ...
OCP 2001 Steering Committee (term: Feb. to Dec., 2001)
- Councillor Lorna Barry (Chair)
- Councillor Jeff Stewart
- Mayor Ed Macgregor (Ex officio)
- Community representatives Tom Burgess, Marion Desrochers, Dwight Johnston, Bruce MacMillan, Richard Stafford and Laurie Szadkowski
- Consultants: Urban Aspects Consulting Group, idealink architecture, Cloghesy + Doak Ltd., GMK 2000
- Staff: Tom Day, Chief Administrator; Frank Limshue, Municipal Planner
OCP 2010 Review Committee (term: 2007-2010)
- Councillor David Bennett (Chair, 2007/08)
- Ellen Lewers (Chair, 2009)
- Councillors Sheila Beech and Ron Dumont
- Public members: Randy Clarkston, Patrick Fallon, Rick Gates, Dana Lajeunesse, David Mallett, Andrew Moore, John Nicholson, Mark Poppe, Susan Todman, Tara Tompkins and Laurie Wallace.
- Consultant: Mazzoni & Associates Planning - Felice Mazzoni, Principle
- Staff: Gerald Christie, Director of Planning; Ian Scott, Planner