Approx. 200 people attended the open house (me too). The overwhelming viewpoint left on the message boards was "no, not in JPMP," an opinion delivered variously on the polite-to-blunt spectrum ranging from respectful appreciation for a solid civic-minded proposal by a valued community organization with long continuing years of service to Sooke ... to heartfelt paeans to the park as it exists today and negative expressions of all caps and multiple !!! vigor.
There were thumbs up too, but in a distinct minority even though the Alternative Approval Process mustered less than 10% against (in Covid times granted) ... and, anecdotally, many were in favour (who knows how many without a referendum).
In the e-survey, the District received 247 responses -- 97 strongly agreed and 24 agreed with the statement "would you like the Lions to explore creating a community multi-use space for Sooke?" ... 58 strongly disgreed and 16 disagreed. (49 were neutral). 97 wanted this multi-use space in JPMP, 150 said elsewhere.
[Visit the District's dedicated page for a full-meal of background material.]
The recent Lions letter in full:
November 15, 2022
Box 248, Sooke, B.C. V9Z 0S9
To: Mayor and Council, District of Sooke
Re: John Phillips Memorial Park land lease
Many years prior to Sooke incorporating, the Sooke Lions had the foresight to purchase land on Murray Rd and develop a Park. Due to vandalism issues and the development of other Parks in the District this land has not been utilized fully. For over a decade the Sooke Lions have been negotiating with the District of Sooke to trade Murray Rd property for another venue that will provide better needs to the community.
The District of Sooke is growing exponentially and needs more community multi-use facilities. Our latest vision was to sell the District Murray Rd at a reduced cost and develop an active facility in John Phillips Memorial Park. Initially we appeared to have Council's full support for this endeavour.
After our Town Hall meeting and the subsequent consultants report we see the community is divided. They desire a new facility to anchor events, but not at the cost of giving up park lands. Currently we do not feel the Council is fully supportive of our plan and therefore have decided to pause and reflect on what would best serve our community and our Club.
The ideal solution would have been for the developer to cede the two acres at the south end of the Park. If those negotiations succeeded it would have been a win-win for all.
The disposition of our Murray Rd property will be the subject of further discussion amongst our members. We have received offers to purchase the land. The District is invited to make an offer separate from the previous negotiations. The Club may keep the land and build a smaller hall.
In closing I would like to thank Christina Moog and Jennifer Royer Collard for their support and efforts in this process.
Lion Danny Willis
Sooke Lions Project Chairman
Tonight's staff report states: "Administration wishes to extend an invitation to the Lions Club to keep discussions open about a potential community facility in the future." We on council will undoubtedly do likewise.
In my campaign take on this eventful process, I wrote that the 2018-22 council "advanced, for public dialogue, the Sooke Lions long-cherished vision of a multi-use community centre after 15+ years of fruitless talks with previous Sooke councils, moving it forward for what has proven to be a robust debate on its pros, cons, possible services, design and proposed location -- all as a prelude to any final decisions or alternative ideas raised by the next council."
I'm now left with paradoxical feelings ...
- gratitude to the Lions for taking the high road, recognizing the groundswell of opposition, and calling time-out for reflection.
- disappointment indeed that we on council didn't get to proceed further with a frank discussion about the what nexts of the Lion's proposal, which with creativity, care, attention and task-force engagement could have evolved into a win-win-win on multiple (if never, ever all) fronts ... and still ideally will.
- relief to see it in the rear-view given the way things had devolved into a Sooke-scale civil war of words, letters to the editor, misinformation of the clubhouse/paving-the-park variety, and red graffiti sprayed/slashed across the open-house notice board. (At the election speed-rate at the hall, two voters -- one pro, the other con -- stomped away from my table after I declined to mirror their viewpoints and instead suggested we should keep the proposal alive and evolving.)
- abiding curiosity about where things go next (read on for clues)
Ahead at some TBD point in time (2023 if it's to be included in our budget) is a John Phillips Memorial Park masterplanning update as recommended in short-term action item 5.2 (pg. 73) of the Parks and Trails Masterplan.
There's no shortage of available views and opinions to work from dating from the original 2006 JPMP committee report to last month's feedback. I figure a time-limited task force should be struck to analyze available data and report back to council re: JPMP. It would logically include x-number of citizen reps along with one each from District staff, council, the Lions, immediate area residential developers, and others to be identified in the Terms of Reference. Better that, I think, then going back to square one with still more public input echoing themes/needs/wants already heard.
[See the District's JPMP page for contextual material such as this ...
As reported in 2005 and 2016, community response shows a strong desire for a park that:
- Maintains our green space and preserves the natural areas while making the best use of the parks’ greatest feature, the pond.
- Promotes an active, well-used park that caters to the general public.
- Serves a wide range of community needs including those of seniors, families, youth, children and tourists and provides accessibility for those with special needs.
- Provides a central gathering area for family and neighbourhood groups, festivals, community markets.
- Acts as a hub with pathways connecting to community trails and the downtown core.
- Provides adequate parking with additional access to be by pathways.]
The top requested amenities in this fall's District e-survey were "an anchor for hosting special events," a "performance stage," "a meeting/program space for 20-30 people," "a banquet hall for 200 people," "a commercial kitchen" and a "playground" -- all of which save the playground was included in the Lions proposal. (It also included Lion John Farmer's promising proposal for an on-site sensory garden ... see Kew Gardens' best practice guide to creating one.)
The time-out also means the community will be able to gauge the impact on JPMP by residents of RG Foster Development's 2023-ready 77-unit apartment building at the former Mulligans. (The Vancouver developer is also involved with phase three of Viewpointe Estates, I learn in visiting its website.)
And we'll see how the Lions determine the future of its P2-zoned Murray Road property. (We need waterside town-centre green space to be sure. But you'll all remember the non-starting Habitat For Humanity proposal in 2017/18, which would have required a rezone to go ahead. Truly affordable housing for low-income families is a significant town-centre need too. The Victoria-based Community Social Planning Council's recent Filling the Gap report spotlights Sooke on pp. 27-32. According to this report based on our own Housing Needs Assessment, 715 Sooke households with incomes well below the median are in "core housing need," meaning these people are living in situations that don't meeting national housing standards re: adequacy (i.e., repairs are needed), affordability (costs are more than 30% of before-tax household income), and suitability (homes are too small for the size of the household.) The two BC Housing projects on the town-centre east side will provide 245 of these below-market rent units.
Yes, we all love our golf-course-turned-central park (and many more of us should be getting out and enjoying it in person rather than doing so in theory or during drive-bys). Yes, we need community facilities. Yes, happily, there is energy to dream large and make things happen in Sooke as the Lions and the Gathering Place cohorts are proving. And yes, sometimes long-game plans go pear-shaped and require u-turns to see fresh possibilities as is the case here.
In time, Aragon Properties -- owner of the wedge of land near Wadams Way that Lion Willis references in his letter, i.e. the white crescent in the map above -- will be further along with its Wadams Farm development and ready to tackle its second of two Sooke projects, Nott Brook (zoned for 127 homes on the west side of the old golf course).
Negotiations with the District will then renew over that piece of land, a portion of which will ideally feature a future roundabout to keep traffic flowing at the junction of Otter Point Rd. and the future bypass route linking Wadams Way with Grant Road West.
What else might find a home on this land if indeed the District can secure it? Time, as it reliably always does, will tell.
March 17, 2022 Update: The Sooke Lions have now produced architectural renderings, exact mapping and a refinement of its one-page mission statement as the prelude to further council and public engagement. All is included in the Land Use & Development Committee's supplemental agenda dated March 16.
"SOOKE LIONS CENTRE
A FLUID PLAN TO BUILD A COMMUNITY ASSET
- to enhance the usability of John Philips Memorial Park for the residents of Sooke
- to have a building to anchor events such as Canada Day, concerts, festivals, farmers/craft markets, and more
- to have sustainability with a tenant that provides for communities needs such as a daycare.
- to have a meeting space for service clubs, seniors, youth, and other community groups
- to have a smaller hall with ambience for weddings, small conferences, and other community gatherings
- to have another asset for Emergency Preparedness that may be used in the event of any community disaster
- to be built with the utmost care in being environmentally aware and minimal carbon footprint.
- funds will be raised through government grants, fundraisers, and community contributions
- the Centre will be managed by a separate community society
- for more information and to provide input go to sookelions.com - lions centre"
The LUC members were to weigh in on the staff question: "What additional information may help inform the community and what matters should be specifically highlighted when considering the advantages and disadvantages to the Sooke Lions proposal?" Unfortunately, traffic troubles being what they are at the moment, only four committee members arrived in time yesterday and they were one short of quorum. So as per procedural guidelines, the meeting had to be cancelled. (The needed member showed up shortly afterwards, however the one person from the public in the gallery alongside Cllr Lajeunesse and myself had already left and it wasn't appropriate to carry on without her.)
I imagine council will now soon receive the new Lions material and we'll make our decision on the next step. My thought is that this should entail a town hall gathering where everyone in Sooke would have the opportunity to speak their piece, minus masks (if that's your choice) and in a venue like the Community Hall, site of so much such spirited community dialogue in the past.
Only after all have been heard in person should council make a final call: To go ahead as legislatively permitted under the AAP guidelines or perhaps make this a "yay/nay" referendum question determined by 50%+1 majority during the October election. (I was asked recently whether this is a "contentious issue" in Sooke. Two former Sooke Mayors and at least one former councillor that I know support the Lions proposal but not the location; and nearly 10% of registered voters submitted an AAP response form last fall in coming this close to automatically triggering a referendum. So yes, fairly contentious, I'd say, and therefore likely best settled with a ballot question if the guiding principle is to heal community divides, not exacerbate them.)
Alternately, the 2020 Parks and Trails Masterplan (page 68) calls for a JPMP planning process "with full community engagement" as one of its short-term priorities. However this is set-up -- task force? committee? -- I would think the starting point would be a close review of the 2006 John Phillips Memorial Park Trust Committee's final report.
In the meantime, what Mayor Tait stated last October still very much applies: "At this time, no decision has been made on the future of John Phillips Memorial Park."
Oct. 31, 2021 Update: The process continues as per Mayor Tait's October letter to the community, which includes this telling line: "At this time, no decision has been made on the future of John Phillips Memorial Park." (And yet I keep hearing, from a persistent few, that it's a done deal. Not so, and never has been. District staff have told us they'll report back early in 2022 on council's request for "lease details, the Development Permit process and options for further public engagement." In the case of the latter, this will likely result in recommendations for town halls and open houses sessions where more information can be shared and everyone heard.)
Council received the results of the Alternate Approval Process at its Sept. 20 meeting (see pp. 213-214). As of the deadline five days earlier, 1,026 response forms had been received, a slim 97 short of the necessary number to officially initiate a referendum. All of us on council recognized that this was a significant figure and that it reflects community concern.
Bona fide questions have been raised:
* How, through the Development Permit process, will the park's environmental values to be protected on a site not far from Nott Brook Pond?
* How will the building meet requirements of our new OCP and embody Sooke's Net-Zero future?
* Where precisely are the building and parking footprints?
* Will the parking area be permeable or paved?
* Reaffirm and further clarify how the proposal will serve the community rather than being a "private clubhouse" as it has been false-flagged. (From the get-go, the Lions have stated the following: reception and convention space with 300-person capacity, commercial kitchen, offices, an outdoor stage and a concession stand + childcare facilities and emergency reception.)
* How does the proposal dovetail with the evolution of JPMP as a community park?
* Relative importance of public acquisition of a dedicated park on Murray Road (aka Lions Park)?
* Have alternative locations for the Lions Centre been exhausted?
Here's the official distillation of council's discussion on Sept. 20 ...
Minutes for the Regular Council Meeting of the District of Sooke - September 20, 2021
13.1. Alternate Approval Process Results - John Phillips Memorial Park (Councillor Beddows declared a conflict of interest as he is a member of the Sooke Lions Club and left the meeting at 9:03 p.m.)
The Mayor advised that this is not a District project. The District is the landholder and received a proposal from the Sooke Lions Club for the development. Staff followed the legislative requirements for the process and provided the required information. She advised there are historical plans for the enhancement of this community park, which were considered in this request.
The Director of Corporate Services provided an overview of the written staff report, outlining the Alternative Approval Process (APP), availability of electoral response forms, elector approval responses and provided options for consideration related to the next steps.
Council provided the direction and authority to conduct an assessment of the community's perspective through the APP.
- This amenity would increase park function greatly and be better utilized.
- John Phillips Memorial Park is an accessible location, through the active transportation trail network, and would offer a quality location for future events.
- Communication on this proposal went above the legislative requirements, adocument was prepared by staff, the content was curated for the website, and staff undertook many hours of face-to-face, email and phone conversations to provide information to those using the park.
- The reason for the lack of design drawings was due to the Sooke Lions not wanting to expend excess funds in advance of the community vote.
MOVED by Councillor Tony St-Pierre, seconded by Councillor Dana Lajeunesse: THAT this report pertaining to the Certification of Results regarding the Alternative Approval Process conducted to seek approval of the electors to lease a portion of John Phillips Memorial Park to the Sooke Lions be received for information.
CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY In Favour: Mayor Maja Tait, Councillor Jeff Bateman, Councillor Dana Lajeunesse and Councillor Tony St-Pierre. Absent: Councillor Al Beddows, Councillor Ebony Logins, and Councillor Megan McMath
MOVED by Councillor Jeff Bateman, seconded by Councillor Tony St-Pierre: THAT Council direct staff to bring back a report containing the lease details, the Development Permit process and options for further engagement.
CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY In Favour: Mayor Maja Tait, Councillor Jeff Bateman, Councillor Dana Lajeunesse,and Councillor Tony St-Pierre. Absent: Councillor Al Beddows, Councillor Ebony Logins, and Councillor Megan McMath
And here's the full text of Mayor Tait's October commentary, which she read into the record at the Oct. 12 council meeting:
"Specific to the Lions’ Club Proposal at John Phillips Memorial Park, Council has directed staff to bring back a report forward containing the lease details, the Development Permit process, and options for further engagement.
I recognize there was confusion with the alternative approval process (AAP) and concerns about why this path was identified. The park has considerable history and has been the focus of several community conversations over the years. John Phillips Memorial Park has been identified as a community park with purposes that include 1) a destination park that serves residents and visitors, 2) forms the visual, physical and social focus of our community and 3) offers natural feature and/or built facilities.
The Lions’ proposal presented an option to advance community amenities for consideration. To determine viability of this option, the AAP took place. With future development in the area including new housing and a significant transit corridor, while also being connected by safe bike and pedestrian access – this is an opportunity to action smart growth and ensure our community has universally accessible amenities to meet our growing needs.
At this time, no decision has been made on the future of John Phillips Memorial Park."
August 18 Update: The Alternative Approval Process opened last week and ends on Sept. 15. Further information on the project from the District here and at an AAP explainer page that includes the elector response form you'll need to sign and submit if you're opposed. Should 1,122 others join you, then a referendum it shall be.
If you have doubts about the democratic fairness of the AAP, formally known as a "counter petition" or the more attention-grabbing "negative vote," here's an editorial/rationale from the Cowichan Valley Citizen newspaper related to an AAP in its area held last year. <clip> "If we sent everything to referendum we’d have a completely unwieldy system of government where nothing ever got done ... Though imperfect, as any system is, it actually manages to be a decent middle ground between council making a decision and a full-scale referendum. It does allow the public to have a voice beyond the usual consultations, or sending in letters of protest. It can also be decent at gauging just how much opposition there may be in the community to a particular idea, though sometimes it can lead to a loud minority carrying the day."
Interesting to see how this unfolds. Lots of support vs. rumblings against, especially in the wake of last week's Sooke News Mirror article, a letter this week and the promise of further pushback by well spoken somebody/somebodies who've labelled him/her/themselves "Sookeonfire Taxpayers."
As noted below, Sooke last went to an AAP in spring 2020 when locking in our ability to borrow funds to pair with the $4.6 million federal/provincial grant we recently received to expand the wastewater treatment plant.
While I don't speak for my council colleagues (and certainly not Cllr. Beddows, who as a Lion himself has always and ever recused himself from any in-camera or public council discussions on the matter), I think it's fair to say the six others of us opted for the AAP approach vs. referendum for these reasons: i) The consensus public vision for JPMP since its acquisition by the District 15 years ago was that it evolve into a popular, well-utilized central park, not a sanctuary/refuge for the relative few (as per the conclusions of the JPMP Trust Committee and two Parks & Trails Master Plans); ii) The chosen site (once considered for the new library and covering approx. 10% of the total parkland) is nicely positioned in the rarely utilized meadow area, leaving its finest natural features untouched (i.e., the pond, the poplars, the northern hillside loop trail); iii) The Lions have developed a multi-faceted vision that will fill gaps and serve community needs -- including day care, an emergency reception centre and a concert stage, all within steps of the town centre. Plus it's a fluid, developing proposal, the Lions welcome community ideas and input, and (most importantly) they have the will, appetite and enthusiasm to make it happen.
The Sooke Lions Club has stepped up boldly (as is its nature) with a plan for a multi-purpose community gathering place in the southwest corner of John Phillips Memorial Park. See pp. 179-188 of Monday night's council agenda for a map, a rationale statement by the applicant (both attached below), the business plan and the pair of options available to council and the District in securing elector approval for the required long-term lease of public land.
The proposal -- labelled as a "Community Hall" on the map but known formally as the "Sooke Lions Centre" -- calls for a 21st Century companion and counterpart to our wonderfui 1937 heritage hall on Eustace. The business plan highlights parkside reception and convention space with 300-person capacity (suitable for meetings, weddings, family parties and public events) + commercial kitchen, offices, an outdoor stage and a concession stand.
A much-needed daycare centre is part of the vision. Facilities would be available for multi-generational programming. And the two-storey building would double as a reception centre in the event of a large-scale emergency. All within the five-to-ten minute walkability zone that our evolving Official Community Plan has identified as critical in unlocking the potential of a compact town centre in which the majority of our population resides.
The tentative deal on the table would see the Lions sell its Murray Road pocket park behind Pizzability to the District at a fair-market price; the Lions would plough the proceeds back into the new build and the District will retain the Murray Road green space as P1-zoned (public recreation use) parkland. They'd also secure the long-term lease of 1.9 acres of the park at the foot of the southwest slope leading up to Wadams Way. (Back in 2016, I believe the same approximate spot was mulled by council of the day as a site for the new Sooke library prior to their savvy decision to purchase Lot A.)
Given that JPMP is owned by the District (i.e., all of us), the Community Charter requires that any sale or, in this case, lease of public park land receive "approval of the electors," to quote Monday's staff report. "There are two processes through which this can be achieved: Assent Voting and the Alternative Approval Process (AAP)."
The first option would involve a referendum (likely to be held during the Oct. 2022 municipal election). The AAP, on the other hand, requires at least 10% of eligible Sooke voters (i.e., 1,123 precisely) to formally express their opposition and thus trigger a referendum with a 50% + 1 vote majority deciding the question. (AAPs are relatively commonplace in BC when councils determine that a subject isn't divisive enough to require a referendum; for mostly recent examples, see Nanaimo, Esquimalt, North Cedar, Courtenay, Pemberton, Port Alberni, the Peace River district, and our own Capital Regional District).
Council will determine on Monday night whether to accept the staff recommendation that we proceed with the AAP process this year. [This council's one experience with an AAP was in the first quarter of 2020 re: Sewer Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 776 (pp. 153-159), which will allow the District to borrow up to $2.2 million to pay our share of a $6.8 million expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. The remainder would be covered by the federal/provincial Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program. There was no public opposition, and we now eagerly await word on a $4.6 million grant that would increase the plant's currently challenged capacity by 50%, thus accommodating incoming growth through at least 2040 -- population 22k by then, state the CRD projections -- and ensuring the environmental health of the harbour and basin.]
Variations on the Lions Centre idea have been percolating for more than a decade as the Sooke clubs sought a long-term lease on centrally located public land. Smack in the heart of our smart-growth town centre, the park is the wholly logical spot. JPMP has been envisioned as a well-utilized central park ever since the District acquired the eastern half of the old golf course in 2005 (following the controversial covenant-shred documented in the minutes from this 2004 public hearing; see pp. 5-10).
That civic-park vision was captured after full public input by the JPMP Trust Committee chaired by Neil Flynn. It delivered its findings in late 2006. (See pp. 7 to 23 of this agenda for the final report.) And it's been reaffirmed in two successive Parks & Trails Masterplans, most recently the 2020 version where it's identified as a "community park" and defined as "a destination park that services residents and visitors; helps to form the visual, physical and social focus of the community; offers natural features and/or built facilities, cultural features and other opportunities; and supports diverse activities - picnics, special events, sports, play areas, recreation." (see pg. 26-44.)
If successful, the Sooke Lions Centre proposal would substantially launch the JPMP committee's vision of a vibrant community green space -- specifically, to quote the 2006 report, an "active, well-used park" that "caters to the general public rather than individual or small-group ownerships," "provides a meeting place, a central gathering area, for family and neighbourhood groups, festivals, community markets, etc." and "serves a wide range of community needs, including those of seniors, families, youth, children and tourists."
All while maintaining the park's natural assets, especially the pond, the trails, grassy expanses and the shady places. No question that extra careful, environmentally sensitive development of the site will be required, as the Lions are fully aware.
Over the last 15 years, loop walking trails have been embedded in the naturescape and it was determined that a Sooke bike park, as recommended in the report, would be (and is) a better fit next to Stan Jones Field at SEAPARC. Yet aside from a handful of summer events, JPMP has remained a serene green space populated by relatively small numbers of walkers, dog owners, fitness groups and Nott Pond's armada of ducks and red-winged blackbirds.
Since 2019, however, aspects of the vision have picked up momentum along with so much else in our rapidly maturing town core. Washrooms, a water fountain and signage for the Stickleback Urban Trail have been added. The relocated Sooke Country Market has drawn great numbers on Saturday mornings this summer and last just south of the Municipal Hall. A long-overdue public parking lot in the current site of the market was negotiated earlier this year as part of the deal the District struck with the developer of a pair of mixed-use commercial/residential rental buildings (see pp. 7-122) at the former Mulligans/Speed Source. And just last night the Sooke Program of the Arts Committee passed a motion (pp. 7-15) asking council to hire professionals to blueprint a design for festival and event infrastructure (an amphitheatre, for instance) in the park.
Now enter this ambitious possibility, one with a far-bigger scope and community purpose than the traditional "Lions Dens" established as home bases by and for Lions Clubs world-wide. As the map shows, the area in question is a 1.9 acre slice at the edge of a scoop of private land (not actual parkland as so many of us assume) owned by Aragon Properties. (Aragon is the widely respected Kitsilano-based boutique developer of the now-approved Wadams Farm housing project and also owners of the property on the western half of the former golf course destined for the future Nott Brook development of 127 single-family homes.)
This private land (zoned R3 - Small Lot Residential) on the east side of Otter Point Rd. will ideally be part of the future roundabout that will access the Lions project while also servicing traffic flows from Wadams Way, Otter Point and a new stretch of Wadams linking up with Grant Road (possibly via another roundabout at Gatewood, a right-of-way that logically would be opened up for through traffic from Eustace.)
Personally, I'm excited. LIke so many in Sooke, I respect and value the long-standing community contributions of the Lions, the Sooke Lionesses and the Sooke Harbourside Lions (as conveyed to me in person over the years by the members I've befriended over coffee at the Stick -- Pat Forrest, John Patterson, Randy Welters and Maxine & Godfrey Medhurst -- as well as my former across-the-street neighbours, Jeanette & Larry Umbach. The Lions Clubs International purpose and ethics shared by 1.4 million members world-wide says it all. Like so many in Sooke, it's clear to me that these folks and their colleagues have Sooke's very best interests at heart and that this proposal smartly addresses local needs.)
Whether Sooke at large agrees or not is the next question. Some people will likely and understandably not be in favour of losing this portion of the park's lightly populated, peaceful character that has been the norm since the cries of fore from golfers were silenced. If we do indeed agree to okay the Alternative Approval Process, then opponents will need to organize and find support from those 1,122 others in Sooke needed to spark a referendum. (The required AAP forms are included in Monday's agenda linked at the outset above.)