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.)