Mayor’s message: The Oliphant in the room

Council will have a very difficult decision to make on a proposed development in Cook Street Village on Dec. 8.

By Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps

Council will have a very difficult decision to make on a proposed development in Cook Street Village on Dec. 8. There are people lined up strongly on both sides of the issue. The challenge for council, is that both so-called sides are right.

The people lining up to save Cook Street Village love the village mostly as is and don’t want the feel of it to change too much. They want to protect what they love. The key issue, as I understand it, is that they’d like the building height of any new buildings capped at four storeys. They care passionately about the village and they are very dedicated in their pursuit. They are right.

On the other so-called side are Fairfield residents who support the proposed development. There are the seniors who live in big houses in Fairfield and would like to sell these, buy a condo in the proposed building and age in place.

And there’s this demographic: “My wife and I are in our early 30s and are constantly worried about finding a place once we decide to start a family. Houses in this neighbourhood are out of our price range and we want to stay here as we have parents and grandparents in the village and also grew up here. A two-bedroom condo in a development such as the one proposed is one of our best bets.” These people are also right.

In what’s already a very difficult decision and a heated situation, the tactics used by some of the people involved are really not helpful to the process or to rich public dialogue.

On the one hand, the developer took out an ad in this newspaper suggesting pre-sale opportunities for those who support the development. The language is vague enough so as not to suggest that he will give discounts to people who support the project, but the inference is there. On the other hand, some of the save the village organizers distributed a flyer to their neighbours earlier in the summer that was filled with blatant misinformation and fear.

Neither of these tactics are good for democracy or healthy public dialogue. In order to form an opinion on a matter, people need facts. And then they need a safe space to share their opinions once formed. My hope is that the public hearing at City Hall on Dec. 8 can be this space — a space where facts are shared and a space where all opinions are welcome with generosity and without worry or fear.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what council decides, Fairfield residents — current and potentially future ­— on both sides of the issue are going to need to continue to live well together.