With half the seats on Esquimalt town council up for grabs, four new candidates are stepping up to run in the municipal election, Oct. 20.
Ken Armour, Jacob Helliwell, Chris Munkacsi and Jane Vermeulen will join Veronica Greer on the ballot this fall. Three of the six current councillors in the Township – Coun. Beth Burton-Krahn, Coun. Olga Liberchuk and Coun. Susan Low – have decided not to run for re-election.
Esquimalt is a rapidly changing municipality, long thought of as the last bastion of affordability and quiet community life in the CRD.
“We are growing,” says Armour, chair of the Esquimalt Advisory Planning Commission and vice-president of the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce. “The key is to find the balance. I don’t want unencumbered growth at the expense of the community spirit.”
|Ken Armour. Photo contributed|
Armour proposes hiring an economic development officer to identify opportunities for that growth, without forgetting about businesses already in the Township.
Smart growth, he says, ensures environmental sustainability, meets the needs of existing residents and allows new generations to remain in the community.
“I want to grow the business community in Esquimalt,” says the Rock Heights resident. “Bring in more boutique shops, more goods and services so [we] don’t have to cross a bridge.”
With a skill set developed over 25 years in senior management roles in federal and provincial governments, Armour knows how to bring ideas into action and move forward with progress – namely, development.
“You’ll never eliminate disagreements on development approaches,” he says. “But I think we can bring the key parties together early in the process in order [to] have a more collaborative approach where the community can feel like they’re more of a part of the development.”
Esquimalt is a gem, Armour says. “I want to essentially take advantage of that potential and take Esquimalt to the next level.”
Jacob Helliwell grew up in Esquimalt in a family that has made the Township its home for more than five generations and with his wife, continues to make his home in Saxe Point because of the “vibrant” and “growing” community.
“I want to be involved in helping shape its future,” says the finance manager who currently works for the provincial government.
|Jacob Helliwell. Photo contributed|
An active volunteer on the Township’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Board of Variance, Helliwell understands Esquimalt is growing and increasing its housing supply is vital.
Development that is diverse and includes affordable and varied housing options (townhomes, condos, multi-family dwellings) is what will ensure residents of all ages can continue to live in Esquimalt, he says.
Building an active community with new commercial spaces to attract regional employers and build on tourism is another one of Helliwell’s goals.
“I am also committed to making sure Esquimalt’s neighbourhoods are connected and accessible so residents can easily get around the community on foot, by bike, by bus, or by car,” he says.
Prioritizing investment in parks and recreation facilities as well as increased transit and a north-south cycling connection are all platform points for Helliwell.
“I’m running for Council because I want to ensure that Esquimalt is responsive to the needs and interests of all residents and continues to be an attractive and affordable place to live,” he says.
Over in Selkirk, a neighbourhood long-represented by Coun. Susan Low, Chris Munkacsi sees opportunity.
The former member of the Esquimalt Residents Association and Chamber of Commerce has called the Township home for over a decade.
|Chris Munkacsi. Photo contributed|
“I live in a condo, which is somewhat distinctive in that it gives me a different take on housing in the community,” says the single father of a 12-year-old daughter.
With the number of people stepping off council, Munkacsi felt strongly “to continue in the direction they’ve been going,” focusing on housing and density and making sure families are attracted to living in the Township.
“Density has always been an issue that Esquimalt has grappled with,” he points out. “It’s constantly evolving and changing. That’s kind of the life of a community. I’d love to see those buildings just absolutely chalk full of families.”
To Munkacsi, the $17-million amenities fund from the McLoughlin Point Wastewater Treatment Plant project, “will obviously be a big issue going forward.”
And, he’s concerned about traffic; instead of pushing people out to the western communities he thinks Esquimalt needs to provide people with reasons to stay.
“You have to push up or the community pushes out and in the present housing crisis, we need to think about things differently,” he says.
In 2005, Jane Vermeulen moved to Esquimalt from Parksville as a single, 30-year-old veterinarian and people were surprised, she says.
“I wanted an independent single family house that was close to the water, close to downtown and had multiple exit points out,” she explains.
|Jane Vermeulen. Photo contributed|
Thirteen years later, the married mother of two young children says it’s the small-town community feel she fell in love with and that she wants to see remain, as the Township grows.
“I think you can have both,” the founder of Vets for Pets Victoria says. “Bringing business into the Township [is needed], but the only way we can attract businesses is by giving them density.”
Vermeulen remains an advocate for pet-owners that rent and says municipalities have not kept up with innovative ideas like the tiny home movement, something she’d like to see Esquimalt explore as housing options continue to dwindle.
Strategic housing developments that are accessible to families, working professionals and lower-income residents brings the added benefit of supporting and growing local small business, she says.
“The OCP is a guideline,” she points out. “It’s not set in stone, not every development is going to be 12 storeys high.”
One significant challenge in Esquimalt is the lack of a centre core, for business and community.
“No one can deny that Esquimalt Road was an embarrassment when I first moved in,” she says. “That’s the first view people had of Esquimalt. Now we’re seeing progress. Esquimalt has no place to go but up.”
The municipal election is Oct. 20.