Plenty talked about at tightly-run forum
As 200 people filled up Monterey Recreation Centre for Tuesday’s town hall meeting, I was eavesdropping on two men arguing.
“I have no problem with secondary suites,” one said. “Young people need a way to buy a house.”
The second man countered, “But that turns the house into a commercial enterprise.”
It was an indication of the even divide of opinion that would prevail at a gathering tightly run by hired front man Jamie Chicanot.
The audience suggested discussion topics: secondary suites, heritage home preservation and trees, to name a few. Surprisingly, no one mentioned the future of Oak Bay Lodge or Uplands sewerage system, topics that have drawn fractious crowds to council meetings.
Speakers such as Lee Carlson, 34, who rents an apartment in Oak Bay, provided a voice rarely heard since the secondary suite debate recently heated up: that of an actual renter. Carlson addressed the crowd, rather than councillors.
“I’m the face of things to come. I don’t look like you,” he said to the largely older, and sometimes unruly, audience. He echoed remarks made by UVic grad student and renter Jayna Brulotte, who said “The idea that people who rent are somehow different is offensive to me.”
Heritage consultant Stuart Stark made an impassioned plea, complete with hand on chest, that council not allow Blair Gowie, a heritage-designated Runnymede Avenue property, to be subdivided.
He provided concrete evidence, recounting conversations he’d had with the home’s former owner, the late Pamela Ellis, about designating the house and the property as a way of saving it.
“Her intent was never to have the garden built on,” he said to applause. Oak Bay administrator Mark Brennan said legislation doesn’t require a public hearing for a heritage revitalization agreement.
As more residents spoke, a common theme became apparent: lack of communication. Whether it was Ewa Lupin’s concern that letters written to council about Blair Gowie had not been responded to or another man’s point that councillors’ contact information isn’t on the municipal website, there was a palpable sense of frustration.
Coun. Tara Ney clarified that the municipal website is being updated so councillors can “better communicate with the public.” Councillors also agreed that Oak Bay’s 15-year-old official community plan needs revising.
Oak Bay resident Mary Douglas-Hunt spoke out against legalizing secondary suites and was applauded when she asked councillors if they have suites in their homes. All except Coun. Pam Copley said they do not, but Copley said the suite in her house, built before she bought it, has never been rented out.
Friends of Oak Bay Neighbourhood member Mike Wilmut was roundly criticized by an audience member and Coun. Nils Jensen for making unkind comments – which won’t be repeated here – about absent Mayor Christopher Causton, who is busy running a federal election campaign.
Once the discussion turned to climate change and trees, many seats, including mine, were vacated as the two-hour meeting wound down.
Residents will have more opportunities to discuss hot topics such as secondary suites and heritage designation at municipal committee of the whole meetings this month, and at public meetings in May.