A BC Supreme Court has granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in the Town of Comox’s application to alter the naturalist’s public trust. MLHS hopes the new council is open to out-of-court discussions
This article was updated Monday to include a quote from Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott
There’s renewed hope that the fate of famous Comox naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s public trusts and his heritage home, called Shakesides, might be settled out of court.
Over the objections of the Town of Comox, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson recently granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in a case to alter the late naturalist’s public trust.
The town applied to the court in 2017 to change Laing’s trusts so it can demolish Shakesides and use the money and property Laing left the town for other purposes. The Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) has opposed the town’s application.
In a court hearing Oct. 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Thompson said he thought he had given clear instructions to the town and the BC Attorney General in mid-April to sign a consent order allowing the MLHS to present their evidence “with no restrictions” at trial.
The town has refused to sign several versions of the consent order because they want to exclude much of the MLHS evidence and limit the society’s time before the court.
This time, Justice Thompson directed the parties to sign a consent order, which he framed for them, and instructed MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning to write.
As of today, the Attorney General and MLHS have agreed to the terms, but the Town of Comox has not yet accepted the order as written.
The MLHS hopes Comox will sign the consent order soon. And, now that the municipal election is over, perhaps enter into talks that prevent further costly court appearances.
“We think the court did the right thing in making MLHS (an) intervenor, and if we get to court we have faith that the right thing will happen there as well,” said MLHS President Kris Nielsen.
“However, our true hope is that the new council will work with us instead of against us to realize the terms of Laing’s will, which Comox agreed to when they took his money in trust. To that end we have a business plan and generous support from many construction and heritage professionals.” he said.
Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott has left the door open for talks.
“Given that there is a new council it will be something we will be looking at. I would hope to negotiate a suitable outcome for all parties involved and the community as a whole,” he said.
FURTHER READING: Read more on the Mack Laing case
The justice also granted additional time for the MLHS to present new evidence, despite objections from the town and the AG. He gave MLHS until Oct. 30 to file the new evidence and gave the town and the AG until Nov. 30 to file responses.
MLHS has prepared a business plan for restoring Shakesides and transforming it into the nature house envisioned by the famous Comox naturalist. The plan includes commitments from about two dozen Comox Valley construction companies to supply materials or labor at little or no cost to the town.
“We just wanted to make sure someone spoke for Mack in court,” said Gordon Olsen, a former friend of Mack Laing. “And we hope Comox doesn’t waste any more taxpayer dollars on this unnecessary litigation. Instead let’s honour the legacy of this amazing and generous man.”
There is no court date set to hear the case. It would not likely get onto the Supreme Court docket until February at the earliest.
Nielsen said that delay gives the society and the town an opportunity to hammer out a solution by the end of the year.
The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to vary the terms of Laing’s trust, including the right to demolish the famous ornithologist’s iconic home, called Shakesides. The society wants to present a business plan for a future use of Shakesides that honors Laing’s agreement with the town.
The society also wants a forensic audit of the Laing financial trust.
MLHS has argued for years that the town mishandled Laing’s funds. A private citizen, Gordon Olsen, commissioned an independent audit by a Campbell River firm that concluded Laing’s trust should be worth more than $400,000 today.
The town has admitted to claims by the MLHS, individuals and other organizations that it had misspent Laing’s money. In a Nov. 29, 2017 staff report, Town CAO Richard Kannigan presented a long list of inappropriate expenditures.
In December 2017, the Town Council voted to add back nearly $200,000 into the trust.
Meanwhile, the town has racked up additional legal fees by fighting the MLHS.
Who is Mack Laing
Hamilton Mack Laing (1883-1982) was one of Canada’s foremost naturalist-collectors; he was a photographer, artist, writer and educator whose output included over 700 journal and scientific articles.
He wrote a biography of his friend Major Allan Brooks, another well-known Canadian naturalist.
Laing left several unpublished manuscripts, journals and field notes, and hundreds of letters, papers and photographs. These are available for viewing at the Royal BC Museum, the Winnipeg Archives and the Canadian National Museum of Natural History.
Specimens he collected are still in the collections of many major Canadian and American museums.
Mack Laing belonged to the Brotherhood of Venery, a secret fraternity known as the “B.” This influential group of conservationists and naturalists included such notables as Percy Taverner, Kenneth Racey, J. B. Harkin, Ian McTaggart Cowan, John Muir and Aldo Leopold.
Candidates Daniel Arbour and Jim Elliott positions seem similiar
By Norm Prince
Area A candidates Daniel Arbour and Jim Elliott are on a four stop tour of the Comox Valley Regional District’s (CVRD) Area A, with scheduled meetings in Denman Island, Royston, Hornby Island and ending up at the Union Bay Hall at 7:00 pm on Oct.15.
Saturday’s Royston meeting had over 50 citizens in attendance, giving up part of their sunny afternoon to listen to and question both candidates. There was a twist to this all candidates affair, the moderator was ill, and there was no one willing to take his place, so both candidates were running the show, alternating recognizing questions from the floor.
From the opening statements, two things became apparent, especially if you read the responses to Decafnations’ questions to Rural Directors. Elliott has been busy with research and has answers to those questions he wasn’t able to respond to in the survey, and there are very few differences in their positions on many of the issues. That was pointed out more than once from members of the audience trying to decide who to support on Election Day, Oct. 20.
While many of the questions raised were specific to Area A, there were some Regional wide issues raised for candidate’s positions.
Development in the Comox Valley was raised more than once, both candidates supported the CVRD’s decision around the development at Stotan Falls, with both calling for developers to be paying the bills on the necessary infrastructure, and not passing those costs off to the local citizens.
Elliott said that in “all his years working for the CVRD, he never saw taxes go down after a new development went ahead.” Around the same issue, both called for the protection of watersheds, though they did have different approaches, Arbour would spend the time working with Island Timberland, moving them toward no logging in regulated areas, while Elliott indicated that the CVRD should write bylaws to protect the watersheds.That seemed to be Elliott’s line in the sand, watersheds need to be protected, and if necessary, he’d stand in front of logging equipment to insure the protection of those areas.
P3 projects were raised as part of the failed referendum over a sewer system to replace the septic fields that populate all the communities in Area A. Neither of them supported the concept, but indicated that the CVRD should work with the Union Bay developers to expand their sewer service, and should continue to work with the K’ómoks First Nation in the development of their Area A properties.
Again, the positions were very similar, and both agreed that there had to be a reasonable costed solution for the sewer system. Neither one of them wanted to see the sewer outfall in Baynes Sound.
Open burning and wood stoves were also raised as problems, and while both agreed that there had to be some changes, neither one called for a ban on wood stoves. Both agreed there had to be curb side pickup of garden waste to control the yard burning, both admitted that they had to conduct further research around the issue of industrial burning.
On the issue of residential wood burning, they both supported the replacement program in place, and felt that through education and retrofitting older homes, there would be less wood stoves in use. Both referred to replacement programs, but were thin on details.
Both Elliott and Arbour wanted to see the Island Corridor protected, with options to develop as a trail system for both pedestrians and bicycles. Though Arbour didn’t rule out a rail option in the future as the Island’s population grows.
Plastic pollution in Baynes Sound was raised, and here the positions were somewhat different to get the same result. Elliott was very clear that the shellfish industry had to take responsibility for the pollution, and if they didn’t, the CVRD should bring in Bylaws forcing them to take responsibility for the clean up. Arbour looked at the problem as “a canary in a coal mine” and if we didn’t take care of the Sound, we’d lose those shellfish jobs. He’d work with the industry and First Nations through the CVRD.
Problems with the new hospital were raised, but both of them indicated that they didn’t have the expertise to come up with a solution without more research.
As the meeting wrapped up, both candidates were pushed to come up with some differences in their approaches. Both had just outlined how they’d organize at the grass roots level to listen to their constituent’s concerns.
Arbour pointed out his success on Hornby Island, and Elliott, his experience stick-handling the water agreement in Union Bay. They outlined the difference as being one of approach to the issue, with Arbour saying he always looked for ways to bring people together,” and had to “be pushed really hard” to lose that focus. Elliott’s approach was more to taking a stand, persuading the group to his position. Consensus waters down the solution to any problem.
Lasting almost 90 minutes, the meeting ended on a sour note.
Members of the audience raised the issue of negative statements being sent via emails and statements by door knocking supporters of candidates. Both candidates quickly supported each other, indicating that any messages sent out would be signed by them, and from their accounts. Both stated that they couldn’t control what others said, but anything they organized hadn’t focussed on any negative statements about the other candidate.
Norm Prince lives in Royston and a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project.
Wendy Morin, a substance abuse counsellor with the John Howard Society and a co-founder of the Comox Valley Girls Group, is running for Courtenay City Council. She would focus on housing, social issues and the environment
A founding resident of Courtenay’s Tin Town live-work neighborhood hopes to bring her social consciousness and long-time connection with Comox Valley youth to the City Council.
Wendy Morin, a lifelong resident of the Valley, will launch her campaign at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 outside of the Tin Town Cafe.
The youth and family substance use counsellor at the John Howard Society believes voters will find her 20-year experience in advocacy, collaboration, creative problem-solving and relationship-building an asset to the council.
Morin, who thought about running in 2010 and again in 2014, thinks the current City Council has made good progress in her primary areas of interest: social issues, the environment and affordable housing.
“But we’re losing some of them now,” she said.
Bob Wells, David Frisch and Erik Eriksson are running for mayor and at least two will lose their council seats. Rebecca Lennox, the lone woman on council, is retiring, a fact that Morin laments.
“When we have more women on council, we’re better represented,” she said.
Morin is the co-creator of the Comox Valley Girls Group, which has provided training for young women, from age 12 through 21, about how to deal with societal pressures and learn skills for healthy living.
The program operates under the umbrella of the Comox Valley Transition Society. During its 20 years, Morin estimates that more than 400 young women have been helped to navigate their way through the challenge of adolescence.
She hopes to engage more young people in municipal affairs through council outreach initiatives, as well as those who are marginalized through social inequality and feel disempowered.
“I want to help create a city that’s livable for everybody,” she said. “A city where nobody is left out of decision-making.”
But she also has views on a variety of specific issues.
Morin worries that the Valley has become unaffordable for young families. She supports diverse housing options that include promoting secondary suites, carriage houses, tiny homes and urban infill with incentives for developers.
She supports transitional and supportive housing.
She would like to use her council platform to promote neighborhood hubs “whether that’s a community school or center, cafes or coffee shops, parks or farmers markets.”
Morin opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a new 740-house community near Stotan Falls because it’s a contravention of a core tenet of the Regional Growth Strategy to have sustainable long-term growth and infrastructure.
“And it (3L’s Riverwood proposal) would just abandon a plan (the RGS) that’s not that old,” she said. “Water, sewer and road infrastructure is just going to come back to the city eventually, and cost us more.”
Morin is the first and, so far, only candidate that supports the elimination of plastic bags. She would recommend more opportunities for community food gardens, green building and protections for forests, riparian areas and estuaries.
Attracting innovative businesses and clean industries tops Morin’s list of economic development objectives.
She supports adopting a social procurement policy similar to Cumberland’s to “offset taxation and improve the social wellbeing of the community.”
Morin supports alternative modes of transportation to slow down growing traffic congestion and make it easier for those who cannot drive vehicles.
She opposes a bridge at 21st Street that “made no sense.”
Morin says the Courtenay Airpark “seems to be valuable,” because it supports economic development, tourism and health care. She knows of nurses who travel to remote places.
“I respect the Official Community Plan process,” she said. “I would support continuing to implement it, no abandon it.”
The city’s OCP states council’s support for the airpark, its commitment to protect it and encourage it to expand.
Morin would advocate for a social planning position at the city. The position would coordinate the activities of an existing volunteer committee to improve the social health of the city, and offset hidden costs to taxpayers.
“If we improve food security, housing and access to health services, we benefit from economic spin-off and cost savings,” she said.
PHOTO: Andreas Ruttkiewicz and student pilot land an ultralight at the Courtenay Airpark. Ruttkiewicz runs the Air Speed High Ultralight flight school at the airpark.
Courtenay abandons 21st Street river crossing thanks to Mayor Jangula, but city staff and council temporarily ground his proposal to give long-term certainly to airpark business owners at Monday’s meeting
This article was expanded Tuesday (Aug. 21) morning to add a response from the Airpark Association suggesting that Councillor Lennox made an erroneous statement regarding the airpark’s tax status.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula took a conciliatory approach Monday night to concerns raised by members of the Airpark Association and successfully landed a unanimous agreement from council to abandon all discussions of a third river crossing at 21st Street.
But his attempt to address the larger issue of the airpark’s long-term viability crashed on takeoff.
A city proposal for a road through the airpark leading to a bridge through Hollyhock Marsh, and staff comments that all airpark leases would be converted to a month-to-month basis, has angered Courtenay Airpark Association members and aviation business owners.
FURTHER READING: Courtenay mayor fails to assuage airpark closure fears; Courtenay airpark touts its economic, lifestyle benefits; Battle brewing over city’s transportation master plan; City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum
They see the two issues as an attempt by the city to shut down the airpark.
Jangula tried to calm the airpark association’s fears last week, but his comments fell short.
This week, Jangula stepped down from the mayor’s chair to clarify his position with a motion that City Council officially abandon all consideration of a bridge at 21st Street. It passed unanimously.
Then Jangula tackled the bigger issue and proposed that the city offer the Airpark Association and aviation businesses 25-40 year leases on the city-owned property.
That got applause from the standing-room only audience, but less support from city staff and several council members.
Chief Administrative Officer David Allen derailed Jangula’s intentions to give the airpark immediate long-term assurances by suggesting council wait for city staff to do a report on the viability of offering long-term leases.
Councillor Doug Hillian made a motion to direct staff to do such a report, preferably by the Sept. 4 meeting, which passed, but not without some hesitation by councillors David Frisch, Rebecca Lennox and Hillian.
Hillian said council has “a responsibility to consider the implications of long-term use of city-owned properties.”
Frisch and Lennox seemed more reluctant in their comments. At one point, Lennox even referenced the Airpark Associations “tax-free status,” which is an erroneous statement, according to association president Morris Perrey.
“She is totally wrong,” Perrey said. “The businesses pay land taxes and lease fees and all the fees that every business pays, all the city insurance costs, everything and the city still gets their fees.”
Perrey said because the Airpark Association is a society and not supposed to pay taxes, the city charges the association fees in lieu, which have increased about 15 percent in the last five years.
Earlier in the meeting, Frisch appeared opposed to taking a 21st Street bridge off the table, although he ultimately voted in favor.
“We still have to move people around,” he said, referring to growing traffic congestion around the 17th St. and Fifth St. bridges.
CAO Allen said one of city staff’s strategic priorities for 2016-2018 is to assess city-owned land, and they have already identified several properties to start the review. He said it would be a “long and rigorous” process, and that discussions have already taken place in-camera.
Besides Jangula, two other council members, Bob Wells and Hillian, apologized to Airpark Association members.
Hillian called the public document showing a bridge through the airpark a ”mistake.”
Wells apologized for “the angst, stress and uncertainty we’ve put people through.”
He said the city acted without full consideration of how the 21st Street crossing proposal impacted the aviation community.
CAO Allen said the bridge proposal was never expected to be a fait accompli, and a staff member said the idea arose from the public consultation process about the city’s transportation plan.
That staff member termed the consultation process a “success” because it got the strong reaction from the Airpark Association. That comment caused eye-rolling murmurs among the audience.
Finally, Jangula made a motion to break from the agenda and let Airpark Association spokesman Dave Mellin speak and respond to the council discussion so far. That required a two-thirds vote, which it received, with Lennox and Frisch opposing it.
Referring to the uncertainty of short-term leases, Mellin said jobs and job security were on the line. Up to 90 people are employed at the airpark, depending on the season.
He said several business expansion plans have been stalled by council’s lack of clarity, and that five-year leases are of no value to the aviation businesses seeking long-term security.
“People are hanging out on a limb here,” he said.
But the real intent is ignore Mack Laing’s gift to Comox citizens
Submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society
On Aug. 7, 2018, the Town of Comox issued a news release about an online information hub for residents “to learn more about the Mack Laing property and its history,” though the information about the property and its history on the webpage is minimal.
The suggestion that “updates on the plans for Mack Laing Nature Park” are coming this fall in response to questions from the public is also difficult to interpret. The public has been raising questions for a long time about the plans for the park, with little response from the mayor and Town Council.
The timing of the new information hub seems to indicate that it will function mostly to justify the town’s controversial decision to have the terms of the Mack Laing Trust altered by the B.C. Supreme Court and to report on the outcome of the case.
The variance being sought by the town is better described as an overturning of the Trust.
A favourable decision will result in the destruction of Shakesides, the home Mack Laing built by hand in 1949. In leaving his property to the Town of Comox, Laing expressly stated that his home, as well as his land, were to be made available to the public for their enjoyment and education.
Yet Shakesides was not made available to the public, but was rented out to a series of tenants from 1982 to 2014 — with the proceeds going into general revenue.
Shakesides was then left vacant and unsecured, encouraging vandalism. It was boarded up in 2016 and, finally, a security fence was erected around it at the beginning of 2018.
The town’s neglect of Shakesides, like its neglect of Baybrook (Laing’s first home, which was demolished in 2015), runs counter to the terms of theLaing Trust which call for a “natural history museum”, or nature house in modern parlance – not a viewing platform.
The financial issue that has been used to justify the altering of the Laing Trust is that the money left to the town by Laing was not originally sufficient to do the necessary restoration or renovation of Shakesides. However, that $50,000 dollars would have bought a house in 1982, and even now, it has to be considered with all the interest it has earned and the income generated by the rental of Shakesides.
The Mack Laing Heritage Society restoration estimates have demonstrated that there are savings to be made by taking advantage of donated labour and materials. In any case, the financial burden to the town of restoring Shakesides is much less than the town has already spent on legal action and other costs to avoid restoring it. And this is without even considering the design, labour, and materials for the proposed viewing platform.
The Mack Lang Heritage Society has applied for standing in the Supreme Court case and is ready to add 400 pages of documents and affidavits to the court record.
A decision favourable to the town is by no means assured when the court convenes in early October. The MLHS believes that this may be a good time for the town to change course and negotiate a settlement that really “honours the conservation and educational goals laid out by Mack Laing”.
Further information about Mack Laing, his importance, and the work done by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (work recognized with a BC Heritage Award in 2016) can be found at www.macklaingsociety.ca .
PHOTO: Dave Mellin inspects a de Havilland Beaver float plane being reconstructed at International Aeroproducts Inc., a widely known business in the aviation community located at the Courtenay Airpark
Courtenay Airpark Association members say City Council members don’t fully appreciate the depth of their concerns and were disappointed Mayor Larry Jangula didn’t “clear the air” and give them unequivocal support
The Courtenay Airpark Association told its story to City Council Tuesday afternoon, of how the aviation community benefits the community, as a means of ferreting out the city’s long-term intentions for the Airpark.
But council members either didn’t fully comprehend the association’s concerns or they are not as committed to preserving and supporting the Airpark as they were when writing the 2016 Official Community Plan (OCP).
Courtenay Airpark Association (CAA) President Morris Perrey hoped the meeting would give aviation business owners and private aircraft owners clarity about their future. Fears that the city is trying to close the Airpark run deeply through the association, and among pilots around the B.C. coast who use the airport.
He was disappointed that didn’t happen because of what appears to be a disconnect between council and city staff.
Council apparently thought the issue was only a third crossing proposal that would dissect the Airpark, when the real issue is what association members perceive as a broader, coordinated scheme of small steps to squeeze the Airpark out of existence.
FURTHER READING: Who is trying to close the Airpark?
In response to a presentation made by Dave Mellin on behalf of the CAA, several council members downplayed the so-called “Option B” in the proposed 2018 update to the city’s Master Transportation Plan.
That option shows a third crossing that runs a road through the Airpark and a new bridge through the middle of a provincially protected wetlands in the heart of the K’omoks Estuary, known as Hollyhocks Marsh.
Council member and mayoral candidate David Frisch said the 21st Street crossing idea was not much more than an arrow on a map.
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here,” he said, referring to, in part, the concerns of an overflow crowd of Airpark supporters spilling out of the council chambers.
Councillor Doug Hillian said he was as surprised as the association’s members to learn about the 21st Street proposal, and said he had no intention of jeopradizing the Airpark or the estuary.
“Sometimes mistakes are made,” he said. “This is one.”
Council members kept their remarks brief so Mayor Larry Jangula could read a prepared statement, which he prefaced by saying it would answer all their concerns.
Except it didn’t.
Jangula addressed the third bridge crossing by saying it was only a study and that no part of the plan, including the 21st Street bridge, would become reality without extensive stakeholder process and council’s approval.
But he did not say that “Option B” was off the table.
And he added a claim that no commercial or private tenants on the Airpark had been converted to month-to-month leases. The city was merely trying to align all the various leases to expire at the same time for administration efficiency.
That caused rumblings in the audience and prompted Mellin to contradict the mayor.
“We have several people in the audience who are on month-to-month leases now,” he said. “I can have them come up (to speak).”
It was obvious the council had misjudged the mood of the CAA and its supporters.
“The mayor had an opportunity to clear the air and put this to rest,” said Dave Bazett, a land surveyor who owns a building in the 21st Street path and hangars two aircraft that he uses for his land surveying business. “But he didn’t do it.”
Bazett said association members wanted to hear council say they will protect and encourage growth at the Airpark, as per their OCP, and “despite what pilots may have heard from staff, council supports you.”
“Instead, we got a rather aggressive statement (from the mayor),” Bazett said, adding that it seemed like Jangula was blaming staff for the disconnect.
And Bazett said in an earlier private phone conversation with Jangula, the mayor said the Airpark was going to get developed sooner or later.
Decafnation asked Jangula about that conversation, but he has yet to reply.
Several association members pondered whether city staff was going in a direction of shutting down the Airpark without the full consent of a divided City Council.
CAA President Perrey said that Courtenay Chief Administrative Officer Dave Allen told him, with two other association members present, that all leases were going on a month-to-month basis when their terms come up.
Allen is currently on summer vacation.
From the association’s perspective the monthly leases, the bridge proposal, denials of commercial building expansion and construction, red tape that has stalled float plane ramp reconstruction and other issues all add up to an effort to close the Airpark.
Perrey said the CAA didn’t get the clarity and unequivocal support they had hoped from City Council.
“This is going to be an election issue, for sure,” he said, reiterating a statement Mellin made during his presentation.
FURTHER READING: Battle brewing over transportation plan; City bridge proposal would harm Airpark, Kus-kus-sum