Two-term Councillor Russ Arnott feels ready to step up to the mayor’s chair and hopes to continue the town’s downward trend in taxation and create more waterfront enhancements; waiting for a court decision on whether town can demolish the ‘Shakesides’ house
Russ Arnott is taking a simple approach in his campaign to become the next mayor of Comox: He likes the direction the town has been moving the last four years, and he feels that his two terms of council experience make him ready for the job.
“Things are going well and people are generally happy,” he told Decafnation. “Businesses are taking a chance with us, developers like working with the town and we’ve got a downward trend in taxation.”
Arnott says he running for mayor because “I’m afraid to lose that momentum.”
But he has also set three broad goals for his first term as mayor.
First, Arnott says keeping commercial and property taxes “fair and affordable” is one of his top priorities.
Second, he wants to “make Comox a vibrant and accessible community for all ages.”
Third, Arnott would continue to promote projects that enhance the town’s waterfront and connect it to the downtown core. For example, he’d like to see a walkway from the marina to Goose Spit.
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He’s proud of the waterfront enhancements the town has made recently with a splash park for children and opening up Marina Park to food trucks.
Arnott acknowledges that the two sail buildings recently built at Marina Park “pose a challenge.” But he says they were approved and planned when he wasn’t on council.
“I asked questions about the project, but the grants had already been received,” he said.
Despite his promise to keep steering the town in its current direction, Arnott says he’s not just promoting the status quo.
Arnott would hopes to phase out all wood burning devices from new and existing homes over the next five to 10 years. Wood stoves negatively impact air quality.
And he’d like to help create more affordable housing, perhaps by requiring more developments with smaller houses and smaller lots, like the town has done in the Torrence and Noel neighborhood.
Comox has already implemented an easy process for homeowners to create secondary suites, he says, and provides incentives for developers to build housing, such as the Ambleside development along Comox Avenue.
During debates about how to solve the city’s traffic problems, especially congestion at the 17th Street bridge, several Courtenay candidates have suggested that Comox and even some rural areas should help pay for improvements.
Arnott says he wouldn’t saddle Comox taxpayers with that cost.
“I wouldn’t entertain that idea, not without more discussions,” he said. “Comox has amenities that people from other areas use, let’s not nick-pick back and forth.”
Arnott is “okay” with marijuana retail stores in Comox, “if they’re located in the right place.” But he’s concerned about all the unknowns that will arise, like how people will react to the unique pungent odour of cannabis.
“We already discourage people from smoking cigarettes in parks,” he said. “But we have only one person in bylaw enforcements, so it will probably be complaint driven.”
Asked why the town hasn’t updated its 2012 Official Community Plan in nearly seven years, Arnott there’s no need to do it.
“In that time we’ve only had three amendments and few complaints, so it’s working,” he said. “Why spend $250,000 to fix something that’s not broken.”
In regards to the town’s application to the BC Supreme Court to alter the terms of the Mack Laing trusts and demolish his heritage home called Shakesides — the celebrated naturalist left gifts of money and property to be used to create a museum or nature house on Comox Bay — Arnott is guarded. He has supported the town’s action in several council votes this year.
“We’re just following the (citizen advisory) committee’s recommendation,” he said. “I don’t know what went on back then (in 1982 when Laing died), there’s so many interpretations. We’ll see what the court says.”
Arnott spent 25 years in the Canadian Coast Guard, including management positions, and is currently the manager of military housing on CFB Comox. He’s a former regional vice-president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
And he’s an avid volunteer with the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, the Salvation Army, the Comox Business Improvement Association, YANA and Rotary.
Arnott says his volunteer activity makes him a better council member.
“By getting out into the community and having discussions with diverse groups of people, it helps educate me,” he says. “And that informs me to make decisions at the council table.”
Arnott believes no one should stay too long in municipal office, and moving up to the mayor’s chair feels right for him. He says it also makes room for other people in the community to join the Town Council.
“At the end of the day, I don’t hear a whole lot of issues in our town. People are generally happy.”