File photo by George Le Masurier

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New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

Nov 25, 2018

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For nearly two years, the former Comox mayor and council ignored requests by the Mack Laing Heritage Society to tarp the roof of famed naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home to prevent further water damage.

But just weeks after being elected, a new mayor and council voted unanimously to cover the roof, following another request from the Heritage Society.

A large chestnut tree near Shakesides — the name Laing gave his home on Comox Bay — has rubbed off some of the roof’s shakes during high winds, causing leaks.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen first made the request at a Committee of the Whole meeting on March 22, 2017. He followed that up with an April 17 letter to the town detailing a work plan and itemized material costs totalling $1,892.80. The letter was officially stamped “Received” on April 20, 2017.

But the town never responded to Nielsen, even after follow-up enquiries.

Nielsen sent a new proposal on Oct. 28, a week after this fall’s municipal elections “to stop the ongoing deterioration of the structure, Shakesides.” This one made it to the council table.

New Councillor Alex Bissinger said covering the leaky roof was an urgent issue, and asked if town staff could do the work more quickly than hiring an outside contractor. New Mayor Russ Arnott said he thought the work could be done in two weeks with an outside contractor.

Nielsen’s proposal to council also included an invitation “for negotiations between the Town of Comox and MLHS to reach an agreement (on the future of Shakesides) for the benefit of all ratepayers.”

The town petitioned the BC Supreme Court in February of 2017 to vary the terms of its trust agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing, which made the town the trustees of his house and property, with conditions. The town cited sections of the BC Community Charter for its petition.

The MLHS opposed altering the trust and applied for intervenor status in the court action. Since then, the town has engaged in a year-long expensive legal battle to prevent the heritage society from presenting its more than 400 pages of evidence to the court, without the petition yet being heard.

Although the court has now allowed the society to present its evidence, if the case goes to trial, Nielsen said the MLHS hopes to work out a solution with the town and “never go back to court.”
Council members were also presented with an MLHS business plan for restoring Shakesides as a nature house as Mack Laing specified in the 1973 indenture with the Town of Comox.

Councillor Bissinger suggested postponing a vote on meeting with the MLHS until after Christmas, and have the MLHS present their plan to council. New Councillor Pat McKenna asked if deferring to February would be okay with the court. Mayor Arnott said he thought it would.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson gave the town until Nov. 30 to respond to the business plan and another new affidavit, which has been extended to Jan. 16. That date that can be amended again by mutual consent.

Town Council voted to defer the society’s invitation to meet until February, when all council members would be in town.

Gordon Olsen, a leading advocate for honoring the terms of Laing’s vision for his home, recently spoke at the 2018 annual meeting of the BC Heritage and Cultural Professions about the Laing issue. His presentation was titled, “Making or breaking heritage — The legal battle for interpreting the true vision of Mack Laing’s trust in Comox.”

Olsen praised the new Town Council for addressing the issue, and said he was hopeful that meaningful conversations could now occur.

Jim Boulter contributed to the reporting of this story.

 

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