“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.” — Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Strong CV women in charge. What did 3L pay? Plus, CVEDS bungles, Comox raises

Nov 25, 2020 | Commentary, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re all about 3L Developments (again), more head-shaking activity from the CV Economic Development Society (again) and ditto (again) for the Comox Town Council.

But first, let’s congratulate Jesse Ketler and Arzeena Hamir on their re-election as chair and co-chair of the Comox Valley Regional District board. Two strong women at the helm. We’re in good hands.

And kudos to another strong woman who joined the CVRD board this week. Courtenay Councillor Melanie McCollum replaced David Frisch as one of the city’s four regional directors.

 

Decafnation has received information that back in 2007, 3L Developments Inc. might have paid somewhere around $1.5 million to purchase the four parcels of land totalling nearly 500 acres in what’s being called the Puntledge Triangle.

We have not verified that number, nor have we seen any official documents that list the 2007 sale price.

But for the last 13 years, the company has tried to persuade the regional district to abandon its Regional Growth Strategy and rezone the properties for a dense urban-style subdivision.

Those four parcels today have an assessed value of $4.222 million. We got those numbers directly from the BC Assessment website.

If the sale price is even close to accurate, then 3L has enjoyed a significant increase in value. Of course, it’s nothing near the profit the company would have realized if the regional district had approved a rezoning.

Did 3L ever really plan to develop the property itself? Or, was its end-plan only to get the parcels rezoned, which would have made the land much more valuable, and then flip the parcels to some other developer?

We’ll never know.

Instead, the debate now shifts to whether the regional district should attempt to purchase the property from 3L Developments. Buying the property for parkland and securing public access to Stotan Falls would certainly win popularity points with the general public. But taking on more parkland is expensive.

There’s no indication yet that regional directors have any interest in negotiating a purchase.

And who knows how they feel after hearing company spokesperson Rob Buchan’s sales pitch to them this week. Buchan said 3L prefers to sell the land to the regional district. But, if you don’t buy the property, he intimated the company would clear-cut the trees and turn the site into a gravel pit. We’ll turn your jewel into a blight.

Not exactly a feel-good proposition.

But the company is certainly entitled to do those things. And if their only interest is self-interest, then that’s probably what will happen.

 

Does the CV Economic Development Society need to fold its tent? Representatives of the three electoral areas, Courtenay, Comox and the regional district will start seeking an answer to that question on Jan. 19.

Regional directors had planned for the full board to assess the future of CVEDS over the next year. But the Comox Town Council decided unanimously to derail that plan and trigger a quicker statutory service review.

What’s the difference? First, a smaller group will negotiate whether there’s any common ground to save the 32-year-old society; and, second, if Comox doesn’t like the outcome of the review, then they can officially withdraw from the service.

Given the Economic Development Society’s recent missteps, the outcome may already be a foregone conclusion. The directors from Courtenay and Electoral Areas A and B are not happy. While the directors from Comox and Area C would preserve the society in its present form if they could. That’s a 3-2 straight-up vote.

And CVEDS has not helped its chances for survival recently. Consider that:

1) CVEDS staff planned a three-day seafood festival during the second pandemic wave in November without the knowledge of its own board of directors or the CVRD or the Comox Valley Regional District. The North Island Public Health department had to step in and when hoteliers got uncomfortable, the event was shut down.

Bringing in guests and featured chefs from the Lower Mainland and Ontario had the potential to create a COVID super-spreader event.

2) The society’s board of directors have not seen or approved any financial statements for 11 months. This not only contravenes the Societies Act, but it’s also an affront to Comox Valley taxpayers who fund the organization.

3) The society has not held an Annual General Meeting for 17 months. Again, in conflict with the Societies Act.

4) CVEDS signed a new two-year contract with the regional district in late July, and then quickly forgot most of it. The society is already in contravention of the agreement and has missed several contractual deadlines.

And then there’s this:

5) On March 12, the local hotels and assorted other accommodation facilities that voluntarily contribute funds to the Municipal and Regional District Tax program (MRDT) — often called the “hotel tax” — decided at their annual budget meeting to help fund mountain biking in Cumberland.

The MRDT group voted to donate $10,000 per year for three years to support the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC) that maintains the biking trails in the Cumberland Forest and organizes events.

The hoteliers also agreed to donate an additional $5,000 per year for three years as prize money for those events to increase participation and potential overnight stays in the Valley.

But several months later, UROC hadn’t received any money. After Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird phoned some of the hoteliers about the funds it was discovered that CVEDS staff had apparently and unilaterally decided to withdraw the donations.

This infuriated the hoteliers because, well, it’s their money and they get to decide how to spend it.

Does this sound like a well-run organization, one that deserves to continue receiving more than a million dollars a year of local taxpayers’ money?

If you have strong feelings about that one way or the other, you might want to let your representative in Comox, Courtenay or the three electoral areas know before Jan. 19.

 

Finally, this week, the Comox town councillors think they might be underpaid.

At its Nov. 18 meeting, the council voted to undertake a review of remuneration for the mayor and council. Keep in mind that one of the first things this council did after taking office in 2018 was to vote themselves a 14 percent pay increase.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People have lost jobs. Businesses have closed or lost significant profitability. If this second wave of COVID infections continues to surge, the province might impose even more negative economic impacts.

It’s possible this council might be tone-deaf.

But it is true that Comox council salaries are a little below the average of comparable municipalities. Of course, chasing the average just raises the average. You never get there. It’s like a dog chasing its tail.

That said, however, we have no argument with compensating elected officials fairly. The good ones put in long hours.

Maybe it’s just the optics that feel wrong about this. Comox councillors obviously want to raise their salaries early next year because municipal elections loom the following year. And from a political perspective, it’s better if voters forget about two wage hikes during one term in office before the polls open in 2022.

The citizens advisory group that will study and recommend whether Comox councillors deserve a second raise will comprise just three people, including one former councillor. We think a larger, more representative group of Comox taxpayers might be more objective.

And who will choose and appoint this (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) neutral group? Why the town’s chief administrative officer, of course, who is employed at the pleasure of the mayor and council.

 

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