Low-lying fog on the Puntledge River seen from the popular Bevan Swing swimming area  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

Dec 3, 2020 | Commentary, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re talking about regional parks and zeroing in on what 3L Developments Inc. actually paid for their Puntledge Triangle land. We’re being curious about an interesting twist in the school trustee by-election on Saturday and a missed opportunity for the Town of Comox. And what happened to Ronna-Rae Leonard?

Meanwhile, it’s opening weekend up at Mt. Washington.

 

Does the Comox Valley need a regional parks service? Given all the recent attention to popular recreation areas along both sides of the Puntledge River, it seems that we do. And it’s probably inevitable.

We reported this week on a new society that hopes to save the Bevan Trails area from imminent logging by Hancock Forest Management. There’s also a public interest in preserving the current state of the Puntledge Triangle and its access to Stotan Falls.

These two areas — both located in Electoral Area C — certainly warrant public acquisition. The Puntledge River runs through the heart of the Comox Valley and we already have several parks along the river’s lower reaches.

But here’s the problem: There is no Comox Valley regional park service. So it’s currently up to rural taxpayers to fund the purchase of any land for parks in Electoral Areas A, B or C. Because the three Comox Valley municipalities do not contribute to the rural parks fund, its funds are limited.

Other regional districts on the Island have regional park services. For example, consider this language from the Regional District of Nanaimo:

“A regional park function was established in the RDN in 1989. In 1995, the Regional Board adopted a Parks System Plan to guide the development of Regional Parks. The vision back then was of a park system that “secures, protects and stewards lands within the Region that maintain livability, provide environmental and natural resource protection and accommodate outdoor recreational pursuits”.

“Then, in 1998, the Board approved a plan for acquiring up to nine regional park sites over the next seven years. The sites were intended to serve a variety of outdoor activities, and protect a range of habitats and natural features.”

A regional park function makes sense for us, too. And we might already have one.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve believes the Comox Valley Regional District has an inactive regional park service bylaw. He told Decafnation this week that regional directors adopted a bylaw in the 1990s but it lapsed because they couldn’t decide which projects to fund. The bylaw could be re-activated because the regional board has never rescinded it.

Regional district staff plan to present a report on this topic at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.

It’s fair to say that those people living in the densest and highest populated areas of our community are just as likely — some would argue more likely — to use parks and other recreational sites in our rural areas. Shouldn’t they contribute to the purchase and maintenance of regional parks?

Of course, this is going to spark a whole new community conversation. But it’s one we must have if we’re going to consider preserving large areas like the Puntledge Triangle or Bevan Trails.

Is it possible for local governments to make all of this happen in time to preserve either of the areas currently on the chopping block? Stay tuned.

 

Speaking of 3L Developments Inc., In last week’s commentary, we speculated that the company had paid around $1.5 million for the four parcels comprising their proposed Riverwood subdivision. We were wrong.

According to new information from two separate sources, tax records show the company paid almost $3.7 million. The sales mostly occurred in 2006. One of the parcels shows a sale as late as 2012 but that could be the result of an internal transfer of titles, according to one source.

BC Assessment records show the properties were valued for tax purposes at $4.646 million in 2019 and at $4.222 million in 2020, a drop of $424,000.

 

There’s an interesting twist to Dec. 12’s general voting in the Area C school trustee by-election.

When voters go to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 12 they might not recognize the name of one candidate: Cristi May.

Cristi May-Sacht is definitely among the six candidates seeking election. But not Cristi May.

According to our source, May-Sacht was told her name was too long to fit on the physical ballot so it was shortened. That’s a curious decision.

What happens if May-Sacht falls just a few votes short of winning? Could she demand a new election with her proper name on the ballot?

 

The Town of Comox has missed an excellent opportunity to resolve their Mack Laing Trust problem; specifically, what to do with the famous ornithologist’s heritage home, called Shakesides.

The BC Government has set aside $90 million to provide fully-funded $1 million grants for local government projects that support economic resilience during the pandemic. The idea is to create immediate job opportunities for those negatively impacted by COVID public health orders. Eligible projects have to begin by the end of next year and complete within two years.

The government specified four key categories of shovel-ready projects that would qualify. One of those is Unique Heritage Infrastructure.

Restoring Shakesides in accordance with the Laing Trust agreement would have surely qualified. There’s already a comprehensive business plan for the project and more than 30 volunteer skilled craftspeople and businesses, including Lacasse Construction, are ready to go.

But the only application submitted by the town was to construct a new marine services building on the waterfront.

The town needs to deal with its failure to resolve this outstanding issue. Two years ago, the Town Council couldn’t get back to the BC Supreme Court fast enough for a ruling on their petition to vary the trust agreement and demolish Shakesides. Now they’re doing nothing.

Why? Probably because a few early Supreme Court orders went against them. A Justice ruled that the Mack Laing Heritage Society could participate in the court hearings and present their mountain of evidence, some of which looks very bad for the town.

So, after spending nearly $300,000 of your tax money on legal fees, the town realized there was a high probability the court would deny their application. The court could also order an independent financial audit of how the town handled the financial aspects of the Mack Laing Trust agreement.

No surprise then that the Town Council is avoiding a trip back to court.

That’s what makes this missed opportunity so sad. A $1 million grant from the province to fund a Shakesides restoration project along with the Heritage Society’s volunteers might have made this 38-year-old lingering problem go away. And it could have healed a few community wounds.

 

Courtenay-Comox voters might have noticed an interesting change in Premier John Horgan’s new government. Absent from the list is MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.

She lost her position as the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors’ Services and Long-Term Care to Mable Elmore, an 11-year MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. No reason was given for the change.

This article was updated to correct the general voting date to Saturday, Dec. 12.

 

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