Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Shakesides

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

By George Le Masurier

Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.

The town has petitioned the court to alter the 37-year old trust left by one of the community’s pioneers, even though it has done nothing over nearly four decades to live up to the terms of the trust.

The recent vote at this week’s regular council meeting was on a motion by Councillor Ken Grant to proceed with one of three options presented to council by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan.

The option referred to in Grant’s motion was to send comment sheets from the March 27 public workshop back to the designers of the viewing platform and to request a redesign. It was amended to include input from K’omoks First Nation and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

The other two options were to approve the original concept and, lastly, to “consider a completely different proposal as decided by council.”

By rejecting the last option, Town Council has effectively abandoned any thoughts of saving Shakesides, and will eventually pursue its original petition to the court with a slightly different platform design.

Councillors Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan cast the only two votes opposing the motion.

“Councillor McGowan and I voted against moving forward with the platform as we want to explore options around Shakesides,” Minions told Decafnation via email after the meeting.

Councillor Alex Bissinger, who voted with the majority to approve the motion, said her understanding of the vote was “that it will be up to the AG (Attorney General’s office) to decide whether or not saving Shakesides is in the books.”

All three councillors — Minions, McGowan and Bissinger — voiced their frustration with the public workshop process, which they felt was unfairly manipulated in favor of a viewing platform. Mayor Russ Arnott did not present workshop participants with any option other than a viewing platform.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society wanted workshop participants to consider its proposal for saving Shakesides as a community volunteer project, but town staff, with the Arnott’s support, denied the MLHS workshop participation as well as a later request to host a table outside of the workshop meeting room.

The three councillors also refuted Arnott’s characterization of a March 6 council decision as affirming that saving Shakesides was no longer an option.

The three councillors said they did not vote at that meeting to demolish Shakesides, only that whether the house was saved or not, some details of the trust couldn’t be honored and needed court approval to forego them.

Arnott became combative as each councillor spoke in turn, often interrupting each speaker. He interrupted Councillor Minions often, once to admonish her for saying council voted on Feb. 6 to put the matter into abeyance for three months.

Arnott said the abeyance wasn’t for three months, rather for “up to three months.” Yet, he did not bother to correct CAO Kanigan’s report, which they were discussing at the time, that also stated “the three month abeyance ….”

Under normal codes of conduct, only one councillor or director of a municipal government has the floor at any one time, and other councillors or directors show respect by refraining from interrupting or calling out comments during that time.

Arnott appeared to be debating each of the three women as they voiced their concerns.

The day after the Town Council meeting, Arnott reached out via email to MLHS President Kris Nielsen to invite him or another representative of the society to participate in last-minute design changes to the platform.

Nielsen declined the offer because he said spending time on the design of a viewing platform was premature, referring to possible outcomes of the now inevitable Supreme Court trial that might deny the town’s petition.

“So for me to entertain some speculative designs/problems is just not in the cards,” Nielsen wrote to Arnott. “I could point out the image of the cart way out in front of the horse picture, but I will refrain from that.”

The town’s petition was first heard by a Supreme Court Justice last April.

A court ruling on the town’s petition could have been made nearly a year ago, but the three Supreme Court dates held so far have been consumed with attempts by the town to deny the MLHS an ability to present its evidence to the court.

The town eventually lost that battle and the upcoming trial will hear evidence from the town and the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

 

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Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process

Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process

Hamilton Mack Laing  — BC Archive photo

Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process

By George Le Masurier

Rather than create a period of community reconciliation over the 37-year mishandling of the Mack Laing Trust, the Town of Comox has used its self-imposed 90-day abeyance of legal action to ignore opposing visions for the famed naturalist’s park and heritage home.

In doing so, the town has also created a rift within the Town Council.

It now appears that, despite the expectations of the public and some council members, the Town of Comox never intended to discuss options for saving the famous naturalist’s home, called Shakesides, during the abeyance.

Since the Feb. 6 Town Council meeting when the abeyance was passed on a 6-1 vote, the town has not entertained any ideas other than its original plan to demolish the house and erect a viewing platform.

The town has not held any good faith discussions with the Mack Laing Heritage Society to search for mutually agreeable ideas that could avert a lengthy and costly trial at the B.C. Supreme Court. Nor has it called for an external, independent audit to determine an accurate accounting of the trust’s current value.

This approach appears to be driven primarily by Mayor Russ Arnott, who cast the only vote against creating the 90-day abeyance.

In public communications, the office of Arnott and town Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan has suggested that because council voted on March 6 to continue “with the modification of the trust in its current format or a modified proposal,” that, therefore, saving Shakesides is no longer an option.

Arnott reinforced that interpretation at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting and public engagement workshop on visions for Mack Laing Park. Arnott was asked by a Comox resident why the workshop was limited to considering only a single vision — the viewing platform.

“Council voted for modifying the trust. We’re moving forward, not going backwards,” Arnott said.

But not all council members agree with Arnott’s interpretation.

“Speaking for myself, that is not what I voted in support of,” Councillor Alex Bissinger said in an email response to Decafnation.

“My intent with that motion was from the understanding that anything that defers from 1. restoring the house and converting it to a nature museum 2. having an onsite caretaker 3. having the property in that exact location and 4. storing (Mack Laing) artifacts in said museum, would require modifications to the trust, therefore needing to proceed with the court action,” she said.

Bissinger brought the motion forward to council.

“I am still of the opinion and mindset that saving Shakesides is an option, and from the workshop held last week an interesting option came to light, which was to handle it all as a community project. I have emailed the CAO and Council such that this option be discussed in our RCM (regular council meeting) Wednesday,” she said.

Councillor Stephanie has a similar perspective.

“Due to the specifics of the trust, I believe it is going to have to be modified in some way as I don’t believe archives and certain things are feasible and safe to keep on site without risk of damage. However, this vote, in my mind, did not mean Shakesides being restored was not an option,” she said in an email response.

“There seems to be some confusion, however, and as a team, (we) will need to clarify, both with each other and the public,” McGowan said.

Councillor Nicole Minions declined to comment, but did say, “We will be discussing Mack Laing and the Public Session during our upcoming Regular Council meeting this Wednesday, April 3rd, which will open communication of our Council business in the public.”

Arnott did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

 

What is the value of Laing’s trust?

The exact current value of the financial trust Mack Laing left to the Town of Comox has never been conclusively determined by an external audit.

The town claims Laing left $48,000, an amount disputed by by the Mack Laing Heritage Society. They say the amount was about $60,000.

After the town confessed to spending trust money inappropriately since the world-renowned naturalist died in 1982, they added funds that brought the total to $261,474. But according to an independent audit commissioned by Comox resident Gordon Olsen several years ago, the trust should be valued closer to $500,000.

The discrepancies stem from how the money was invested, the revenue received from renting the house for more than 30 years, missing funds from the sale of Laing artwork and donations to a never established Art Trust, unrecognized inappropriate expenditures and other miscellaneous items.

Only an external audit by an external accounting firm, such as Deloitte or KPMG, could bring closure to that issue.

 

Is the building worth saving?

Those who support tearing down Shakesides and replacing it with a viewing stand believe the building is not worth restoring. The Mack Laing society disagrees.

At last week’s public workshop, Comox Resident John Tayless noted there was an assumption being made at the meeting that Shakesides could not be saved.

“But other engineers say it can and that the building is recoverable,” he said.

Asked how the town determined the building wasn’t restorable, Comox Parks Manager Al Fraser said a “cursory report” was done, but he admitted it was “not comprehensive.” Fraser preferred to call the report a “soft pass.”

“Let’s say there’s still considerable work to be done in that regard,” Fraser told the audience.

And later when MLHS President Kris Nielsen asked if the town had commissioned any professional assessments of the heritage value of Shakesides, Fraser said, “no.”

The Mack Laing society has organized more than two dozen community volunteers from the construction industry and created a business plan for restoring Shakesides as a community project.

 

Comox Heritage Register

Councillor Stephanie McGowan gave notice of a motion expected at this week’s council meeting to establish a Comox Heritage Register. Comox is the only municipality in the Mid- and North Island that doesn’t already have a heritage register.

Registering buildings with heritage value opens up a broad range of potential funding for maintenance and capital improvements. Heritage sites like the Filberg Lodge and The Little Red Church could benefit.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has already paid a provincial heritage consultant to complete a Statement of Significance for Shakesides and Heritage BC has promised substantial grant funding for its restoration.

The chairman of Heritage B.C., a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”

Heritage B.C. has also offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and has all but guaranteed a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.

 

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MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

By George Le Masurier

The Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter:

We, the Mack Laing Heritage Society of the Comox Valley (MLHS), wish to take this opportunity to thank Comox Council. Their decision to postpone any decision related to the Mack Laing Shakesides house Trust property, for three months, is to be commended.

We are encouraged that Comox appears willing to discuss their duties and obligations, as trustees of the Mack Laing Trust. We fully support an open, public, and transparent discussion between the MLHS, Council, and others.

Expert and accurate estimates of time, materials and cost should be sought regarding the conversion of Shakesides into a nature museum/house, as outlined in Mack Laing’s Will and Trust. The MLHS has found many interested local companies and individuals willing to support and assist in all aspects of this project. There are undoubtedly many more who would come forward, if a true community project is approved by Council. Cost to the taxpayer could therefore be minimal.

The MLHS will shortly issue a public position paper. We have always stated that close adherence to the terms of Mack Laing’s Will and Trust is necessary for the success of a modest nature house or museum. Therefore, we support a community-funded and supported Shakesides facility.

Soon, Shakesides could realistically become what Mack Laing intended on his death in 1982 – a small public education facility in the quiet nature park he loved, and which he donated to the citizens of Comox.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society can be contacted at macklaingsociety@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

LAING LINKS

Mack Laing

MackLaingSociety.ca

Comox Town Council

Russ Arnott, Mayor: rarnott@comox.ca

Alex Bissinger: abissinger@comox.ca

Nicole Minions: nminions@comox.ca

Patrick McKenna: pmckenna@comox.ca

Ken Grant: kgrant@comox.ca

Maureen Swift: mswift@comox.ca

Stephanie McGowan: smcgowan@comox.ca

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Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Archive photo

Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

By George Le Masurier

Thanks to four brave new councillors, there is an opportunity to draw to a close the Town of Comox’s long history of breaching the trust of Hamilton Mack Laing and misappropriating the funds the famous naturalist left in his Last Will for the community that he loved.

Comox Town Council voted against Mayor Russ Arnott this week and set aside court proceedings to modify Mack Laing’s trust “for up to three months so that council may have discussions with all interested parties.”

Arnott cast the lone vote against the motion, contradicting statements he made during the fall municipal election campaign promising to settle this matter out of court. But new councillors Alex Bissinger, Patrick McKenna, Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan all spoke in favor of giving out of court discussions a chance.

Once it was clear the vote for negotiation would win, councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift got on board, despite voting for the court action during their previous terms.

That left Arnott alone in wanting to proceed toward an expensive court trial.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has garnered broad community support for restoring Shakesides as a unifying and heritage-based town project. Some of those supporters believe the town will lose in court, at a minimum being ordered to submit to a forensic audit of the financial matters and forced into mediation.

The vote also put Arnott at odds with the new majority of councillors, who had campaigned for a negotiated settlement out of court.

But the question facing council is how to stop bleeding money on legal expenses — estimated by one observer to have neared or topped $100,000 — with a plan that satisfies the Laing society and is financially sustainable.

Finding that way forward won’t be easy, and yet that’s the task to accomplish in the next 90 days.

But nothing good will happen if council appoints another flawed advisory committee like former mayor Paul Ives did several years ago. That group failed to follow its own terms of reference. The outcome was so incomplete that two members of the committee wrote opposing minority reports.

And that’s why Arnott’s lone vote against at least trying to negotiate a win-win resolution is disappointing. The mayor is obviously entrenched in his position. He has now stated so for the record.

How is that going to help facilitate any open-minded and meaningful conversations over the next three months? At least returning councillors Grant and Swift had the decency to support an opportunity for positive discussions.

Here’s the problem.

Laing left money and his property to the town in a trust that specified the gifts be used to create a publicly accessible natural history museum at his home, called Shakesides.


If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles Brandt


But now, 37 years after Laing’s death in February of 1982, the town has done nothing to fulfill Laing’s wishes, even though they accepted the terms of the trust when they took his money and property. Over a year ago, the town admitted that it spent Laing’s money inappropriately for years, but only because the Mack Laing Heritage Society had amassed a mountain of evidence detailing the town’s mishandling.

Undaunted, the previous Town Council applied to the BC Supreme Court to tear down Shakesides and spend Laing’s money elsewhere. But the outcome of court actions are always uncertain. And, based on the comments of two Justices so far, the court believes the Laing society has an important case to make.

To prevent further dividing the community, the town needs to make a formal and public apology of its historic wrongdoings. Why? Answer: Because this is a moral issue.

If the town had no intention of abiding the terms of Laing’s trust, it should never have accepted the money and property. But once it did, the town had a moral obligation to follow through. And if the town can behave fast and loose with Laing’s money, what reasonable person would leave the town any gift in the future?

Comox has, so far, proven itself untrustworthy.

The Comox Valley Land Trust, and other similar conservancy organizations, were created to address this exact problem. And the CVLT is currently creating security for the wishes of Father Charles Brandt, who plans to leave his house and property on the Oyster River for a regional district public park.

If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles.

Can you imagine if the Comox Valley Regional District someday tries to alter the terms of the Father Charles covenant? The public outcry would be overwhelming. There should be no less of a voice in protest against the Town of Comox, if it follows Mayor Arnott’s example and pushes this case through the courts.

Everyone in the Comox Valley who values heritage, and honorable actions by locally-elected governments, should support a negotiated settlement.

That doesn’t mean the solution is simple. But it is possible if everyone comes to the table with an open mind and good intentions.

Mayor Arnott was asked for comment for this opinion article at 3:45 pm PST, but had not responded by 8:35 PST when it was posted. 

 

 

 

 

WHO WAS HAMILTON MACK LAING?

Hamilton Mack Laing was an important Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer. He moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables. After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot. He bequeathed the waterfront property to the Town of Comox and it became Mack Laing Nature Park

— excerpted from content on the Mack Laing Heritage Society‘s website

 

Click here for more on Hamilton Mack Laing and the issues with the Town or Comox

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Comox Mayor no longer interested in Mack Laing talks

Comox Mayor no longer interested in Mack Laing talks

Mack Laing, about a year before his death, July 1981, at home in Shakesides — archive photo

Comox Mayor no longer interested in Mack Laing talks

By George Le Masurier

At this week’s Comox Town Council meeting, a friend of the late Hamilton Mack Laing will present a business plan to restore the famous naturalist’s home, called Shakesides. He’s going to talk about how the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society can work together to avoid big legal bills and obtain heritage status for the house as a pathway to grant funding.

He’s going to suggest that the town and the society, pitted as adversaries for several years, move forward one step at a time toward resolution.

And he believes the Shakesides restoration business plan provides a foundation from which to build a partnership.

The plan includes support from 18 individual Comox Valley construction companies willing to share expertise, labor and, in some cases, materials for the restoration of Shakesides. A real community service project, according to Olsen.

Olsen says the plan offers proof that “Shakesides can be converted at reasonable cost into a Nature House with a low environmental footprint and with modest operating budget.”

The business plan is part of a mountain of documents that the Mack Laing Heritage Society will enter into evidence, should the town continue to pursue its BC Supreme Court petition to demolish the house. The society hopes the town will abandon this costly legal action and negotiate directly with them to resolve the issue.

The previous Town Council voted to petition the court to alter the terms of the Mack Laing Trust to demolish Shakesides and replace it with a viewing platform. The MLHS believes that would constitute a breach of trust, one of several they say the town has committed since Laing died in 1982.

The society also distributed a 13-page summary of annotated documents to councillors that attempts to summarize the convoluted ways the town has mishandled its trust agreement with Mack Laing.

Mayor no longer onside

A negotiation to settle the case out of court seemed likely after last fall’s municipal elections when a majority of new councillors expressed interest in talking directly with the Mack Laing society. And that included, according to Kris Nielsen, president of the MLHS, a handshake deal with new Mayor Russ Arnott to not let the matter go back to court.

But Nielsen says Arnott has now reneged on that agreement.

At a coffee meeting on Friday, Jan. 11, Nielsen said the mayor told him that unless the MLHS would agree to Shakesides’ demolition and replacement with a viewing platform — in other words capitulating to the town’s position — he wasn’t interested in talking.

Arnott did not respond to Decafnation’s invitation to confirm or deny Nielsen’s version of events.

So unless a majority of Comox councillors vote to engage the MLHS in meaningful discussions toward a solution, it appears the town’s taxpayers will continue to fund an expensive legal process that is speculated to have topped $100,000 to date.

“The Supreme Court gave us the opportunity to speak for Mack Laing’s intent and to demonstrate how past Councils reneged on the terms of the trust from the start and continued doing so for decades,” Nielsen said in a press release from the society. “The charitable purpose of any trust has to be taken seriously. That Comox taxpayers are paying large legal fees … I find (that) particularly disturbing.”

What will council do

In one of its first meetings after the municipal elections, the new Town Council discussed three possible paths forward:

— Continue with the court action
— Negotiate with the Mack Laing Heritage Society
— Suspend the petition entirely

The council voted to delay any decision until February, although Nielsen says the mayor has already decided to press forward with its two-year old court case.

The town spent most of last year and three separate BC Supreme Court appearances trying to prevent the Mack Laing society from participating as an intervenor in the court case. But justices in all three hearings attempted to steer the town and the BC Attorney General’s office in that direction, and the town resisted.

“What evidence do you not want the court to hear,” Justice Thompson asked the town’s lawyer at one point.

Finally, Justice Thompson ordered the town to consent to intervenor status at an Oct. 16, 2018 hearing.

There is no court date scheduled to hear the case, as an out-of-court settlement was preferred.

Breaches of trust

In a package of documents distributed to councillors late last year, the Mack Laing Heritage Society pulled 13 documents from the more than 400 submitted as affidavits that they hope will clarify their case.

Here are some the highlights of the annotated documents.

The first document, from March 17, 1982, shows the Town Council chose to ignore the trust agreement by renting it as housing within 32 days of Laing’s death. And by August of that year had started spending Laing’s money inappropriately.

It wasn’t until Feb. 5, 2003 that the town’s relatively new finance director, Don Jacquest, discovered a possible breach of trust in failing to reinvestLaing’s trust fund earnings, or rental income.

Jacquest reported this discovery to Mayor Paul Ives, CAO Richard Kanigan and council. But the council of the day did nothing to correct the trust fund abuses prior to 2001.

In March of 2015, town staff recommended demolishing Shakesides and Laing’s former home, called Baybrook. Council had previously discussed removing Baybrook, but not Shakesides. In its court filings, the town has not offered any legal opinion at the time regarding their right to tear down Shakesides. The society says this is another breach of trust.

But In June 2015, the society sought a legal opinion from an independent and experienced jurist, William Pearce QC on whether the town had the authority to demolish Shakesides and Baybrook. Peace advised the town to seek court direction before any demolition occured.

“The face that the terms of the trust were breached (financially) does not detract from the fact that the home (Shakesdies) is still subject to the trust and to demolish the home those officials who approved of same could be held to account for damages caused to the home,” Pearce wrote.

He continued, “In addition I note that s122 of the Criminal code makes it an offence for an official … to commit a breach of trust. I offer no opinion whether such officials could be prosecuted for their actions but one would hope the councilors (sic) and the mayor would take legal advice before proceeding with the demolition.”

Peace also noted that if the town felt Shakesides was beyond repair, a legal doctrine known as “cy pres” — meaning a purpose which is as near as possible to the original purpose — would apply to use Laing’s first home, Baybrook, as a substitute.

But town staff did not share Pearce’s legal opinion with council — which should have known about their individual criminal accountability — until its Oct. 7, 2015 meeting — nearly three-and-a-half months later.

By then, the town had already torn down Baybrook on Aug. 6, 2015.

 

 

 

 

WHO WAS HAMILTON
MACK LAING?

Hamilton Mack Laing was an important Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer. He moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables.

After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot. He bequeathed the waterfront property to the Town of Comox and it became Mack Laing Nature Park — excerpted from content on the Mack Laing Heritage Society‘s website.

 

IMPORTANT LINKS

MackLaingSociety.ca

Comox Town Council

Russ Arnott, Mayor: rarnott@comox.ca

Alex Bissinger:
abissinger@comox.ca

Nicole Minions:
nminions@comox.ca

Patrick McKenna:
pmckenna@comox.ca

Ken Grant:
kgrant@comox.ca

Maureen Swift:
mswift@comox.ca

Stephanie McGowan:
smcgowan@comox.ca

 

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Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

File photo by George Le Masurier

New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has waited 20 months for Comox to respond to their request to protect Shakesides from a leaky roof and causing further water damage. The new Town Council answered at its very first meeting
BY George Le Masurier

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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