Getting together on heritage

Oak Bay groups lobby for merger, clearer mandate on heritage related issues in the municipality

Heritage advocates Gwen Howey

Heritage advocates Gwen Howey

Everything old is new again. It’s a saying that has numerous meanings when it comes to heritage in Oak Bay.

In this case, it describes the pending return of the Oak Bay Heritage Commission, a body that existed until 2005, when it was divided into two separate groups.

Now, after an up-and-down, but ultimately frustrating six years, the Oak Bay heritage committee and Oak Bay heritage advisory panel are pushing for a reunion.

“One group is making decisions and one group is doing all the work,” said Patricia Wilson, co-chair of the heritage committee. “The original setup makes sense.”

Wilson, who presented the two groups’ case for unification to Oak Bay council July 18, said, “We willingly (volunteer) a lot of time. We would like to have some influence.”

Wilson pointed to the subdivision of the Blair Gowie estate, at 2031 Runnymede Ave., as a perfect example of a project that could have been handled a lot differently had the two groups been working together.

“A heritage-designated house and garden went to the panel, but bypassed the committee totally,” she said. “We were not asked to comment.”

Wilson added that panel members have similar feelings. “They feel isolated making decisions not knowing what’s happening at the committee level.”

Under the current structure, the heritage committee is geared towards the documentation and preservation of heritage property in Oak Bay, while the advisory panel makes specific recommendations on heritage issues when directed to do so by council.

However, because both groups are focused on the same issue, it has led to some confusion for all involved.

“It’s been a problem for some time,” said Coun. Pam Copley. “The mandate simply isn’t clear.”

Other councillors echoed her support for the change.

“Decisions have been made … where the lack of consultation between the (panel) and the committee has caused a disservice to the final decision,” said Coun. Tara Ney, council’s representative on the committee.

“I think that may have been the case with Blair Gowie. I think if we bring many minds together, we’re more likely to make better decisions.”

Resolving the issue before the fall civic election is key, Wilson said, especially given what’s on the horizon.

“The biggest single thing that’s coming up is the Oak Bay community plan,” she said. “We expect to participate in putting it together.”

Council requested a staff report on the feasibility of the merger. The report is expected by the end of August. Barring roadblocks, the Oak Bay Heritage Commission will likely be reformed shortly thereafter.