Green committee targets Runnymede proposal

Carolyn Chodeck

Important to keep treed properties intact, it says

Growing up as a kid in the 1960s on McNeill Street was a wondrous time for Barbara Julian.

In the fall, she and her pals would gather up piles of leaves at the foot of rocky outcroppings and leap down into them.

“It was real, simple unsophisticated play, but it taught us a lot,” said Julian, who now lives in Victoria.

Playing amongst the large properties that line Mountjoy Avenue, kids learned how to get along. “Without adult supervision we created our own rules and settled disagreements.”

The tree-filled properties in her South Oak Bay neighbourhood afforded opportunities to learn lessons that Julian fears are disappearing.

She and nine others, all members of the Oak Bay Green Committee, recently walked the Mountjoy neighbourhood, stopping at 2031 Runnymede Pl., a property that includes a heritage-designated house and garden. The group is upset that Oak Bay council is considering an application from potential purchaser and developer Bruce Wilkin to remove heritage designation on a portion of the property to allow for subdividing.

Proceeds from the sale of a lot, Wilkin has said, would finance renovation of the 1916 house known as Blair Gowie and designed by Samuel Maclure.

Subdividing the property would change the nature of the neighbourhood, not just aesthetically, but ecologically, Julian said.

“I’m not just talking about bushes beside a driveway being removed, but where you have large tracts within a community which are filled with oxygen and shade trees (being altered).”

Such tracts of land provide habitat for birds, insects and other small life that contribute to a healthy ecology, she said.

“Cities are heat islands that contribute to global warming and the only way to prevent that is to not take all the trees down.”

Oak Bay Coun. Nils Jensen said, however, the proposal is worthy of consideration.

“It will serve a number of purposes,” he said.

“It will allow the main house to be fully upgraded and preserved, and at the same time allow the grounds to be brought back to their one-time splendour. Right now the grounds have kind of deteriorated over time and it doesn’t have the pleasant rural feel of the area.

“I think that in exchange for those positive improvements a small house in the back would be appropriate.”

This Friday (Jan. 21) the Oak Bay Green Committee meets at the Monterey library from 3:30 to 6 p.m. They’ll discuss how to convince council to reject the subdivision proposal. Anyone interested in the issue is welcome to attend.

“It’s not just a protest meeting,” Julian said. “We will have tea, books, maps and art and we’ll be able to talk about the future of Oak Bay.”

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