Uncertainty raised over benefit of town hall meeting

Council may not have answers to many of the public’s questions: Coun. John Herbert

Concern over the timing of a town hall meeting planned for Oak Bay is preventing some residents from welcoming the event with open arms.

“I see no point in going ahead with this town hall meeting,” said Tom Croft, president of the Oak Bay Community Association. “Sure (Mayor Christopher Causton) made a promise, but things have happened and people are going to be focused on the federal election.”

Causton vowed to organize the open meeting when faced with a peaceful demonstration at municipal hall last week. There, he met with about 50 residents concerned over subdividing the Blair Gowie heritage property, the possible legalization of secondary suites and their perceived lack of opportunity to provide public input in municipal affairs.

The town hall discussion will take place April 12 at 7 p.m. at Monterey Recreation Centre.

Despite embarking on a leave of absence while he campaigns in the federal election, Causton asked council to honour his offer of a town hall meeting and urged staff to attend.

“I think it’s something we should do as a community and we should host as a council,” he said Monday.

Coun. Pam Copley, who will likely preside over the town hall meeting as acting mayor for April, believes the event has great potential.

“I think the concept is a really good one if it can be formatted correctly,” she said, pointing to a need to provide a setting that promotes easy discussion between residents and councillors. “I’d like to see it more as a conversation rather than as ‘us and them.’”

In addition to preferring a May meeting, Croft believes residents may hold back their opinions without a clear agenda for the town hall-style gathering.

Keeping the meeting open is a wise move that will encourage residents to have their say, countered John Foxgord, spokesperson for Friends of Oak Bay Neighbourhoods.

“People who have specific concerns will have a venue to do that,” he said, adding that now is as good a time as any to hold the public forum. “I think it’s time to get down to business.”

Foxgord expects residents in attendance will call for council to examine the potential legalization of secondary suites in the context of a review of the district’s official community plan.

Without community input on change, there will be no community buy-in, he said. “(Council has) created this divisive environment right now.”

While he supports hosting a town hall meeting, Coun. John Herbert said it may be challenging for council to address secondary suite-related questions that still need answers – those related to enforcement, noise and parking control and others.

Council has been aware for six months of at least half a dozen “go-to-the-heart-of-the-issue questions” residents have asked involving secondary suites, he said. By failing to deal with them, council will likely hear the same questions again.

“I think … we’re going to say, ‘Well gee, we don’t know the answer,’” Herbert said. “So I’m troubled by this process.”

But Causton said the upcoming meeting may go a long way to helping council move forward.

“A town hall meeting may give you some new direction to think about,” he suggested.

editor@oakbaynews.com

Come one, come all

• A town hall discussion hosted by Oak Bay municipality is planned for Tuesday, April 12, 7 p.m. at the Monterey Recreation Centre.