MODERATION OR EXPLOSIVE GROWTH? LOBBY MARK SWAIN NOW!

The most important Council decision-making process in the short history of our municipality will take place at 6:00 pm on Monday the 19th of February in the District Council Chamber. What is at stake is the outcome of two competing visions for the future of this community. They are represented by the moderate density increases and growth envisioned in the 2005 OCP and the much higher densities and development rezoning envisioned in the current OCP Review and the possibility that those higher densities will be supersized through the “Colclough amendments”. Most residents, unfamiliar with the 2005 OCP provisions, would be quite surprised at the ultimate densities and buildout allowed, particularly in the village core. Two factors seem to be in play at the moment both related to the availability of water connections. First, because new connections have been unavailable there has been little or no growth since the 1980s. This has led to pent-up demand. Secondly, that pent-up demand threatens to overwhelm the moderating growth and change regulations that were built into the 2005 OCP. The 2018 OCP Review provisions and the rocket-fueled “Colclough amendments” would fundamentally change the nature of this community.

In the Burkean sense of political parties – (a body of citizens united by a conception of the public interest) – we have on our Lantzville Council, two political parties defined by their different conceptions of our public interest with regard to growth and development. The “Haimeparty” consists of Mayor Colin Haime, his spouse Councillor Denise Haime and their ally, Councillor John Coulson. The “Colclough party” is comprised of Councillor Bob Colclough, Councillor Will Geselbracht and Councillor Dot Neary. I should add that Councillor Mark Swain has usually been seen as a member of the Colclough group but when he occasionally votes with the Haimeparty it is clearly as an independent which perhaps he sees himself as in all his voting record which underlines the difficulty in actually being independent on this politically divided Council. At any rate, being the only swing vote, Swain holds all the cards in the current discussion on the future of our community. That makes him the most important person in the most important decision-making process in the modern history of Lantzville. Let’s hope he is up to the task.

It is natural and expected that professional biases will creep in to decision-making processes about what is good for a community. Imagine the street-lighting and public conveniences we would have from coast to coast in this country if we elected plumbers and electricians to parliament in the numbers we currently elect accountants and lawyers?
The difference in how personal bias plays out in municipalities, especially small ones like this, is that we are all neighbors, most of us sharing the benefits of our leafy, large-lot neighborhoods. We have a party supporting the status-quo that is made up of two accountants and an engineer and a party supporting a high degree of growth and change made up of a development consultant and a lawyer with a former school-district trustee thrown in. Swain, the powerful wild card, is a kinesiologist who does a lot of consultation on ICBC injury cases among other things. Maybe this accounts for his unpredictability. Maybe he is just not a party guy.

We had a bit of a preview of how Feb 19th might go at the Dec 18th meeting when the review document was first received. Councillor Colclough was well prepared with a sheaf of amendments that would have taken the already radical densities and development opportunities of the OCP Review and push them much, much higher. He had the support of his party and the wavering Swain until the clock ran out at 10:00 pm triggering an automatic motion in order to allow the meeting to continue. The increasingly alarmed Swain tipped the balance and defeated the motion to continue which put the meeting content in limbo. In a democracy you can change your mind.

We can assume that the Colclough party will continue to support at least the high densities and zoning changes of the OCP Review and perhaps even the hyper densities of the Colclough amendments. We can assume that the Haimeparty will support a vision closer to the 2005 OCP provisions. Now that water connections seem more likely, the existing 2005 OCP could occasion a moderate amount of development both residential and commercial without the radical 2018 Review changes let alone the Colclough amendments.

There were other recent Council meetings that provide clues to how Councillors might perform on Feb 19th and therefore, how motivated residents might spend their time profitably between now and then.

There were 3 meetings including an unprecedented three public hearings between June and October of last year involving a rezoning application for the Caillet Rd “cruiseship” property. It is of note that the Colclough team ignored the majority of householder input that was clearly opposed to the very high mixed-use densities proposed for this ¾ acre property contiguous with a large-lot residential neighborhood. Councillor Swain broke with the Colclough party and voted against the bylaw, citing the 40 signature petition in his argument. The Haimeparty also rejected it. Swain’s vote carried the day.
A discussion occurred at the Feb 5th meeting that may give residents another glimpse into the thinking of some Council members and some direction in which to place their lobbying efforts. This discussion focused on the attendance at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference at Whistler in September. Two significant factors discussed were that attendance at this junket will cost taxpayers at least $3,000 per attendee and that an election will follow in October. So, it seems likely that only councillors who are interested in running in that election would be interested in attending the UBCM, otherwise it is a predictable waste of taxpayers’ money. Of course, if you attend the conference and then get defeated it is also a waste of taxpayers’ money but less egregiously so and that scenario is for us voters to decide anyway.

Swain wants to go. When Council decided to ask for three unassigned places at the UBCM Swain declared that he wanted to be identified as one of them indicating that he is going to seek re-election. In the end Mayor Haime and Councillor Colclough also received Council backing to attend which should make for interesting election speculation.

So folks, here’s the thing. Lobby Mark Swain on what you would like to see included in changes to the OCP draft. Don’t waste your time on anyone else; their minds are made up for better or worse. We already know from last year that Mark respects public opinion. We know that he is interested in seeking re-election so he knows that if he fumbles on Feb 19th he will almost certainly not be re-elected. The rest is just mathematics. The development property owners represent a tiny minority of voters. They have a big voice but voters are canny. There are also those among the householders in the neighborhoods who believe that trickle-down will benefit them and that the 2005 OCP (if they are even aware of it) doesn’t provide enough opportunity for growth and development. They could be right but I don’t think so. Anyway, all sides can lobby Councillor Swain. This historical moment is his to lose.

Email Mark Swain at: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Attend the Feb 19th meeting at 6 pm in the council chamber. Numbers count.

Brian Blood