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Community shut out of decisions on Oak Bay marina

Concerns are growing about the process council is using to determine the future of the Oak Bay marina lease, which expires next year, and the redevelopment of the adjacent Spewhung/Turkey Head lands and waters.

Council is about to lock down the site for the next 30 years, and it’s all essentially happening behind closed doors, without meaningful community input or guidance.

We’re troubled that the community is being shut out of the visioning and prioritization for a site with such enormous environmental and public recreation potential, and distressed that the district hasn’t provided the robust community engagement that the future of this remarkable site deserves.

We’re also deeply concerned that council is not adequately exploring the opportunities with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations for partnership and collaboration on economic development and other aspects of the site. This would be a huge missed opportunity to put reconciliation into action in our community and seems to fly in the face of council’s unanimously adopted motion committing to advance reconciliation with the two nations.

The Community Association of Oak Bay wrote to council in April outlining our concerns, and met with Mayor Murdoch more than a month ago (see oakbaycommunityassociation.org). At the time of writing, we had yet to receive a response to the meeting.

The sole public commenting opportunity in this flawed process has been an extraordinarily limited questionnaire in February that asked only four “what do you like/not like” questions so open-ended as to be unusable for priority-setting, decision-making or accommodating new and innovative ideas, and which received no effective analysis or reporting out.

Contrast that with the approach council has taken on secondary suites. That has drawn on external expertise for an open house; an extensive survey on priorities, values, issues and concerns; a 19-page analysis of what was heard; a community-wide newsletter; and another 26-question survey that asks residents about specific options and preferences.

We heard previously from the mayor that the timeframe for the marina wouldn’t allow for much engagement. Yet Oak Bay took two years to initiate the process. The community and the potential of the site shouldn’t be penalized for that.

We know from councillors that there is some discomfort about the lack of real community engagement, but they’re being told that that is the way the process has to be. This advice seems to be sadly lacking in the creativity and expertise that could provide the community engagement that is so badly needed.

The future of the marina and adjacent land and waters is simply too important for council not to be working with the community, rather than trying to shut it out. It’s time for council to create meaningful opportunities to hear what the community thinks before any final decisions get made.

Kristina Leach, Maeve Lydon, Rick Marshall

Community Association of Oak Bay