After a lengthy discussion and review of public comments, Comox council will refer additional ideas for a viewing platform to modify the Mack Laing Trust back to staff for a redesign.
At Wednesday’s regular council meeting, a majority of councillors voted to engage the K’omox First Nations and the Mack Laing Heritage Society for ideas to the design team of Al Fraser and Tim O’Brien and request a redesign of the viewing platform be prepared.
Couns. Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan were opposed.
They also unanimously voted to submit their ideas – based on written and in-person feedback from a workshop held earlier this month – to the Town’s executive co-ordinator by April 7 at 5 p.m. in order to ensure the design team has sufficient time to create new ideas.
On March 27, council heard a variety of opinions and solicited written public comments about the current state of naturalist Laing’s former home Shakesides during a special workshop.
The meeting served to engage in a discussion of issues and compromises related to the trust modification.
The Town is seeking approval to modify the trust from the current requirement to convert Laing’s former residence Shakesides to a nature house and instead remove the home and construct a viewing platform with the funds held in the trust.
Mayor Russ Arnott told council they received 82 comment sheets, and from those, 61 were in support of the platform or some form of modification, and 21 were opposed and wanted the trust to stay as written.
Coun. Alex Bissenger said in a statement she was disappointed in the way in which the meeting was carried out.
“The focus was on the platform and it didn’t leave room for much else … there was no mention of moving the structure elsewhere. We didn’t get (any suggestions) outside of the box.”
She noted she would like to see the town work toward preserving some of its heritage and would like to provide a time frame for a community project in order to keep the house.
“If it fails, then we can go forward with the trust. I think we’re missing out on a good opportunity.”
Arnott reminded council their role on council is to speak for all residents of Comox, and not just those from special interest groups.
“Seventy-five per cent of those people (who offered comments) said (the platform) is what they want. There wasn’t this huge interest in it; we would have had hundreds of people show up.”
Coun. Ken Grant explained he saw the meeting from a completely different perspective.
“What we showed is what the attorney general was willing to accept – this is the important piece. We are elected to make decisions – it’s time to make a decision. If we flip flop, we’re going to lose the faith of those who expect us to make decisions.”
Coun. Nicole Minions took issue with the process of the public meeting.
“Somewhere in the last 10 days, we voted for Shakesides to come down. We went into the meeting and really focused on the platform.”
She added the invitation and press release issued by the Town did not represent what the meeting was supposed to be.
“I want to see where we voted that Shakesides was coming down; I’m confused when that decision was made.”
Arnott offered the opportunity for council to review video of past meetings, as he did, to understand how the vote was decided.
In her reply, Coun. Maureen Swift said she didn’t believe council voted to demolish Shakesides, but rather voted to modify the trust.
In February, council voted on a three-month abeyance to continue an information gathering process for the trust. Richard Kanigan, the Town’s chief administrative officer reminded council the adjusted time frame is nearing its conclusion, and redesign work will proceed as quickly as possible to meet the abeyance deadline.