Whether it was waterfront development or raising chickens in backyards, the Town Hall meeting held July 19 left everyone with something to talk about.
More than 80 local residents hunkered down at Aggie Hall for a three and a half hour discussion on the issues and projects that will shape the short- and long-term vision for Ladysmith.
During his opening remarks, Mayor Rob Hutchins reviewed a wealth of information on the town and its demographics.
Hutchins also took some time to outline some of the town’s recent successes, like the community gardens, Highland Gathering, skate park completion, and Forrest Field development, which is part of a larger sports field development at the end of Fourth Avenue.
The town has been able to stay out of further debt by financing many of its projects through partnerships with other levels of government, individuals and community groups and by obtaining grants, selling property and using savings, Hutchins said.
Participants were then asked to pick their own Top 5 desired topics for discussion.
The crowd was able to get through seven out of eight possible topics presented before running out of time, leaving out the Festival of Lights.
Audience members got to participate throughout the meeting not only through discussion but also polling. Attendees used electronic voting remotes to anonymously vote on a variety of polls related to the topics at hand — see our side bar for some of the results.
Each topic was preceded by a brief background or presentation by Hutchins or city staff before going up for Q&A.
Fire hall upgrade
The Ladysmith Fire Hall was a popular topic for discussion, as council considers an upgrade to the Sixth Avenue facility. The upgrade would add footage to the existing building to the west and north. While plans are still in discussion, Hutchins said the project could cost anywhere in the area of $3 to $5 million. The upgrade could qualify for funding from the government, but it will be limited, he added.
“We are a growing community. We have equipment that is particularly larger than it was 30 years ago,” Hutchins said. “As the photos show, there isn’t much room to fit trucks in the building.”
Ladysmith Fire Chief Ray Delcourt said an upgrade would take the fire department into the next 40 years of service.
The fire hall was originally built in 1972 at a cost of $137,000. Since then, the building hasn’t seen any renovation other than a $175,000 earthquake upgrade in 1995.
“We’ve gotten to the point where the fire hall is too small for us,” Delcourt said. “We’re trying to work with council to possibly, over the next couple of years, to look at this upgrade so we can protect the township of Ladysmith and give our firefighters an advantage to have better equipment and being able to improve our fire hall.”
Audience members inquired about the current response times.
“We have one of the quicker volunteer fire departments on the Island,” Delcourt said.
The response time is approximately four minutes, and about eight to 10 minutes for the southern areas of Ladysmith. Rob Johnson questioned whether it would be feasible to build a substation in the south end where the population is growing.
“For us to start thinking of a second hall out in the south area of town, there would be problems with this because they would need to find firefighters to man the equipment,” Delcourt explained.
The fifth most popular topic of the night centred around backyard chickens. The Town of Ladysmith is considering permitting backyard chickens for personal, non-commercial use.
Many other communities such as Nanaimo have made the move to permit chickens, with the idea they promote a reduction in organic waste, provide food security and make good pets.
A backyard chicken permit would only allow a limit of four to five hens to be contained in an enclosure per property with no roosters.
One audience member questioned whether permitting chickens would open the door to permitting other barnyard animals. Another wanted to know if other communities with backyard chicken bylaws in place were seeing any negative issues.
“I have heard none,” Hutchins said.
Stan Jordan said the move would be a step in the right direction.
“I’m a big believer in the idea of less control by councils and governments and everybody would be happier, including the chickens,” he said. “I’ve got room in my backyard to have chickens, and I’d love to see council approving this. I certainly wouldn’t have them myself because they’re a pain in the neck to look after, but I’m going to vote yes on the basis that it shows that in Ladysmith, there’s a certain amount of freedom that you can do what you want to do, including keep chickens in the back yard.”
Hutchins then stressed that there will be regulations if the permits were put into place.
The final discussion of the night had residents pondering whether the town should implement a cat control bylaw that could include mandatory licensing of all cats and regulations on keeping them indoors.
Stricter rules could help address public health and safety concerns caused by roaming outdoor cats such as rabies and toxoplasmosis.
“Our grandchildren have picked up ringworm and tapeworm from playing places where cats have defecated so that’s happening in your backyard,” said Coun. Bruce Whittington.
“There are other issues here too, one is that the SPCA will tell you that outdoor cats will live an average of about three years, and indoor cats, on average, live about 14 years, so it’s better for cats.”
Audience members expressed concerns that reducing the number of felines in the great outdoors would allow undesirable species such as rats, to increase in number.
“The other side of the equation is that every vole or native mouse that a cat takes is one less for native hawks and owls, which depend on it to feed their young as part of a natural ecosystem, and cats are not a natural part of that ecosystem,” Whittington said, adding that cats will not typically attack a full grown rat.
The most voted-for topic was the Ladysmith waterfront.
Council is re-visiting the town’s waterfront area plan and asked residents what sort of development they would like to see take shape.
Hutchins said in the coming weeks, a total of four reports will be completed on the area— environmental, geotechnical, bathymetry and remedial options and costs.
Discussions on the waterfront included everything from walkways to high density development to an RV Campsite.
Audience members seemed keen on the idea of development which would attract more people to the Transfer Beach area.
“Six million tourists drive by Ladysmith every year. I think it’s about time we have something more than a Tim Hortons to pull them in,” said one resident.
The meeting, which was set to end at 9 p.m. adjourned at 10 p.m. and the town plans to hold a second meeting in September to continue the discussions.
Pick up next week’s Chronicle for more issues covered at the meeting including a dog park, secondary suites and the trolley.