A petition launched in the wake of the town moving forward on plans to zone The Jewel for residential development failed to sway councillors who have so far have been unanimous in their support of the Waterfront Area Plan.
The petition, submitted at a recent city council meeting, garnered close to 1,000 signatures from those who opposed Ladysmith zoning the vacant land abutting Transfer Beach Park from waterfront reserve to medium density residential.
“A small group of grassroots volunteers have been actively engaging with residents online, and petitioning on the streets in the community and door to door,” said Eva and John Vincent in a letter sent to council on June 4.
“Some of these people we met are physically challenged and can’t get out, others are elderly and do not have computers for online (sic) engagement. Some have young families that take all their attention, while others just have a sense of hopelessness, stating the Town will do what they want no (sic) matter what anyone says. Despite any of these limitations their voices should be just as valid.”
The petition did not specifically mention that medium density residential could permit a maximum of six storey, which seems be a particular sticking point for some community members.
Fourth reading of bylaw 1951 concerning the Jewel property took place at a council meeting on June 4 with Mayor Aaron Stone absent because he was travelling back home from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Halifax.
Back chairing the June 11 council meeting, Stone questioned whether all of the signatures were in fact from local residents and if accurate information was circulated by the petitioners about the town’s plans for the vacant plot.
“What’s troubling to me is that there’s been a lot of disinformation put out to frighten people into signing the petition,” he said, noting how he had specifically reached out to 22 people on the list.
“Some of the feedback I got about the reasons for signing the petition was concerning in that it was completely inaccurate. One person reported that all the arbutus trees where going to be cut down for condos when it’s clear in the plan… the townhouse units are actually aligned on the existing roadway that is Oyster Bay Drive and the trees that are being spoken about are preserved as park in the plan.”
In signing the petition residents agreed that they were either a resident elector of the town for the past 30 days or entitled to register as a non-resident property elector.
Eva Vincent told the Chronicle that she disagreed with Stone’s position and said “there was no misinformation…there was a lot of opinion.”
“I know how we presented this and I how I spoke to people on the street, and spoke to them at their doors, and people who called asking us to come to their doors,” she said.
Everyone who canvassed the community with petition forms was met with for about an hour to ensure they were informed on the issues and would keep the process respectful, she added.
“This is land that is owned by the taxpayer and a lot of people that I talked to felt the surveys were quite bias,” Vincent said, referring to the engagement process undertaken by the down.
She did concede at the council meeting that 121 of the signatures couldn’t be verified as coming from Ladysmith residents.
“This impacts Ladysmith forever. If we’re going to have 15 to 20 thousand people we’re going to need that for park space,” Vincent told the newspaper.
Any proceeds from the sale of the land would be reinvested into waterfront remediation and amenities.
What remains to be seen is how the town intends to proceed with the sale of the land, with one possibility being that sections of the parcel could be subdivided.
Glenn Reid has continued to collect signatures, even at Thursday’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Transfer Beach, and plans to submit an updated petition to council in the future.
Councillor Carol Henderson said all voices should be heard on issues concerning the town but that she believes the engagement process undertaken to arrive at the final waterfront plan document was the correct one.
“I have full confidence that the numbers and the types people there were involved with the plan were wholeheartedly aware of the community’s need and desire to keep as much greenspace as possible…,” she said.
“In this case I think there has been a lot of misunderstanding but I think that the heart of the people that signed this petition is in the right place and a conversation as a opposed to opposition is better.”
Stone also said that often times “without some uncomfortable discussions we don’t get progress and we don’t get change.”
“I’ll take the petition at face value but from my position to defer the decision to a referendum, or to step back from the amount of engagement that we had with people who really did invest in the plan, tried to understand the reasons, and took the time to look at it from a pragmatic point-of-view that everything is possible if everything is possible, to take away the economic driver for the plan would make the whole rest of the plan impossible,” he said.
The Ladysmith Waterfront Plan was developed over a 15 month period involving multiple meetings with stakeholders, public open houses and surveys.