View Royal’s new mayor says he wants to tap into the municipality’s residents to refine the town’s Official Community Plan and take a closer look at where developments should go.
Such plans map out how a community should take shape in terms of land uses, types of buildings and amenities allowed in various areas.
“It shouldn’t be about developing for the sake of developers … it should be about developments for each individual neighbourhood,” said Sid Tobias, a former navy chief who edged out two-term mayor David Screech by a margin of 236 votes.
“I think we have to ask people: ‘What do you need here? What would enhance your community? Do you have a school, a grocery store, a park within five minutes?”
Tobias, who called himself a reluctant politician heading into last weekend’s election, said mayors only represent one voice. “The only super power I have, I believe, is creating groups of people who are passionate about their communities and asking them what we should be seeing in our future plans.”
About 26% of eligible voters cast ballots in View Royal, a community of 11,500 that has doubled in size since incorporation in 1988 and is wrestling with growing pains within its borders.
The town has Victoria General Hospital, the region’s only casino and one of its busiest regional parks at Thetis Lake, and is considered a major link between the West Shore and Victoria’s urban core. It’s a convenient place to live for people who work in any of the CRD’s municipalities, and a hot spot for development.
Tobias said View Royal is rich with retired residents — and those still in the workforce — who have valuable skills when it comes to planning neighbourhoods and building communities, and he wants to connect with them.
Tobias, currently director of digital services at the province’s Environmental Assessment Office, has been a public servant for the past seven years, after wrapping a 24-year naval career. As a chief petty officer with technical expertise, he developed safety protocols around the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as well as conducting drug raids on the high seas.
Screech, 62, who was first elected mayor in 2014, then acclaimed in the post in 2018 and served as a councillor from 2002 to 2014, said he was disappointed with the turnout for the vote.
He said two unnamed, long-term councillors “were actively working to see me defeated … I don’t blame Sid [Tobias] at all.”
Tobias recognizes there is a split on council on development issues and said there needs to be healing under his watch. He also said rising inflation and a recession forecast should be considered, and the town has to be vigilant with expenditures.
Screech said he accepts the defeat, but will become “a self-appointed council watchdog.” “I’m certainly not going to insert myself into meetings,” he said. “But I do care about this community and how it’s being run. I think my record shows that.”
One of the positive outcomes of the election, said Screech, was increasing the council size, a decision narrowly adopted prior to the election.
View Royal picked six councillors instead of the usual four this year, which Screech said adds new voices and perspectives.
Incumbents Damian Kowalewich, John Rogers, Ron Mattson and Gery Lemon were re-elected while Alison MacKenzie and Don Brown are new.
Brown is a retired RCMP officer who spent a combined 12 years as a school trustee in Nanaimo/Ladysmith and Sooke districts, while MacKenzie is a public servant with the province currently focusing on labour shortages and was most recently on View Royal’s board of variance committee.