Comment: Community concerns mount over the future of Oak Bay marina

A commentary by the Community Association of Oak Bay.

Oak Bay marina and its adjacent land and waters have long been a significant asset for Greater Victoria residents and visitors — the stunning views of Mount Baker, sunny pocket beaches, and the chance to walk its wharves, moor or launch boats, or enjoy the panoramic backdrop at the restaurant and café.

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But the extraordinary potential of this magnificent site has never been fully realized, because, since the early 1960s, it has been locked up in successive long-term leases between the District of Oak Bay and private interests. As a result, the community’s views and aspirations for the site have never really been taken into account.

And now, it’s about to happen all over again.

Concerns are growing about the process Oak Bay council is using to determine the future of the marina lease, which expires next year, and the redevelopment of the Spewhung/Turkey Head lands and waters. (The area is known to the Lekwungen people as “Spewhung” and was named “Turkey Head” by British settlers.)

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

Our organization, the Community Association of Oak Bay, has brought these significant concerns to the attention of Mayor Kevin Murdoch and Oak Bay Council, but to no avail (at least not yet).

We’re troubled that the community is being shut out of the visioning and prioritization process, once again, for a site with such enormous potential for our community and region.

We’re distressed that the District of Oak Bay, within the decision-making process they’ve established, 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 March 22 motion committing to advance reconciliation with the two nations.

Our association exists to promote opportunities for Oak Bay residents to engage positively in community, learn about public issues, and participate in public conversations on how to make Oak Bay a healthy, green ­community that is socially and culturally vibrant.

In that role, we wrote to council in April outlining our concerns, and met with Murdoch more than a month ago. At the time of writing, we had received no response to the meeting.

The sole public­ ­commenting opportunity available in this flawed process has been an extraordinarily limited ­questionnaire in February that asked only four “what do you like/not like” questions that were 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.

This stands in stark contrast to the approach Oak Bay council has taken on another important issue — its secondary-suites draft strategy.

That strategy has drawn on external community engagement expertise to provide an open house; an extensive survey on priorities, values, issues and concerns and a 19 page analysis of what was heard; a community-wide newsletter; and, just this month, another 26-question survey that asks residents about specific options and ­preferences.

We heard previously from the mayor that the timeframe for the marina lease wouldn’t allow for much engagement, either, yet Oak Bay took two years to initiate the process. The community and the potential of the site shouldn’t be penalized for council’s late start.

We know from conversations with councillors that there is some discomfort about the lack of real community engagement around such an important ­decision, but that they’re being told that that is the way the ­process has to be.

The advice they’re receiving on this seems to be sadly lacking in the creativity and expertise that would provide the ­opportunities for community engagement that this process so badly needs.

The future of the Oak Bay marina and the adjacent land and waters is simply too important to our region for council not to be working together with the community, rather than trying so hard 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.

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