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  • Gayle Baker

Will 2021 Bring Approval for a New Firehall, Safety for All in Our Parks, Ganges Hill Improvements?

January 8:

Eleven participants welcomed CRD’s Gary Holman to an ASK Salt Spring Zoom gathering - the first in 2021. Gary began by confirming that the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission is committed to getting a pedestrian pathway on the west (uphill) side of the Ganges Hill roadway. Hopes are that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) will repave and add bike lanes to the Ganges Hill portion of Fulford Ganges Road (from Seaview to Beddis) this summer. While we may not be ready to construct this pathway at the same time, plans are to proceed as quickly as possible.

Funding is a top consideration, with a strong preference for securing as much grant funding as possible before using Transportation Commission reserves or Community Works (gas tax) funding. Asking voters to approve additional funding through counter petition or referendum would be a last resort. Despite CRD staff efforts, it appears that getting MoTI’s design work for repaving in time to develop and submit shovel-ready plans for the pathway to the Active Transportation grant program this winter may not be possible. Nevertheless, the Transportation Commission has placed this project at the top of its priority list.

Despite disappointment that timing may not work for us to construct a pedestrian pathway on Ganges Hill at the same time as the repaving, we were reminded that this MoTI project is something to be celebrated, finally giving our community a safer road as well as much-needed bike lanes.

On another issue, an ASK Salt Spring participant gave us unfortunate breaking news from a meeting earlier that day: The City of Victoria, which the Wagon Wheel Society had hoped would fund a number of the society’s conestoga-style huts for the homeless, has decided not to proceed. As result of this setback, Wagon Wheel plans to forge on alone. Gary mentioned a possible funding source for the long-awaited laundromat, and this participant will follow-up.

We learned that discussions with between CRD, North Salt Spring Water District, and the Province have begun regarding improvements in water management on Salt Spring. These talks are the result of a provincially-funded $50,000 study of the feasibility of an island-wide water system under the auspices of the CRD, the results of which have not yet been released to the community.

Gary continues to advocate for, and meet with the Fire Department, concerning its long-awaited new firehall. He also continues to advocate for retaining the existing firehall and its site in public hands. We briefly discussed the possible co-location of the CRD Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in this proposed new firehall, offering some cost efficiencies as well as an earthquake resilient public safety facility. Gary regards this proposed new firehall as one of our community’s two top infrastructure priorities, along with the construction of the Lady Minto Emergency Room.

When asked how the cost of the proposed new firehall could be kept down, Gary responded that the current Fire Trustees understand this is necessary in order to secure voter approval. The Trustees have convened a community-based advisory committee to guide them in their deliberations. Collaboration with CRD (e.g., co-locating the CRD EOC) could also generate some cost efficiencies. When the proposal for a new firehall is introduced in a referendum, voters will be reminded that, if approved, they would be paying off borrowing (for a limited period of time) instead of the annual taxation already being incurred by the fire district’s transfers to reserves. They will also be reminded of the savings resulting from the co-location of EOC, currently paying commercial rates for its rented space.

When asked why the fire property at Central could not be used for the new firehall, Gary responded that at least 10,000 square feet will be needed for the new firehall, also including basic accommodations as the firefighters are soon to move to a 24/7 staffing model. (Note: While the property at Central may look large, it must be remembered that a sizable portion of the property is taken up with a septic field.) The Fire Trustees may decide that the Central Hall is no longer needed once the new firehall at the Brinkworthy property has been completed, thus allowing sale of the site.

Gary was asked about possible community uses of the current firehall, given it is vulnerability to earthquake and predicted rising waters, as well as asbestos, roof, and wiring problems. He responded that another advisory committee convened by the Fire Trustees had recommended that it be used as a farmers’ market (accepted in principle by the Trustees and supported by agricultural groups on Salt Spring), which would minimize necessary retrofitting costs and also help address key community objectives regarding food security. (It was noted that the roof and wiring problems are urgent and will be addressed by the Fire District.)

If the community were to acquire the current firehall, Gary would urge CRD to also acquire the parking lot fronting the building from MoTI. The firehall site could become an important piece of village transportation priorities and will likely also be discussed as part of the Islands Trust proposed Ganges Village Plan process.

While Gary supports the public acquisition of the current firehall and site, he acknowledged that this would not reduce overall taxpayer costs of the new firehall as much as sale to a private developer. However, Gary argues that retaining public ownership of it, along with the securing control of the MoTI land fronting the building, would generate significant long term net benefits to the community.

Other possible partnerships for the new public safety building site were suggested, including ambulance services, local government offices, and even Community Services. In response to all these ideas, Gary believes that the added costs could make voter approval more complicated and difficult.

When asked whether co-location of emergency services would reduce the number of emergency vehicles responding to calls, Gary reminded us that those decisions are made according to provincial protocols and that our firefighters are designated “first responders,” something that is unlikely to change due to co-location. He reminded us that questions about the new and existing fire halls should be put directly to Fire Trustees who are elected at large to manage this service. It was suggested that Fire Trustees may want to join an ASK Salt Spring gathering another Friday.

Switching gears, Gary was asked about an issue that has been raised many times at previous ASK Salt Spring gatherings: Has their been any progress locating a site for an encampment so that our inadequately-housed are not forced from park to park? Gary is still working on the possibility of a managed encampment but does not believe that the Rainbow Road Pool property is necessarily the best option. For example, the site is in the Agricultural Land Reserve with an exemption specifically for recreation facilities. When asked about using a campground for a managed encampment, Gary indicated that Community Services had contacted some campground owners about this possibility, but there was no interest at that time.

While BC Housing does not support encampments, Gary reminded us that we have gained a great deal from BC Housing funding: BC Housing has already agreed to provide funding for a year round shelter, expansion of the shelter, and room rental at the Seabreeze Motel. He is still hopeful that BC Housing will soon announce another important project for Salt Spring. Additionally, Gary continues to advocate for increased funding from BC Housing for a 24/7 shelter at Community Services.

Gary also mentioned that PARC owns a number of parcels, not all of which have value as parkland and may be suitable for affordable housing. Most of these parcels were acquired as a requirement for subdivision: Developers must give PARC 5%, either in money or land. While it would take a referendum to change the use of any of these PARC parcels, it may be an affordable housing option worth considering.

Gary believes that the Islands Trust proposed Temporary Use Permit bylaw allowing temporary residential use was promising and wondered why this bylaw had been abandoned. (We promised to ask Trustees Peter and Laura when Island Trustees are our special guests at our next ASK Salt Spring gathering, Friday, January 15)

In response to a comment about how difficult it was to get anything done due to the large and complicated CRD bureaucracy, Gary reminded us of all that we gain by being a part of CRD, including millions invested here for affordable housing, free recycling, and an exemplary regional parkland acquisition program. He suggested that those who find it tempting to look to another regional district, such as Cowichan Valley, focus on the important issues instead.

Gary encouraged us not to feel deflated that some things take so very long to accomplish, reminding us how many victories we have to celebrate, not least of which are the completions at Salt Spring Commons and Croftonbrook. He estimated that, when all on-going affordable housing projects are completed, there will be as many as 80 new units of affordable housing available in our community. On the theme of affordable housing, Gary again referred to the use of temporary use permits by the Trust which could provide another tool to more quickly approve innovative housing proposals.

We learned that RCMP, Encom, and MoTI have partnered to rid our community of abandoned vehicles and that a yard had been identified to impound them until they can be towed off-island. A participant was acknowledged for his work contacting those who could address this issue, resulting in this encouraging progress. Our new RCMP Sergeant, Clive Seabrook’s, commitment to solving this problem was also acknowledged. In a very short time, he has already reached out to touch our community in a variety of very positive ways. When the unsightly black camper on the harbourside of Lower Ganges Road was mentioned, we soon recognized that this may be a more complex issue as it may be a family’s only shelter. It was agreed that it would be better if it were in a safe, less conspicuous, place that did not block pedestrian passage.

When asked about the status of HarbourWalk, we learned that PARC is moving forward on a Request for Proposals (RFP) for detailed design drawings, beginning at the PARC owned property near the corner of Upper and Lower Ganges Roads and extending to Rotary Park. Engagement with upland owners, key stakeholders, and the public will be undertaken as part of the design process. Gary will clarify whether this engagement will be led by the consultant, CRD staff, or both.

While funding for the design drawings is available, funding for the construction has not yet been identified. While Gary hopes to access grants for a large portion of the needed funding, a local funding drive is also likely to be necessary to raise what is potentially several millions of dollars. While steps to the completion of the HarbourWalk are still a bit daunting, Gary reminded us of the victory for our community in getting the Ministry to include provision for the right-of-way over the Ganges Marina lease area. To firmly secure this right of way, design drawings need to be completed, but Gary does not foresee a problem with the Ministry concerning this needed approval.

Gary reiterated that while the Harbourwalk is an important project, there are also other very important infrastructure priorities, such as the proposed new firehall and Lady Minto Emergency Room, as well as the Ganges Hill pathway, that will require significant financial resources.

When asked about acquiring the home at the corner of Upper and Lower Ganges Roads, Gary replied that it was unlikely that CRD would be interested in leading such an initiative, given other infrastructure priorities, but a privately led initiative might create some possibilities.

When asked whether PARC had allocated more funding to make sure Saturday Market vendors and customers are safe from COVID when our season begins again, Gary told us that bylaw enforcement funding had been increased and will continue to increase. He also reminded us that, while bylaw enforcement does have a presence in Centennial Park, it is a RCMP responsibility to enforce provincial COVID precautions.

The conversation shifted once again to safety in our parks. We learned that Community Services bans folks at the shelter who do not adhere to rules; CRD will be considering banning folks who do not follow the rules from our local parks. CRD staff will also be proposing the implementation of crime prevention measures in Centennial Park, such as lighting and cameras, to the PARC Commission.

When asked what was stopping progress solving this issue, Gary responded that he believes that we have made some progress. While it has taken some time to respond to a fairly recent situation exacerbated by COVID, collaboration among those who can address the problem, including a RCMP presence, has improved. (We were also reminded that Gary had proposed a plan to address and fund our concerns about safety in our community that was rejected.)

Other communities are also facing concerns about safety, some with far higher incidence of serious crime than Salt Spring. And, we all compete for the same provincial funds to address safety - as well as mental health and addiction issues. Gary is working with MLA Adam Olsen to advocate for the funding and support to address these needs. He also welcomes community support to get more provincial help. Gary feels that while we are slowly making progress, he acknowledged that the businesses at Ganges Alley do not feel as optimistic because they face these issues all day, everyday.

Gary concluded that he is trying to be as accountable and transparent as possible and cited his efforts by frequently writing articles for the Driftwood, his public budget presentations, his attendance at the town hall session of each Island Trust meeting. . . and, of course, being ASK Salt Spring’s special guest the second Friday of every month - Thank-you!

As we thanked Gary and pressed our Leave Meeting button, many of us promised to return Friday, January 15, 11-1 to welcome our Island Trustees, Peter Grove from 11-noon and Laura Patrick from noon-1, to Zoom about with us.

Please join us:

Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We would love your receipts! Remember: #15

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