It Takes a Village to Rage a Community
-Esquimalt residents divided on the Esquimalt Village Core Plan
By Tim Morrison
For years now, Esquimalt has been talking and talking and talking some more about a revitalization of our community that would be centred on an Esquimalt Village Core concept located at the 1200 block of Esquimalt Road. The plan calls for a mixed use of commercial, residential, and community space that would surround Municipal Hall, and would involve tearing down the old Municipal Hall site and developing the Town Square directly behind the Esquimalt Library. Eventually, the plan envisions stretching west into the 1300 block and east into the 1100 block integrating with the existing Esquimalt Plaza.
After extensive and expensive consultant studies, Esquimalt Council invited local residents to a public hearing last month for some final input on the matter before proceeding with the plan.
The result was a jam-packed Council Chambers as residents from the surrounding neighbourhoods were extremely vocal in denouncing the project as the wrong fit for Esquimalt. Their opposition was chiefly focussed on the amount of density and traffic that would be generated by the inclusion of condominium towers that could range from eight to twelve storeys high.
“I don’t need 100 condos looking down into my yard,” said local resident Gary Mullins, who lives directly across from the proposed development site. “It’s like parking a cruise ship in front of a house.”
For two hours, speaker after speaker lined up to voice their opposition, many of whom lived in the area that horseshoes the proposed development site.
Others from elsewhere in the community also spoke against the plan, arguing that it would destroy the small-town, quiet persona of Esquimalt.
“The proposed village concept is too big for our community,” said Tony Cond from Old Esquimalt Road. “We are strongly opposed to high-rise buildings in Esquimalt because they lack character and they don’t blend well with the community spirit.”
Cond also expressed concern about the municipality losing public lands to private developers and urged Council not to take on projects that create risk to taxpayers.
Council’s response can best be described as shell-shocked. Prior to the public hearing, all indications pointed towards a unanimous adoption of the plan. All previous Council discussions and votes on the matter had been generally positive with Council appearing quite eager to move on with the project. But, in the face of such vocal opposition, Council was taken aback and uncertain how to proceed before scrambling to pass a unanimous vote to postpone the issue “indefinitely”.
Residents who support the plan, however, are left feeling quite disappointed yet determined to not surrender.
Amy Higginbotham, a member of the Esquimalt Advisory Planning Commission, is leading a group of residents in support of the plan.
“The Esquimalt village plan creates a blueprint for a downtown core that we can be proud of, including new shops and services, a town square, pedestrian walkways and new housing,” says Higginbotham. “Hundreds of locals have had a hand in shaping the plan through four years of community consultation. It has cost the Township more than $200,000. I feel it would be a huge waste of our time and money if this plan is permanently shelved by Council.”
In a letter to Council, Higginbotham wrote: “It is unfortunate that this vocal minority have resulted in the suspension of a project that the community has been extensively consulted on and one that Council itself endorsed last October. I believe the present Council and Mayor were elected with a mandate to take action on revitalizing our township’s core. If the project is left in limbo heading into the November civic election, I fear that much of the work and expense undertaken to develop this project will go to waste.”
Higginbotham, who fits into Esquimalt’s young families demographic, has set up a Facebook page in support of the Esquimalt Village Plan and urges others to join her page at this link: “Save the Esquimalt Village Project” (Note, you need to be signed into your Facebook account to access the page).
While Esquimalt is divided on this issue, it is important that everyone’s voice is heard including those that oppose and support the plan as well as undecided residents who still have a lot of unanswered questions about the future of Esquimalt. As we approach the 2011 municipal elections this year, we all share a duty to learn more about the issues that are most important to our community. We all have voices and we must all be heard. Together, we can move forward as a community based on a consensus of who we are or who we want to be. Our identity will be determined democratically. The people of Esquimalt will decide what is best for Esquimalt. That is the kind of community that we strive to be.
To learn more about the Esquimalt Village Plan, click this link: Esquimalt Village Project