Opinion

QB growth will happen: balance must be considered

Guest columnist Andrew Brown - The NEWS
Guest columnist Andrew Brown
— image credit: The NEWS

This year’s election in Qualicum Beach should address our pressing issues of growth, preservation and process in a way that repairs our trust in the offices of the mayor and council.

The community has got itself into a political log-jam; I believe the problem originated with the last Official Community Plan exercise. In my 30 years as a practicing planner, I have come to appreciate how essential a well designed process is to a successful outcome. Our process was ill-conceived; in an attempt to control the outcome, we significantly muddied the waters. We were not presented with a clear, structured, sequential process that identified significant issues, evaluated options, and developed clear logical objectives.

Throughout the OCP process, many people said they thought that change was needed, but we never came to agreement on the actual changes that would make sense to us. Many people voted for councilors who support change, but those councilors entered office without a clear roadmap for change. Many of the “big ideas” presented, which captured some of the most creative ideas in the community, were not reflected in the OCP.

As a result, we have an abstract OCP document, confusing and impenetrable for many people. It doesn’t paint a clear picture of what we are trying to do. We don’t have a clear vision for where we are going. We need this Master Plan more than ever now to rally the community together.

In the absence of this clear plan, controversial changes are being proposed, and, at the same time, there have been many positive additions to the fabric of the town. In the absence of this clear plan, there is much tension in the community. If we continue to squabble, we run the risk of losing an important opportunity to identify and debate the key issues. In the coming months, it is important that we design a discussion process that enables us to rise above the tension, identify the issues, and move forward with a clear sense of direction. Planning is something everyone can participate in if the process of thinking, discussion, and evaluation is sufficiently transparent.

Growth and change will happen, but the big question is:  what kind of growth and change do we want? Do we want the design of the town to reflect garish commercialism, genteel residential neighborhoods, domination by vehicles, pleasant urban and pedestrian amenities, or a carefully considered balance of all of these?

Should we be maintaining the current community footprint, expand, or concentrate on improving the quality of life instead? What kind of growth do we have any control over? How does proposed growth fit in with existing development? Is growth for the sake of growth the inevitable way of the future? Is “more” the same as “better”? Who benefits from what kind of growth? Do the taxpayers owe the development community opportunities for open ended growth and expansion? Do they owe the business community a guarantee of business success?

My vision involves the following:  patterns of development that respond to the natural amenities, spatial limitations, and resources of the physical environment; a compact, high-quality built environment comprised of buildings that defer to each other in siting, form, scale, and character; and an inter-connected network of public urban recreational spaces and streets scaled for compatible vehicular and pedestrian circulation. I would also like to see us have a community dialogue about the quality of experience offered by urban environment, about beauty and ugliness, visual and noise pollution, and the symbolic features that we want to preserve.

As a taxpayer, I am entitled to an election process characterized by rational thinking, intelligence, openness and good will.  I am not interested in resentments, grudges, stonewalling, hidden agendas, or manipulation.  Yes! I have seen all these behaviors over the last eight years. What can we reasonably expect from our Mayor and Councilors? For most people, openness and honesty are a first principle. Can the Mayor and Councilors articulate their step-by-step process for a making a coherent vision of the future town a reality?

Do they have actual experience or just opinions? How about some indication of success in dealing with proactive community dialogue, an understanding of town planning principles, familiarity with professional planning and design processes, (including Official Community Plans and Master Plans!), and an understanding of community sustainability as a balance of environmental, economic, social and cultural factors, rather than the product of a single-minded focus on short-term economic gain?

In the coming months, I hope to see all the issues outlined here discussed in a public forum which enables us to make informed choices in the fall election. The community deserves a discussion process managed objectively and professionally, and a town council that rises far above the current mood of confusion, distrust and recrimination.

— Andrew Brown first came to Qualicum Beach as a summer student in 1961. He moved here permanently in 2006. He earned degrees in architecture, environmental design and arts. He says he is not seeking any elected office in November.

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