After adding more seats to council chambers to squeeze in as many concerned citizens as possible – which still left many standing in the foyer to hear the proceedings – View Royal mayor David Screech called the special council meeting to order Tuesday night, quieting the angry murmurs of, “the decision’s already been made,” and, “why do we even bother?”
The issue at hand was the possibility of lifting the weight restrictions on Hallowell Road between Admirals Road and the Esquimalt First Nation, opening it to truck traffic and finishing the section of the E&N Rail Trail by running it alongside Hallowell Road to Admirals Road, turning right on Admirals and rejoining the already completed portion of the trail.
The meeting began with allowing delegations to present their case either for or against the proposal. There was none defending the proposal, but many against.
“The decision View Royal faces isn’t being framed properly,” said Garth Graham of Aldersmith Place in the opening delegation presentation. “The CRD Traffic Study and the View Royal agenda for this session all emphasize the Rail Trail, but that’s not what this is about. Nobody is against the Rail Trail… but this isn’t about bicycles. It’s about trucks destroying the form and character of a neighbourhood.”
The council chamber erupted in applause at the first pause in Graham’s presentation, at which point Mayor David Screech addressed the audience disruption, saying, “This isn’t a theatre,” and regained order in the chamber.
“Contrary to the recommendations of staff,” Graham continued, “speed on this decision is not necessary. There is more time to talk about this, and there is good reason to spend more time (doing so).”
The main reason to take more time considering the proposal, Graham said, is that the community sees viable alternatives to opening a residential street to truck and industrial traffic, and these alternatives should be thoroughly considered.
That seemed to be a theme in all the speakers’ presentations – that not all the alternatives had been considered. Many in the room felt the decision had already been made, and this meeting was merely a formality to rubber-stamp the lifting of the weight restriction.
“I’m seeing a pattern as a 12-year resident in this community that we find out about things at the last minute (in regards to) conversations that have been going on in the background for six or seven years,” Graham said.
Dianne Gregg, speaking on behalf of the strata at 126 Hallowell Rd., opened with a series of questions.
“Who is it that decides that their quality of life is more important than ours?” she opened. “Who is it that decides that our safety is more important than someone’s riches? Who is it that decides we are less valuable than an industrial road?”
She then echoed Graham’s sentiments about the lack of public consultation on the matter.
“Decisions that affect us are being made without consulting us,” she told the room. “View Royal council has been meeting with all parties concerned for a long time, and they are continuing to meet with those parties – except those of us most directly concerned. This is the first time, as the mayor pointed out, in two years, that we’ve been invited to participate, and plans already seem to be in place. Why is that? Do we not matter?”
After the various delegations speaking against the proposal, the floor was open to anyone to address the issue. Many took this opportunity to echo the sentiments of those who had already presented.
Doug Angrove, for example, had similar thoughts to share.
“It seems to me we just had a local election not that long ago, and a number of candidates in the region talked about open governance, open government, community consultation,” Angrove said, “and here we are having a meeting – on the back of a pickup truck, basically – saying ‘here’s what your future looks like.’”
Mayor Screech responded to the criticisms of lack of public engagement in the process by pointing out that the agreement being entered into with the First Nation if the proposal was approved would address the very concerns that have been outlined by the community.
“Staff’s recommendation tonight is that we lift the weight restriction and enter into an agreement that is going to address screening and/or buffering, noise, dust, odour, road realignment, parking, capital cost allocation funding and road maintenance cost sharing,” Screech said. “So I don’t think it’s completely fair to say we haven’t been listening.”
After the presentation of the proposal by staff, council unanimously approved the recommendation.
In defence of his vote, Coun. John Rogers said that while he has “a hard time believing some of the things in the traffic study,” such as the cited lack of need for traffic mitigation, he believes that by entering into this agreement with the First Nation, the community actually has some control over the use of the road, and that the alternatives are not pretty.
The south side of the road is Esquimalt Nation land while the north side is in View Royal.
Coun. Ron Mattson had a similar view.
“If we do say no,” Mattson said, “I would think our relationship (with the Esquimalt Nation) will be pretty much terminated, and all of the horror stories that have been presented tonight will happen, because there will be no need for the Esquimalt Nation to negotiate with the town, because there will be no capacity for that anymore. From my standpoint, this is the best deal we can get for the town.”
“I honestly believe that, at the end of the day, this will lead to an understanding where dust and those noise issues and the hours of operation can be addressed,” Screech agreed, “whereas if we say, ‘no, we’re not opening that road,’ I believe … it will be the end of having any communication with (the Esquimalt band).”
The atmosphere outside Town Hall after the meeting was one of dismay and disappointment.
“It was a waste of time,” said View Royal resident Nancy Walshe. “I was grateful that (Councillors) Heidi (Rast) and Aaron (Weisgerber) at least demanded that (the agreement with Esquimalt First Nation) comes back before the public before it’s voted on,” she added, though she also admitted she has “zero” confidence the public will have any say in what it contains.