The words friendship, community and innovation were peppered throughout a standing-room only meeting in Metchosin on Monday night that was passionate, but mostly respectful.
The town hall meeting saw representatives from Beecher Bay First Nation, Metchosin council and Keycorp. Developments – the proposed developer of land that would be turned over to Langford – answer residents’ questions about the land swap that is the subject of a Jan. 28 referendum in the district. While some expressed concerns over the parameters of the deal – one group on the ‘No’ side handed out flyers to all who entered – several other speakers thanked community officials for coming to this solution and offered hope that the deal would lead to economic prosperity for Beecher Bay.
Beecher Bay Chief Russ Chipps set the tone for the evening, inviting Metchosinites to begin a journey with the band.
“You’ve got a decent council and a decent mayor that wants to stand up and walk with us; walk on a journey to make things better,” he told the crowd of a few hundred at Metchosin Community Hall.
Over the past few months, Metchosin Mayor John Ranns has repeatedly said that Beecher Bay would develop three parcels of treaty lands within the district’s boundaries without this arrangement. There have been rumblings from some members of the public that Ranns was fear-mongering and presenting a worst-case scenario, but his concerns were in line with what the audience heard.
“The First Nation will take those lands, use it for economic development, use the best to get some return for its community that it can, then use it to build its community up, get people employment … but that means that land has to be developed,” said Robert Janes, a lawyer representing Beecher Bay.
“But we knew on our side of the table that that was going to tear the heart out of what many people see as the heart of Metchosin,” he continued, adding the deal is a way to avoid that scenario.
After frustration was expressed by a resident on Neild Road – the area that would be closest to the proposed business and residential development in Langford – Chipps offered an apology.
“I wish there was some way to fix that,” he said, adding that the deal prevents the development from being even closer by allowing all three treaty parcels to be kept as greenspace.
Other residents were concerned about the environmental impact the Langford development could potentially have on the area, particularly the Bilston Creek watershed, with one resident asking about the fate of the trout that breed in the creek.
These issues are among those commonly dealt with for any development under the province’s environmental protection regulations, noted Keycorp. president Jim Hartshorne.
“We’re satisfied that the environmental protection is there. It needs to be done professionally and we are doing that,” he said.
Concern was also raised about storm water runoff.
“When you start building large roof areas, asphalt, houses, streets, that volume of water that’s going to come down Bilston Creek will be unbelievable,” a resident said, to which Hartshorne replied he has extensive experience with storm water management.
The meeting closed with remarks from each member of the panel.
“Help us stand on the right side of history, because I’ve stood on the wrong side for way too long,” Chipps said. “Let’s work together and fix this problem.”
Ranns was appreciative of the large turnout and noted that he’s lived in Metchosin his entire life and continues to work to preserve its status as a rural community in the region.
“I passionately love this community and I take the mandate that you have given me to protect this community (seriously),” he said.
After the meeting, Chipps told the Gazette that he felt his message of unity was well received.
“I’m impressed. I’m amazed … and hopeful. It’s about time. Reconciliation is truly happening,” he said. “Beecher Bay, Metchosin, Langford. People talked about it, but only out of a false sense of guilt. These guys are actually doing something.”
“I hope that we made (the proposal) clear to everybody that was here tonight,” Ranns said, noting that information from questions raised at the meeting will be available on metchosin.ca in the coming days.
Advanced polls for the referendum are open on Jan. 25 at the Metchosin Municipal Hall. General voting will take place at the Community House on Jan. 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Coalition seeks ‘No” vote
The Coalition for the Defence of Metchosin, which handed out flyers prior to the meeting, is holding a rally in support of the ‘No” vote at Neild and Happy Valley Roads on Saturday, Jan. 21 beginning at 10 a.m. Their stated concerns with the deal include environmental damage, increased traffic and noise and a lack of due process.
“We need a progressive deal between Metchosin and Beecher Bay, initiated by, and created in the interests of both of our communities, and not in the interests of private developers and the City of Langford,” the coalition wrote in their flyer.