In front of a standing-room only crowd at the Comox Community Centre, nine Comox council candidates and two mayoral candidates debated issues such as downtown vitalization, a shoreline walkway and the Mack Laing/Baybrook house Monday night during an all-candidates forum.
The forum offered audience members the opportunity to pose written and verbal questions to any or all the candidates following an opening address, in addition to the five Comox school trustee candidates.
Councillor candidate Kathleen Bell was unable to attend, and had a representative read opening and closing remarks, but did not participate in the question period.
The Comox Town Residents’ Association, which hosted the event, posed the first question to the candidates concerning proposed buildings — particularly the Lorne Hotel site — to see if there is a need to take action to strengthen the OCP to reflect a west coast aesthetic and expressed concern over certain exemptions to building heights.
Most candidates agreed it is appropriate to keep in line with the OCP which makes an exception for a building at the Lorne Hotel site to be five stories, rather then the regulated four.
When pressed on the issue of empty retail spaces in the downtown core, Ken Grant, Hugh MacKinnon and Ian Moul all agreed it is important to look at increasing density and secondary suites, which would bring more people downtown and allow them more access to services.
Russ Arnott, Marg Grant and Maureen Swift noted they may look at incentives, a need to ‘sell’ the appeal of downtown and to enhance Marina Park and connect it to the downtown core.
Don Davis said he would look specifically at the rents at the Comox Centre Mall, while Barbara Price agreed there needs to be more collaboration with the mall, particularly with events which she hopes draw people downtown.
Vivienne Webster suggested a lower business fee might improve the lack of businesses in the area.
When asked about the possibility of a shoreline walkway from the westerly end of Comox connecting to Goose Spit, all candidates agreed it would be a great idea, but the noted expropriation is not the answer.
Price, MacKinnnon and Davis suggested looking at easements and acquiring sections of walkway piece by piece, while Arnott noted he would look at partnerships.
When asked if they were for or against the proposed Baybrook restoration/interpretive centre, many candidates said they would either need more information from both the public and the organization or to find middle ground.
Only Webster said to keep the proposal the way it is, while Price and Arnott said no to the current proposal, suggesting a gazebo-type structure instead, and Moul added while he strongly supports conservation, Baybrook is not the right location for the proposal.
When asked about amalgamation, all candidates agreed they would support the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s governance review if a petition is successful, and many noted they would look at the costs and understand the pros and cons stemming from the review, along with public input.
Webster said she does not support amalgamation.
The five school trustees — incumbent Peter Coleman, Jeany Della Siega, Tonia Frawley, Chettie Macdonald and Meredith Starkey — also had an opportunity for short statements, and fielded one question concerning potential conflicts of interest for three of the trustees (Starkey, Macdonald and Della Siega) as they are married to teachers.
To stream the all candidates forum in its entirety from My Tech Guys, visit http://bit.ly/1E3pEoO