On June 15 the Oak Bay Heritage Commission requested council consider designating the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant building as a municipal heritage site. Six weeks later, rather than coming up for discussion, the topic was simply dismissed with the suggestion that “the Heritage Commission be advised that designation of the restaurant portion of the Oak Bay Marina building will not be pursued at this time.”
Council did not even discuss the heritage commission’s motion because the accompanying staff report stressed that pursuing such a designation would complicate the lease renewal for the publicly owned buildings, land and waters currently being negotiated, and require additional work and time from staff.
The concept that heritage resources need protection is based on the unfortunate fact that it is sometimes more expensive to preserve heritage resources and more convenient to alter or destroy those aspects that contribute to its cultural value. Given the nature of the proposed changes to the marina building, the request from the heritage commission likely sought to ensure that such destruction did not occur. I suspect their point was to make it inconvenient enough to ensure that the owner (District of Oak Bay) was at least taking into account the effects the proposal will have on the historic value of the building.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this decision is the way that it moves decision-making away from open council meetings and behind closed doors. Oak Bay’s committees and commissions are designed to advise council and streamline public input. In this case, one body is seeking to protect the public interest in an area in which they have expertise, and their efforts and knowledge are being disregarded on the grounds of inconvenience. It is possible that the public good of a proposal could in the end outweigh the public good of its heritage value, but as a representative body council has a responsibility to say that, and have their individual positions recorded.
If they’ll do it for properties when the owner is a private citizen, why can’t they act similarly when we the public are the property owners?