Mack Laing’s historic home, Shakesides, is pictured on August 6th, 2018. Photo by James Wood/98.9 The Goat/Vista Radio
COMOX, B.C. – Those waiting for a decision on the fate of the Shakesides house at Mack Laing Nature Park will have to wait a while longer.
That’s because Comox council’s long awaited decision on the modification on the Mack Laing Trust was to defer it until the spring.
During tonight’s regular meeting inside a packed council chambers, Council voted 6-1 to approve councillor Alex Bissinger’s motion to defer the decision.
Mayor Russ Arnott voted against the motion.
“I’m going to oppose it because I feel that five other councils in the past have been on the right direction,” he said.
Bissinger’s motion was “that the court proceedings to modify the Mack Laing Trust be put into abeyance for up to three months, so that council may have discussions with all interested parties.”
If councillors are still not satisfied after that time period, a facilitator may be brought in to resolve the issue, according to the town’s chief administrative officer, Richard Kanigan.
Councillor Maureen Swift asked if this process will be any different from the past, when delegations made their case to the town’s Committee of the Whole.
“I think what I heard from members of council is, there are still some unanswered questions,” Kanigan said. “So this is council’s opportunity to ask those… they may be very pointed questions, but it gives you an opportunity to ask the questions and see what the answers are.”
The Mack Laing Trust has been a polarizing issue for decades.
In 1973, Hamilton Mack Laing deeded his property and home to the Town of Comox.
Since 1983, the Town of Comox has operated Mack Laing Nature Park, adding trails and interpretive signs to foster the public’s appreciation of nature.
In 1982, Mack Laing also gave, in trust, the residual cash from his estate to the Town of Comox.
The town has an active application before the court, seeking approval to modify the Mack Laing Trust from the current requirements to convert Mack Laing’s former residence, ‘Shakesides’ to a nature house and instead, remove ‘Shakesides’ and construct a viewing platform with the funds that are currently held in the Mack Laing Trust Fund.
According to a report from Kanigan, the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) has objected to the Town’s proposal. The society wants the town to fulfill the original terms of the Trust.
Meanwhile, the The Friends of Mack Laing Nature Park (FLMNP) are calling for the razing of ‘Shakesides’ arguing that it diminishes the quality of the natural space.
Prior to their decision to defer, each councillor had an opportunity to voice their opinion.
Bissinger didn’t support a platform or a nature museum. Instead, she believes council should have discussions with the MLHS to see what’s involved and “what is ultimately sustainable” long term, while ensuring that whatever the solution, it doesn’t become a tax burden to the residents of Comox.
Councillor Ken Grant said a platform has been repeatedly chosen as the preferred option through the years. “This issue has been debated five times over the last 35 years and every single time, it comes back to a kiosk or platform.”
He said the foundation, roof, deck and beams of Shakesides are all questionable with no definitive answer as to the condition or cost.
Grant added that restoring Shakesides would leave taxpayers on the hook for an “unknown amount of money and an open cheque book.”
Arnott said that most residents he has spoken to believe a viewing platform and signage is a nice way to remember Mack Laing, while enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
“I believe that creating a museum would require excessive amounts of tax money, after initial grant funding dries up and the trust fund becomes exhausted. Allocating our limited tax dollars between either a single home or to the longer community benefits such as affordable housing, is what our role on council is all about,” the mayor said.
He continued, “our task as a council is to decide if spending the town’s tax dollars on a project that very well might continue to be a net drain on the budget is a wise choice to make.”