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Lake Cowichan town council approves permit for new town hall

The Town of Lake Cowichan has approved a development permit
The town hall is almost 60 years old. It will not be torn down

The Town of Lake Cowichan has approved a development permit allowing it to expand and renovate the current town hall.

The approval took place on June 28, at council’s regular meeting.

In addition to granting the development permit, council also approved of a development variance permit relating to the building’s setback in the front lot and side lot, and to a reduction in parking spaces.

Speaking with the Gazette, Mayor Ross Forrest said about a year ago council decided to begin proceeding with plans to build a new town hall, although councils have been putting away money (approximately $50,000) for this very purpose for close to 15 years.

“I’m just excited to see it getting closer and closer to actually starting,” said Forrest.

“We have so many people visiting our community now, we’ve done a lot to increase the pride in our community and quite frankly we’re not that proud of the appearance of this building. So what we have [planned] is going to demonstrate that we’re a community that’s a little more vibrant than this.”

The current structure is 59 years old.

The town has about $750,000 saved already for the project, which will cost approximately $1.3 million, but that’s not including other resources such as gas tax money.

The renovations, which include the demolition of Mildred Child Annex and its replacement with a parking lot and walkway, will result in more than just a cosmetic change to the building, which once also housed the fire hall.

The town hall’s expansion of 269 square metres will provide for an entrance hall, reception area, washrooms and new council chambers. The existing space, once renovated, will provide room for more offices and more spacious work stations. Staff will have more room to work, and the building inspector and bylaw officer will be able to have offices there rather than off-site.

Forrest said most of the people he’s talked with about the project have seemed positive about it, but there are always naysayers.

“I remember one guy a couple years ago when we first started discussing this said, ‘What’s the problem with the staff here? They got a toilet, they got this [building], that’s all they need.’ Well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he said, adding the council chambers are really not conducive to a good atmosphere for the public.

“I mean, our councillors have to sit with their backs to the public. I hear the complaint all the time that the public, when they are here, can’t hear what the councillors are saying because their backs are to them. It’s just outdated.”

The proposed building expansion is subject to a six-metre front lot line setback, a three-metre interior side lot line setback and an off-street parking requirement of 22 spaces. However, the development variance permit allows for a front lot building setback of 0.6 meters (a variance of 5.4 metres), side lot building setback of 0.8 meters (a variance of 2.2 metres) and 15 off-street parking spaces.

Forrest said it would have been a complicated process to repurpose all the savings for a new town hall for some other local project but not impossible.

“But to repurpose it you’d be starting all over with trying to accumulate money to eventually do it. We know eventually we need one. We need one now. By putting it off longer, by repurposing that money, it’s starting the fund over again,” he said. “It wouldn’t make much sense, right? And we don’t want to borrow money. So we’re not borrowing money. And the only way we’d get a town hall in the future if we were to spend that [savings fund] would be to borrow.”

He said the new town hall is not going to be an extravagant, unnecessary expense.

“We’re not building the Taj Mahal,” said Forrest.

“We want to build a building that will be good for a lot of years. We’re not just building it for today, we’re building it for tomorrow… As our community grows, our number of employees will eventually grow at some point. You’ve got to prepare for the future as well.”