Sooke Harbour: News:
Open house leaves unanswered questions
Sooke News Mirror
September 07, 2005
The open house went off as planned, but
many people at the Grouse Nest Resort last Thursday walked away
scratching their heads in confusion. They could not understand why
developers don't care if they are annexed in to Sooke or remain in
New Grouse Nest developer Ken Mariash
puzzled some of the 400 people listening to his talk when he said
his development group has not decided if they are interested in
having the property annexed in to Sooke's borders. Sooke council
members, however, two weeks ago voted 4-3 in favour of approving the
request by Grouse Nest Resort's California-based owners to be
annexed in to Sooke, and sending the annexation package to the
Province for approval.
Margaret Stephen of Sooke was one of the people who openly doubted
"I find that very hard to accept," said Stephen.
"(Sooke) Council said you approached them."
Mariash, along with Roger Simmons -- former Canadian Consul General
and Newfoundland MP, now a member of the development team --
emphasized this investor/developer group led by Mariash only became
involved with the project within the past month.
In an interview the day after the open house, Mariash clarified his
involvement with the project and the boundary extension request. He
said he was not part of Grouse Nest when the annexation request went
to Sooke council. "I became an investor subsequent to that," said
Mariash. He did not explain why the group did not appear to know
about the Sept. 24 deadline for the annexation to go to the Ministry
of Community Services.
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"We are not saying that it is a bad
idea," said Mariash about having the 93-acre property become part of
the across-Sooke-Basin lands of Sooke. "We do not know necessarily
if it is a good idea."
Maraish said his group needs to talk with both District of Sooke
staff and also CRD regional director Erik Lund and CRD staff about
what options are available for his project and what is the best fit
for the project and the community.
"For all we know, every aspect of what the District of Sooke is
doing is totally appropriate," said Mariash. "But it is only fair we
talk with Erik Lund as well."
Mariash added the annexation issue was not a major one in his view
because development of the Grouse Nest property could take place as
part of East Sooke or Sooke.
A number of people at the open house came because Grouse Nest Resort
owners based in California petitioned the District of Sooke to be
annexed in to Sooke. Registered voters in Sooke who oppose the idea
have until Sept. 24 to gather 725 petitions to call for a referendum
vote on the annexation of this, 31 other East Sooke properties and
have the option to petition to vote on four additional Kemp Lake
properties west of Sooke. People like Stephen wanted to hear what
the developers planned before they decided whether to ask the
annexations to come for a vote.
Simmons re-emphasized developers are not taking any stance on the
"We are not about telling people how to do their politics," said
Simmons. "It is in our best interest to remain neutral because could
be dealing with Sooke or with East Sooke."
Mariash did not know if the annexation process could be delayed, but
saw a benefit in doing so if possible.
"If that could happen that would be very good for the community
itself," said Mariash, adding that could give his large development
team time to study land and zoning issues in Sooke and East Sooke.
He said normal time frame for such a study would be six months.
"We will try to get up to speed as quickly as possible," said
Mariash, "and come forward with informed decisions."
He and his team of architects, planners and public relations people
gave a short presentation focused on emphasizing that the team is
very interested in gathering community ideas before moving forward
with development plans.
"Maybe what we should try to do by (the next Grouse Nest open house
on September) 15th is to have some infrastructure and economic facts
available, put up the facts and share those with community," said
Mariash. "That way we could avoid all guessing and fear mongering."
Why the open house?
Developers offered the open house to show Sooke and East Sooke
residents what the 93-acre Grouse Nest Resort property looks like,
and to solicit from the community what they'd like to see as the
property converts from private to more public access.
Shuttle buses brought people in, where the visitors were greeted
with numerous display easels throughout the waterfront sections of
the property, most displays facing out over the views of Sooke
Basin. Photos showing samples of townhouses, single family homes,
cluster housing and waterfront housing were on one of the boards,
while others gave brief overviews of what might be possible during
Sharon Desagne, an East Sooke resident for 11 years, said she
welcomes the opening up of Grouse Nest to the public while reading
one of the informational boards.
"I think it is a great idea," said Desagne. "It would bring jobs to
the area, and we'd benefit from growth in general to East Sooke."
She said she thinks more East Sooke development is going to help
with issues like road maintenance that she believes has been
Before Mariash's group joined the project, Sooke-based Kurt Bohn Jr.
was leading the public persona of the new Grouse Nest owners. He
openly talked with many people, including Sooke mayor Janet Evans
and district planning staff about development plans of upwards of a
$265 million hotel and marina complex that would run residential
water and sewer connections to East Sooke. No plans were ever shown,
Evans emphasized, stating there were only talks about Grouse Nest.
Many rumours circulated through the region as word spread of Bohn's
statements, including one that the California-based owner was that
state's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Simmons poked a bit of fun at
that concept during the open house. He joked about placing a large
Schwarzenegger image on Gillespie Road for the open house with a
slogan, "Don't be a girlie man, come to our party."
Talk of any development details has disappeared since Maraish took
"Right now our plan is to listen to you and listen to the land,"
said Mariash to the 400-plus gathered at the open house.
He was asked by one Sooke resident about adding a marina in to any
development plans. "I think when you look at the marinas around
here, obviously they are all maxxed out," said Mariash. "I think it
would be a good thing to discuss."
Mariash gave a less-than-direct answer whether his project could
operate with a septic system rather than connecting to Sooke's
just-being-built sewer system, saying he'd do, "whatever is
appropriate and comfortable for the community and the property." The
answer drew groans from a few tables of people listening to the
Asked about his vision for the development, Mariash paused and
explained he believes in, "A new way of doing things, listening to
everyone else's vision before developing your own. The vision will
come when you listen to the people and the land."
The large Grouse Nest property borders Roche Cove Regional Park on
the west on half of its northern border. The Galloping Goose Trail
runs a winding path across the resort property. There was some
discussion about relocating the trail to a different portion of the
property where inclines could be reduced and better trail access
Whatever changes are made to the land, Mariash emphasized, are going
to take place with community input, with an eye of commercial
"There will be 5-6 options and you people will be a part of it,"
"Anything that is going to be good is going to have to be
commercially viable. Everybody knows these (hotel or resort
complexes) make great community centrepieces"
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