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Sooke Harbour: News: Sooke Annexation

Open house leaves unanswered questions

By Dan Ross
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 East Sooke.

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 Mariash's statement.

"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. Quick Links

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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 annexation issue.

"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 development.

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 lacking.

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 over.

"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 talk.

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 made available.

Whatever changes are made to the land, Mariash emphasized, are going to take place with community input, with an eye of commercial appeal.

"There will be 5-6 options and you people will be a part of it," said Mariash.

"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"

Copyright 2005 Sooke News Mirror



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