Oak Bay Marine Group (OBMG) will renew its lease to operate another five years at the District of Oak Bay’s marina, buying time for the municipality to choose a 30-year lease proponent and foster meaningful reconciliation and community engagement.
The district announced Monday it had reached an agreement-in-principle with OBMG to renew through 2027 the lease which expires at the end of 2022, so it can explore longer-term site options that “create a lasting positive community legacy.”
ReconciliACTION Oak Bay, a local network representing such groups as the Community Association of Oak Bay and Oak Bay United Church, said the move is the right decision and has called for the lease proposal process to end since September 2021.
“It gives an opportunity to step back and be really creative and imaginative,” said Rev. Michelle Slater of Oak Bay United Church, alluding to Spewhung (Turkey Head).
Slater said ReconciliACTION is pleased about the new agreement and believes the district shouldn’t just hold the marina in a rental lease agreement, but strive for a more concrete and tangible solution and allow Indigenous stakeholders to focus on managing their own communities and interests.
“We’re aware that the leaders of both the Esquimalt Nation and Songhees Nation are very pressed,” she said. Members of the network, which uses the lens of “nothing about us without us,” plans to meet with Esquimalt Chief Rob Thomas next week to discuss the agreement.
In a statement, ReconciliACTION said the lease extension provides “… the time and space for the district to get it right and develop a process that begins with meaningful and respectful conversations with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on mutual aspirations for the future of the Spewhung lands, waters and buildings …”
The agreement is consistent with the district’s moral obligations and legal responsibilities, the statement added, following Oak Bay’s adoption in February of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Spewhung represents the greatest chance to advance meaningful reconciliation in Oak Bay for future generations and involve the community in decision-making.
One year ago, the District announced Oak Bay Marine Group as the winning proponent for plans to redevelop the marina waterfront and Spewhung, and said it would incorporate community feedback on the development proposal.
Kris Nichols, Community Association of Oak Bay president, told Black Press Media the group has asked the district for mutual community engagement on the marina lease since 2017 and is thrilled by the new agreement.
The goal is “to develop this land in such a way that it respects what the community wants,” for residential and Indigenous stakeholders alike, he added.
A statement by the association said the agreement demonstrates a majority of council has listened to calls for community engagement and Indigenous consultation in considering the future of the marina and Spewhung. It went on to say that after more than four years allocated to public consultation ahead of an eventual 30-year plan, Oak Bay Marina remains a one-of-a-kind opportunity with more potential than any other public waterfront site in the district.
“A change to the district’s approach is needed to ensure these public lands are developed in a way that will best serve the future for this community and respect First Nations ancestral connections …”
A draft agreement must still be finalized between the district and OBMG, said Mayor Kevin Murdoch. Much of the open dialogue that ensues with the community and Esquimalt and Songhees nations may have to be transferred to the next elected council in October.
“I would say there’s a lot learned from this,” he said. The agreement-in-principle has been in the works since 2019 and aims to re-utilize an important public space in the meantime while consultation takes place.
“It’s well used and at times it could be better used.”
In the district’s statement from Monday, Murdoch said values of the community and Lekwungen peoples will guide council in its next steps, which include signing the lease, having an operational marina and making payments.
Before the signing of the agreement, the district will distribute formal notice of intent and rent information as per the Community Charter.
For more information on lease negotiations at the Oak Bay Marina, visit oakbay.ca/marina-lease-negotiations.
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