For Will Cole-Hamilton, local government is something people do together, not something that is done to them. He hopes to join the Courtenay City Council on Oct. 20 to address “available” housing and other issues.
Will Cole-Hamilton remembers when he first realized that local government isn’t “something that happens to you.”
Cole-Hamilton, who will seek a Courtenay City Council seat in the upcoming Oct. 20 municipal elections, was a teenager in Newmarket, Ont. when his parents and friends opposed a city plan to widen their street for better traffic flow. It meant cutting down many beloved maple trees that lined their street.
After his dad made a presentation at the city council, the city made the street less wide, saved the trees and traffic flowed better than it had before.
“That’s when it hit me, government is something you do with other people,” he said from the board room of his wife’s family law practice on Fifth Street. “It’s not something that’s done to you.”
Cole-Hamilton is a lawyer himself — a graduate of Dalhousie Law School — but he hasn’t practiced in several years. Not since he left his Vancouver research practice to start an arthouse video store and an organic grocery store.
Cole-Hamilton moved to the Comox Valley in 2012 with his wife, Shannon Aldinger, and their two children for a less stressful quality of life. They reside in the Puntledge Park area.
“We had two criteria, close to a courthouse and a ski hill,” he said.
He now prefers to run his wife’s office, which leaves him time to coach soccer, run a elementary school chess club, serve on the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, volunteer for Imagine Comox Valley and Elevate the Arts and engage with Comox Valley Families for Public Education.
He’s running for election this fall because the city is at a point where many large, and long-lasting decisions have to be made, and half of the council is leaving — three incumbent council members are giving up their seats to compete for the mayor’s chair.
“It’s a change election,” Cole-Hamilton said. “Courtenay is growing fast and the decisions we make in the next few years will determine the shape of the city for years to come.
“And it just happens to be the right time in my life.”
Cole-Hamilton ranks “available” housing as the most serious issue facing the city.
“The city obviously needs more affordable housing, and the recent announcement for supportive housing is wonderful,” he said. “But there is a dire need for simply available housing.”
Out of control housing prices in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, along with the Comox Valley’s natural attributes, has created an influx of population greater than our capacity to build housing.
He said School District 71 has trouble hiring new teachers because of the housing shortage, and some of his wife’s family law clients who are separating are strained going from one house to two.
Cole-Hamilton sees part of the solution in creating higher density within the city, building more compact housing on smaller lots, especially around the downtown area.
To achieve that goal, he would remove some of the barriers to building.
Among them: allowing a higher ratio of housing square footage to lot size, more compact houses, varying the rule of two parking spots per housing unit, smaller set-backs and reducing development cost charges to drive the range of housing types the city needs and where they need it.
He sees an examination of putting four houses on a lot instead of three, and using vacant lots, carriage houses and all other available space to create housing.
Cole-Hamilton believes that a higher density in the Courtenay core is a better deal for taxpayers.
“It makes sense to in fill and plug into the existing infrastructure; that’s less infrastructure required per housing unity,” he said. “And if more people live closer to downtown, that supports safety on the street and business vibrance, and perhaps they’ll only need one car, which supports public transit.”
Cole-Hamilton is also targeting transportation as one of his campaign issues.
“Where we live and how we move around must dovetail together,” he said. “Transportation is normally thought about in terms of cars, but some are too young, too old to drive or suffer a disability and can’t drive.”
For those people, the motor vehicle is not their first choice of transportation, or even an option.
But people who have to drive for work also benefit from more frequent and accessible public transit and more widespread and interconnecting bike lanes.
“It’s a connection that’s not always drawn,” he said. “But when there’s fewer people in cars, it makes it easier and more efficient for people who have to drive to get around.”
He also supports raising the profile of sustainability in this election, and promoting the idea of leveraging tax dollars to create social benefits. His sister works on social procurement issues for Oxfam in England, and he sees the work that the Village of Cumberland has done in this area as a positive benefit.
Cole-Hamilton believes the existing City Council has been moving in a good direction on housing, transportation and other issues. But with so many councillors running for mayor, “someone has to step up.”
Like his parent, Cole-Hamilton sees local government as something people do for themselves.
“I believe that I have the skills, experience and dedication to make a lasting contribution,” he said.