St. Nowhere on the Hill

Smack in the middle of Ucluelet sits a building without a purpose.

The district’s concerns over liability issues have stalled an application that would see the building formerly known as St. Aidan’s on the Hill church become an event venue.

The building’s owner Leif Hagar told the Westerly News last week that he still hopes to hold events on the building’s main floor with four retail units on the bottom floor but the district has, temporarily at least, cut the development’s legs off.

“The building permit application was made at the end of November last year, initially it appeared straight forward, however, weeks later in the process, an additional requirement was made by the district which has crippled this project,” Hagar said.

“I am still exploring my limited options due to the fact this building is now a liability, not an opportunity, for this community.”

The former church rests atop Main Street and was once the backdrop for a scene in the Superman movie Man of Steel but currently serves only as a memory-beacon for locals and a cool place for tourists to have their picture taken.

Community members built the church in 1952 but a dwindling congregation led to it being deconsecrated in 2010 and sold to Hagar for about $185,000 in 2011, as reported by former Westerly staffer Julia Prinselaar.

Hagar hoped to turn the building into an event-venue and in December 2011 it hosted an album-launch party for Ucluelet band Left at the Junction.

Shortly after the party, Hagar heard from the district office that such community gatherings could not be held in the building because its zoning only allowed for a private school, place of worship, or community care facility.

The zoning issue became contentious and resulted in Hagar circulating a petition in 2012 calling for the district’s manager of planning Patricia Abdulla to be removed from office. After a back and forth haggling-marathon between Hagar and the district, an accord seemed to have been struck in July 2013 when Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving told the Westerly News the two sides had “worked collectively to not only do the rezoning but the development permit and the development variance permit as well.”

A public hearing was held on July 16 2013 where Hagar presented the district with a petition holding 166 signatures in favour of his application.

During the hearing, two letters of opposition were read with both expressing concern over inadequate parking in the area.

Almost exactly one year after this public hearing took place, the former church remains in flux and once-loosened tensions are re-tightening. Mayor Irving told the Westerly News last week that the district is “very interested in this project moving ahead,” but cannot sign off on what Hagar is proposing because of liability concerns.

Hagar’s application did not cut the mustard in the eyes of West Coast building inspector Bob Schantz whose findings were backed up by an inspector the district brought in from Port Alberni, according to Irving.

“We brought a second building inspector in from Port Alberni just to make sure that what we’re presenting is correct and he affirmed that ‘yes’ there had to be changes,” Irving said.

He said an engineer must sign off on the building’s ability to host the events and retail units Hagar’s plan entails before the district can move forward with the application.

“The engineer has to be satisfied that that’s a safe building

and he’ll put his stamp of approval on it and then the application is covered off,” Irving said. “At the end of the day we really want a successful building there with no liability attached to it.”

He said Hagar recently went through the former church with a building inspector and an engineer in an effort to hash out potential options.

“Hopefully these steps that are in process now lead to a resolution and not frustration,” he said.

Frustration is looming as the church sits idle in the middle of town but Irving said the district must yield to potential liability concerns before merging with developers.

“We certainly would like businesses to be able to come in and be successful and we work very hard at that but the caveat is the district is not going to hold the liability. If we put our stamp on a building that is defective and somebody’s injured then the district, the taxpayers, the residents, pay the price,” Irving said.

“It’s far better for both the developer and ourselves to make sure all those issues are resolved before occupancy is allowed than (it is to) try to catch up with it afterwards because it’s cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past when we’ve approved stuff without being very careful about the liability.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca