That's me on the far right holding up my potential West Coast crawling champion and beaming with optimism as Ucluelet's director of parks and recreation Abby Fortune

Behest of the West: Panicking plunders planning

Council needs to get over these nightmares because, unless they can be soothed, we’re living in a town where nothing can be approved.

Three minutes before the big race began, I could not have been more prepared.

I had cheerios, a rattle, her favourite doll and a shiny toy. I had everything I needed to ensure Clover’s dominance in the only baby crawling race she would ever qualify for. The whole world was in my hands.

I hadn’t thought to bring any of these speed-inducing tools, but I deftly plundered the bag her mom had packed to find every treasured trinket needed to convince her to cross the finish line first. The twins were set up in the outside lanes in the Ukee Days Baby Race’s first heat. I was in charge of Clover because she was the first one to say ‘Da-Da’ and is therefore my favourite.

The moment ‘Go’ was shouted, I was so excited about how prepared I was that I completely forgot about the cheerios, which I would later find behind the start line. The rattle and shiny toy remained safely pristine in my pocket as I panicked trying to convince Clover to chase after the obviously useless doll I was holding.

She didn’t budge. I’m not sure her loss disqualifies her for the Pacific Rim Foundation Scholarship, but I will never be convinced those cheerios wouldn’t have brought all the glory had they only been in my hand like they were supposed to be.

All the planning in the world is lost once excitement or panic sets in.

In your paper last week, you read about the panic that nixed a local couple’s request to park their fishing boats on a dock outside their residence. They would have used these boats to pick up and drop off fishers at Ucluelet’s Whiskey Dock. No fishers would ever be around their residence or their dock. Their dock would be where they parked their boats. The added use would bring zero increase to their neighbourhood’s traffic or noise.

Their neighbours’ misguided concerns about adding to the already congested area were understandable. Zoning and business license minutiae doesn’t exist in everyday vernaculars, but council should have known better. They had all the tools they needed but panicked at decision time.

It was a simple, well-planned, request and the district’s planner John Towgood presented council with a report explaining the proposal was “both appropriate for the area and modest in impact.”

In order for it to become reality though, council needed to approve rezoning an M-5 to an M-3. It’s easy to be intimidated by zoning bylaws but they’re easier to paddle through than you think. M-5 means you can have fun; put in a dock, maybe a water slide, live a little—Ucluelet’s zoning bylaw even suggests water skiing—but you can’t charge anybody anything because it’s a strict all play and no work situation. If you want to make a couple bucks, you need an M-3, which allows for a long list of oceanic business and recreational services.

The important thing, and the thing council seemed to miss despite their staff’s thorough attempts to explain it, is that zoning is not the extent of municipal governance. There’s a whole other world of regulations that deals with licenses. Having the zoning doesn’t mean having the ability.

When Towgood said the word “marina” as a secondary use permitted in an M-3 zone, council got so excited that they completely forgot what the application was actually for. They instantly imagined a marina popping up with no parking lot and were unanimously unable to wake up from that nightmare.

My two-year-old son had a bout of bad dreams recently and woke up screaming about spiders more than once. It was tough to explain to him the difference between nightmares and reality so I empathized when staff tried to convince council a marina couldn’t just happen if the M-3 zone was approved.

“They’d have every right to come and ask for it, but then they would have to show how that’s going to happen in a satisfactory way to council or you won’t give them a business license,” District CAO Andrew Yeates said in a valiant attempt to calm panicked minds.

It’s easy to cite Tofino’s vacation rental troubles as evidence of business licenses being impossible to enforce, but a marina is significantly harder to hide than a suite. If council continues to assume the most extreme use of every zone, then everything in the single family residential zone is a bed and breakfast with a daycare attached, everything in the village square commercial zone is a hotel with a pub and everything in the industrial zone is a shipping yard.

Council needs to get over these nightmares because, unless they can be soothed, we’re living in a town where nothing can be approved.

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.