A controversial residential campground in Tofino has a new owner who’s hoping to add tourist accommodation to the site, but the town’s municipal council is balking at the idea of adding increased pressure to an already stressed water supply.
During their Nov. 22 regular meeting, Tofino’s council received a presentation from staff, asking for permission to proceed with a bylaw amendment that would allow CrabApple Campground to offer nightly rentals along with staff accommodation.
District planner Peter Thicke explained that the property’s new owner is proposing “a resort-style development with a significant staff accommodation element.”
He said the development would consist of 81 bedrooms with 22 being used for nightly tourism rentals and 59 for staff accommodation as well as accessory commercial uses, like cafes and convenience stores.
He added that the bedrooms would be single-storey modular structures.
“These aren’t luxurious accommodations, they more resemble hostel accommodations,” he said.
The campground is currently operating under its fourth Temporary Use Permit, which allows
the roughly one acre lot at 1141 Pacific Rim Highway to operate as a staff campground with roughly 31 sites.
The campground has been operating under Temporary use permits since 2015 and its current permit expires in 2025.
“It’s been the site of both sanctioned and unsanctioned camping activities for the past many years and currently operates under a temporary use permit for longterm staff camping,” Thicke said.
He suggested the applicant’s primary focus is to provide staff accommodation and that the proposal is “generally aligned” with the district’s Official Community Plan, which supports staff accommodation, though tourism accommodation is the lowest priority.
“Within the OCP as a whole, we’re looking to generally curtail and not exactly prioritize further tourism development at this point in time,” he said. “The very positive aspect to this development is that it provides much needed housing.”
He added a housing agreement would be required for the staff accommodation rooms.
“These are kind of lower income people who are often new to town and are working at specific businesses within the district and we would be looking at a housing agreement to ensure that that housing is used for that purpose and that purpose alone,” he said.
He said that the applicant is hoping to bring in some tourism revenue from the nightly rentals to help offset the cost of providing staff housing.
“The stated intent of this application is to provide staff accommodation,” he said. “This is quite an expensive endeavour and so to offset that cost having some sort of tourism accommodation may be appropriate. Staff acknowledge that there is a little bit of a give and take.”
He said the development is in both a tsunami inundation zone and the area is prone to flooding so careful site planning, evacuation plans and mitigation tactics would be needed.
“Our OCP doesn’t prohibit this kind of development in these areas, but it is very cautious about it,” he said.
“Our OCP says we really don’t want to develop in there, but for better or for worse this is a legitimate housing proposal in that area. It’s not a slam dunk and it presents a bit of an issue for council, there’s no question about that, however it is something that does appear to be worthy of consideration.”
He also noted that a public engagement would be important for council to hear from residents before any decisions are finalized.
“This is a pretty significant application, there’s a bit of a history to this property and it will certainly impact the town for a long time in the future,” he said.
Mayor Dan Law suggested the project’s density is higher than it’s been in the past.
“In the previous temporary use permits for the property, density factored very significantly for both staff and council,” he said. “I believe the previous application was for 45 units and 70 residents and at that time that was considered unsupportable for density. Now, it looks to me like this application exceeds that density.”
Thicke suggested staff’s concerns around previous applications centred around the campground nature of the site.
“That sort of development is not exactly the type of development we were looking to see on that property, or hoping to see. Rather than seeing some sort of reasonable housing proposal put forward, it was kind of like, ‘OK, here’s a bunch of trailers, how’s that?’ It’s difficult for us to get behind high density trailers as opposed to an actual proposal that does present a bit of a higher quality housing development,” he said.
Thicke’s words did not convince Law, who voiced opposition to the permission to proceed recommendation, particularly due to water capacity concerns.
“The way I read the OCP is that there’s a significant, both in letter and intent, focus on not building commercial accommodation, which this is,” Law said. “We’ve got latent zoning out there in the hundreds that, if people were to develop what they’re already allowed to develop without rezoning, we’d be short of water right away, if we’re not already short of water.”
He added the density the application is proposing “would be the highest, most dense development in all of Tofino,” and suggested staff reach out to the applicant and work on a more agreeable plan.
Coun. Tom Stere agreed.
“Through the OCP, Tourism accommodation has become the lowest priority, in fact I wouldn’t even use the word priority at all,” Stere said.
He shared Law’s concerns around water capacity.
“I would feel personally negligent in approving further tourism accommodation that would be a draw on that particular resource that we are still struggling to address,” he said.
Coun. Ali Sawyer said she liked the idea of lower-cost accommodation, but did not support the number of vacation rentals being proposed.
“I think that given we already have people living there and we’ve had people living there for a very long time, if we were to build in this space, at least we would be giving them safer places to live,” she said. “I feel I would say on the low end of favourable. I think there is a lot of work on this application that I think has potential if a few things were changed. I’m not fully opposed to it, but I’m not in favour of it today.”