The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust is hoping to build a new biosphere centre at 301 Olsen Road. (Image from clayoquotbiosphere.org)

Biosphere centre debated at Tofino public hearing

Clayoquot Biosphere Trust hopes to develop educational facility and gathering space

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s proposed biosphere centre received predictably mixed reviews during a public hearing last week as the project’s supporters clashed with the Crab Dock neighbourhood’s trepidation around potential impacts to traffic, safety and aesthetic.

The CBT has applied to build a three-storey institutional facility on a currently vacant 881 square-metre property at 301 Olsen Road it purchased in 2019 that’s currently zoned for a duplex or single-family dwelling.

The proposal includes service and support space, a gathering space for up to 40 people, two residential units and on-site parking for nine vehicles.

Dec. 14’s public hearing package included 50 letters in response to the project with 39 of those letters in favour and 11 opposed.

The letters in favour included representatives from the Ucluelet First Nation and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, a variety of organizations like Surfrider Pacific Rim, BC Emergency Health Services and Coastal Family Resource Coalition as well as out-of-town educational institutions like Quest University Canada and Mount Royal University.

The bulk of the letters in opposition came from Olsen Road residents who have consistently voiced concern over the size and scope of the CBT’s proposal since submitting a petition citing their opposition to the project on May 19, 2020.

One of those letters was submitted by neighbouring property owners Raphael and Joey Bruhwiler who suggested Coun. Cathy Thicke recuse herself due to being a former CBT board member, but mayor Dan Law was quick to rebuke any allegation of a conflict of interest.

“We do take this very seriously and it is the stance of mayor, council and staff that the letter writer was mistaken and we found no conflict of interest,” he said.

All letters submitted are available to review at tofino.ca/development.

Along with the letters, council also heard from 11 residents who spoke during the roughly one-hour hearing held online via Zoom, eight of whom supported the project, beginning with Jennifer Price-Francis.

“The centre in itself will be a critical addition to our community. This community hub will not only showcase our unique UNESCO biosphere, which draws a million-plus visitors every year, but also more importantly provides critically needed community meeting and conference spaces as well as critically needed housing,” Price-Francis said.

Brooke Wood, a CBT staff member also expressed support.

“I feel strongly that I would be a good neighbour,” she said.

Stephanie Hughes spoke in opposition to the project.

“The proposed building size and activities to take place on said location far exceeds the lot size,” she suggested. “The building proposal put forward by the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust far exceeds the size, scope and function of this lot and the potential negative impacts to the neighbourhood and inability for the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust to deliver their scope of programming must be considered by mayor and council.”

Ray Thorogood said he has lived on Olsen Road since 1991 and voiced his opposition to the CBT’s proposal.

“Since the residents of Olsen Road have been made aware of the application, each and every resident have made it known to the CBT and to mayor and council that we’re all opposed to it,” he said, adding the intersection at Olsen and Campbell Street is already tough enough to navigate. “The volume of traffic has increased immensely over the years, add to it the increase in bicycles, pedestrians and joggers on the multi-use path simply adds to the danger to everyone.”

Thorogood also read a letter from his neighbours Ben and Jaime Eggers who were unable to attend the hearing, but wished to voice their opposition.

Denise Koshowski spoke in favour of the project, noting she has volunteered with the CBT for over 10 years and “would jump at the opportunity to have them as my neighbour.”

“I’ve been really fortunate to have been directly involved with and seen, first-hand and behind the scenes, all the amazing work that the CBT has done to support community needs, research and other local initiatives through grants and other supports,” Koshowski said.

She added the centre would help the CBT’s vision be realized.

“It will address the urgent community need for accessible, affordable, and safe space to deliver new programs and initiatives as well as offering rental housing,” she said. “This is going to positively impact our community’s health and vitality.”

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Chris Seitcher spoke in favour of the project suggesting a culturally safe space is needed in Tofino.

“There’s a lot of surf shops, hotels, coffee shops and gift shops and there’s nothing culturally safe,” he said. “There’s no place for us to go to to do ceremonies, to listen, to heal and to learn other peoples’ cultures…CBT is for everyone. They’re not there for profit, they’re there for community, they’re there for healing, coming together and sharing their space.”

Camilla Thorogood spoke in opposition, but stressed that the Olsen Road residents are against the proposal, not the CBT.

“We’re not against the CBT,” she said. “The neighbours find the building and the footprint of the building much too large and there is a concern about the amount of traffic. Foot traffic can be just as hazardous on that corner and we especially notice it in the summertime when people are walking on the multi-use path.”

Erika Goldt said she has done contract work for the CBT for a number of years and is in favour of the project.

“I’ve worked with so many non-profit and community organizations across the West Coast and, unfortunately, development in the Tofino area is really starting to push out a lot of those groups doing so much good in our community,” she said. “They are lacking affordable and sufficient places to have office spaces, meeting spaces, welcoming and respectful places to work together.”

Adrienne Mason spoke in favour of the project, suggesting alternative sites available for the CBT to develop would be hard to find.

“The options are fairly minimal and this is one that they have landed on and purchased and it would be an extreme shame to lose this opportunity for our community, but also the region in general. It’s an incredible asset,” she said,

Brett Freake said he is a former CBT employee and spoke in support of the project, suggesting he empathized with the neighbourhood’s concerns, but believes the location is solid.

“I think the location is great. It’s close to town, it’s accessible by foot, it’s accessible by boat through the Crab Dock and it’s soon to be accessible by bus,” he said. “Most importantly it’s creating community space…This is really critical. There’s a lot of work that gets done in Tofino and the region by community groups and service groups and it’s difficult to find places to bring people together.”

The CBT’s executive director Rebecca Hurwitz was the last to speak and said the central, accessible and “high visibility location is the gateway to town” and the project would contribute to public realm improvements as well as potential mitigations to the pre-existing safety concerns.

“The CBT feels strongly that our proposed institutional and residential uses are a good fit for the existing mixed-use Crab Dock neighbourhood and Tofino,” she said. “Our community space is significantly different from past commercial applications, as is our objective to build and manage the biosphere centre for community benefit.”

Council is expected to make their decision in the New Year.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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