A temporary permit that has allowed Tofino residents to live at Crab Apple Campground is set to expire in October, leaving roughly 50 locals in fear of losing their homes.
Campground residents held signs at Tofino’s Village Green on April 13 in the hopes of generating support and a petition was launched raising over 1,700 signatures by presstime calling for the campground to continue as a residential area.
During Tofino’s April 13 regular council meeting, three residents pled with council to let them keep their homes.
Maddy Bolt said she has lived in Tofino for six months, loves her job and loves living at Crab Apple.
“Crab Apple really, I feel, is the true spirit of Tofino. I’ve been welcomed here with open arms. It’s a diverse community that I feel is kind of what Tofino started as and I feel really proud to say that I live here,” she said.
She said she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in Tofino, even if other options were available and added that the projected costs to live in affordable housing projects currently being constructed fall outside the range of what most current Crab Apple residents could afford.
The Tofino Housing Corporation has estimated its affordable housing units are projected to run between $875-$1,725 per month.
“Even those of us on well-paid salaried positions would be unable to budget for this type of affordability. This is something I’m not sure people who own property can sympathize with, perhaps empathize for sure, but sympathize is a different story,’ Bolt said.
She said that she is privileged to have a job she loves, but added she would be unable to pay more than $640 per month to live in Tofino.
She suggested finding alternative affordable housing for Crab Apple’s roughly 50 residents would likely cost an “exorbitant amount of money” and questioned why the district would not keep what’s already in place.
“If we were to shut down Crab and then put all this money into making affordable housing, wouldn’t we be replacing something we already have now?” she asked.
Along with the three residents who spoke during the public input portion of the meeting, at least two more had also signed up to speak, but the allotted time ran out. Coun. Britt Chalmers suggested if there were any speakers with a different perspective, council should hear them, but both remaining speakers suggested they were in favour of the campground so council voted to move ahead with the agenda.
The concerns seem to have been spurred by an application the district received from the campground’s owner that would have allowed Crab Apple to operate as a tourist commercial accommodation, which it is currently prohibited from doing.
Crab Apple received two temporary use permits to operate a residential campground for people living and working in Tofino with a prohibition on any tourism use in 2016 and 2018.
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Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said Crab Apple’s current rates for residents are believed to be between $450-$800, which includes access to shared facilities.
He noted that a key condition of both TUPs was that the campground would only be available to residents working in Tofino with a minimum stay of 30 consecutive days and no spots available for visitors.
“It was developed to be an affordable housing option for Tofino in the short term in the midst of a significant housing crisis which has only, as we all know, gotten worse over the years,” Rodgers said.
He added that the current permit will expire this October and the district is prohibited by the Local Government Act to renew a TUP more than twice, which means the campground in its current form is in flux and the issue has become “a source of much anxiety in the community.”
He suggested the campground’s application to the district was entirely based on allowing short term spots for tourists and did not include residential sites.
“The proposal as it stands today would rezone the current lot to allow the development of a commercial campground as well as commercial retail space,” he said. “The proposal is a commercial accommodation use, full stop.”
He noted Tofino’s recently updated Official Community Plan supports the development of affordable housing options, but limits the addition of any new tourism accommodations.
He said district staff would want a housing agreement that would allow the campground to operate similar to how it has under its temporary use permits, but suggested “the applicant has indicated that they would prefer not to enter into a housing agreement.”
The commercial aspect of the application made it a non-starter for both district staff, who recommended the application be denied, and council, who voted in favour of that recommendation.
Rodgers added that development and rezoning takes roughly two years in Tofino, which means the current temporary use permit that allows residential use of the campground will run out before any type of rezoning would realistically be complete.
“Today will not impact the immediacy of the housing concerns and housing issues that have been raised by the community. There will have to be an alternative action taken if we were to deal with the specific concern of the expiry of that TUP,” he said adding the applicant could pursue a modified temporary use permit to extend the campground’s current residential use.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked about a timeline for when council could expect a more resident-focused application to arrive and Rodgers reiterated it would be unrealistic to expect a permanent solution to be found before the temporary use permit runs out in October.
“I don’t think that I can commit to having this rezoning wrapped up within the next six months,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to be facing some significant staff shortages for the next six months in the planning department as is and unless this is made the ultimate priority, I don’t see that happening and again, at least half that conversation would be on the applicant’s willingness to have that conversation.”
This sparked a lengthy conversation from council around processes to work with the applicant to keep the campground’s residential component while denying the application to allow for tourist commercial use.
Council appeared unanimously opposed to the tourism-use with several calling the commercial nature of the application a “deal breaker,” although they also appeared hesitant to lose the site’s residential aspect.
“If the applicant has no interest in a housing agreement, I would have no hesitation in denying this right now,” said Coun. Duncan McMaster.
Coun. Tom Stere noted that council could not negotiate the application themselves as the applicant would have to request some sort of renewal of the residential permit.
Coun Britt Chalmers made a motion to direct staff to work with the applicant on a revised application to be brought back to council with the understanding that a commercial campground would not be supported, but there is interest in a continued residential use.
Stere seconded Chalmers’ motion, but Coun. Cathy Thicke and McMaster strongly opposed such a move.
“I really can’t live with that,” Thicke said. “I do not feel comfortable voting on this motion without it written in front of me.”
“I don’t like the way we’ve just been doing this on the fly. I think we’re almost there, but I won’t be supporting it as it is at the moment.”
Thicke suggested council deny the application and then “cross the next bridge” when it comes up.
Coun. Jacky Challenger agreed.
“My preference would be to deny this application and have the applicant come forward later with something new,” she said.
Chalmers and Stere were the only votes in favour of directing staff to work with the applicant on a revised application and were outnumbered by Mayor Dan Law, Thicke, McMaster and Challenger who voted to deny the application.
“I agree completely with not making these types of motions on the fly, but I still have grave concerns about what denying this will mean in terms of the residents of Crab Apple,” Stere said.