Affordable housing has dominated Tofino’s municipal discussions lately but the district’s community sustainability manager is urging council not to let a potential recreation centre slide out of mind.
“As your planner, and the person in charge of your recreation department, we have a growing community. We’re going to need portables next year at the school and probably for a couple of years after that. We have that many children coming through,” Aaron Rodgers told council during their Nov. 15 regular meeting.
“At some point, we really do have to seriously think about making a place for people to go to when it’s dark at 4:30 p.m. or it’s pouring rain at 2:30 p.m.”
Rodgers’ words came while council was discussing his proposed Community Amenity Contribution Guideline that lays out directions to steer developers when discussing amenity contributions. Amenities are community assets or financial contributions that developers promise to give to the district if their application is approved.
Rodger’s proposed policy identifies affordable housing, an indoor recreation facility, harbourfront walkway and public art as the areas developers should be encouraged to put amenities into, but council initially seemed intent on zeroing in on housing and letting the others slide off.
“I think we’ve just got to bite the bullet and say, ‘Forget all these other things we say we’re going to support for amenities, everything’s going to affordable housing for this council term,’” said Coun. Duncan McMaster.
“Putting art and the gymnasium in there and all this, I think that’s just distracting…This council needs to decide whether it is really going to go after affordable housing and, I think, that would be a good statement for the two years we have left.”
Rodgers spoke against taking an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach and stressed the need for indoor recreation space.
“Affordable housing comes from the private sector as much as it comes from us,” he said. “We need, and I’ve been quite open with this, recreational services for our community, which we currently don’t have.”
Mayor Josie Osborne assured Rodgers that council is in favour of increasing the town’s recreational amenities but said housing is a more pressing need.
“What we’re hearing from Coun. McMaster, and I have to say I agree, is that we need housing for people to live in first before they can even go to the gym,” she said.
Coun. Cathy Thicke agreed the focus should be narrowed but suggested leaving some options open for developers to pick from.
“When people are passionate about something, and we’re offering this as an opportunity not a law, it would be good to offer one or two options because the type of development, or the type of request, they’re asking may not fit into affordable housing,” Thicke said.
“We’re trying to develop something that is an opportunity to give back and it’s the privilege of doing business and the privilege of redeveloping in our beautiful community so, I think, it’s good to offer options.”
After the meeting, Rodgers told the Westerly News a recreation centre was identified as a top priority by Tofino locals in 2013 and the need for one has only grown since then.
“We have a massively expanding young population. We have families staying in town [and] we also have an aging population that’s a lot more active than they used to be,” he said.
“It rains here a lot in the winter time and it gets dark early and we’re overdue for a facility. Most municipalities our size do have such a facility.”
Tofino spent roughly $20,000 in 2015 on a feasibility study that produced a $1.8 million capital cost estimate for a recreation centre.
“That’s a moving target,” Rodgers said of the price-tag adding there are potential grant opportunities to comb through.
He said a swimming pool is not included in the $1.8 million estimate but could become part of the plan, though it would likely be launched and operated by a third party.
“What we’re thinking is maybe we provide land on a long-term lease to a non-profit society and allow them to build a facility such as a pool,” he said. “Pools are phenomenally expensive and I don’t think any small community can handle a pool by itself.”
Tofino’s council is currently considering spending roughly $25,000 in 2017 for a site plan that would detail how a recreation centre could fit next to the Tofino Community Hall.
In July, the Westerly News reported that, without factoring in grants or potential provincial and federal government funding, the $1.8 million loan needed to build a recreation centre would cost the average Tofitian taxpayer roughly $60 a year for twenty years to pay back.
Before taking out a loan that size, the district would need approval from its electorate through a referendum.