Tofino welcome sign. (Westerly file photo)

Housing proposal highlights capacity concerns in Tofino

Water supply, school and hospital all cited as council urges caution in growth.

Tofino’s municipal council unanimously agreed to give their staff permission to proceed with a development application last week that would bring a roughly 100-unit neighbourhood to Tofino, though several councillors used the word ‘tentative’ to describe their vote.

Woodsmere Holdings Corporation is proposing a four-storey apartment building with an expected 50-54 units and 24 single family lots, each zoned for secondary suites at 825 Campbell Street.

The proposal is significantly smaller than the company’s original proposal for the site, which included 240 apartment units, 108 townhouses, 34 duplexes, 16 stand-alone single family homes and a 48-unit motel, that council denied in 2017.

“This zoning amendment would facilitate the creation of basically a new residential neighbourhood,” Tofino’s planner 1 Peter Thicke explained during Oct. 13’s regular council meeting. “So it’s a fairly significant consideration that would provide a lot of housing, but would also significantly increase the density of the area.”

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He said the project would also potentially fill a gap identified in Tofino’s housing needs assessment around home ownership.

“One of the things that this particular development may address, which does not come up too often here in Tofino, is home ownership units at the lower end of the market. Particularly the smaller single family dwelling lots would be designed to be more affordable than many of the existing options on the market,” he said.

He said the site would need to be landscaped and facilitate multiple modes of transportation, including an expansion of a pedestrian network, so that residents of the new neighbourhood would not need to “get in a car every single time they want to leave their house.”

“Because we’re considering a fairly large dense development in an area that’s close to town, we want to make sure that this particular neighbourhood is well planned and well connected to the neighbouring areas,” he said. “If we’re going to be creating a new neighbourhood, we want to make sure that it has adequate amenities within the neighbourhood, as well as adequate access, so that people could quite conceivably ride a bike or walk to their jobs or into town.”

He added that the project would bring a significant increase in density and said the proposed new neighbourhood’s impacts on the town’s water and sewer infrastructure would need to be looked at. He said the site is located outside Tofino’s tsunami inundation zone and a potential community amenity could be a new emergency shelter as well as an updated and “very useful” evacuation route.

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He added other amenities could include cash contributions, as well as price restricted units that could be added to the district’s affordable housing supply.

Coun. Stere said he would “definitely be supporting the permission to proceed,” but added that a keen eye would need to be kept on the town’s capacity.

“We are essentially creating a brand new, significant, neighbourhood and careful planning will be important for this,” he said.

Coun. Chalmers supported moving forward with the project, but noted her concerns around the drain it would potentially cause to an already troublesome water supply.

“I’m very concerned about the water and not just the water for this project, but really water in general,” she said.

Tofino’s director of infrastructure Fraser Work said staff is trying to get a handle on its water supply capacity and added that water infrastructure will be a key topic at the district’s upcoming budget discussions

“I think the essential question that we need to answer as a municipality is are we at, near or beyond our capacity to provide safe drinking water and firefighting flows within the community,” Work said.

McMaster raised concern around how long such a study would take, noting that several developments would be left in the lurch while the district tries to sort out how much capacity it has.

“These developments are coming at us fast and furious and I think we need to have an answer sooner than later,” he said.

Work responded that answering the water capacity equation would rely on funding being available.

“I understand the stakes here. I think I have a pretty good idea that we’re on borrowed time with answering that question of how close to the limits we are and how much room does that make for making wise decisions even in the interim,” he said. “I understand that any moments we lose on our pace here can have big impacts on different projects.”

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Coun. Law said he had immediate concerns over water capacity.

“We could be in trouble one dry year and we may find out that we are past our carrying capacity, especially with all the high density developments that are going in,” he said.

Coun. McQuade said she would “tentatively” vote in favour of moving the project ahead, but expressed concerns around the town’s capacity and questioned whether the development would fill a significant gap. Suggesting that the need for rental accommodations is clear, but the need for ownership is questionable.

“When it comes to affordable land for purchase, I think we don’t actually know what this community needs or is looking for,” she said. “While I’m the last person to put out a drawbridge or deny anyone access to the beautiful place that we live, I think we need to resource our community properly if this is the direction we’re going. Not just in water, but looking critically at our hospital, childcare, school and what we can accommodate.”

She said it would be critical for council to assess how much growth the town can handle.

Stere said he agreed with McQuade’s concerns around the town’s school, childcare and “overall carrying capacity” and suggested failing to consider those constraints would be “short sighted.”

“Our elementary school has already reached its capacity and we’re building portables. We’ve heard clearly from our hospital director about the increase in uses related to tourism but also the services provided to residents,” he said. “Water is just one component, but all the other services that create a community and neighbourhood have to be looked at.”

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