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Massive housing development proposed for Ucluelet’s Hyphocus Island

Paul Rosenau of EKISTICS Town Planning presented a plan to Ucluelet’s Municipal Council on Dec. 7
This artist rendering shows what a future neighbourhood could look like on Ucluelet’s Hyphocus Island. (Image from District of Ucluelet Council Agenda)

A new neighbourhood is being proposed for Ucluelet’s Hyphocus Island.

Paul Rosenau of EKISTICS Town Planning presented a plan to Ucluelet’s Municipal Council on Dec. 7 that proposes roughly 300 units of housing being built on the island with approximately 150 apartment units, 100 townhouses and the remainder being single family homes of a variety of sizes.

“We’re really trying to have an integrated, diverse set of housing types from single-family lots along the edge of the island to much smaller compact duplex lots in the middle, some townhouse units as narrow and affordable as we can make them and also an apartment building that would be a rental project in the centre of the island,” Rosenau said. “We have been exploring and have kind of gone back and forth on the notion of a very small, boutique hotel on that southern tip of say 20 or so units.”

He added commercial retail units, like coffee shops and stores, could also be considered.

He said the company has met with local First Nations, particularly around archaeological work on the site, and plans to conduct more meetings in the New Year.

He said the lot was purchased in 2022 and that the purpose of his presentation on Dec. 7 was to introduce the plan to council with an eye on hosting public open houses to bring the community up to speed and collect feedback on the proposal.

“We’re not asking for anything in particular this evening other than to be able to proceed with taking our concept to the public early in the New Year and to begin going through the process of getting public feedback on some of the ideas that we have for the island,” he said.

He said Hyphocus Island is roughly 34 acres with 1,200 metres of coastline and has varied topography and vegetation within walking distance of schools, shops and services.

He noted the island was a popular fishing and shelter area for the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ - Ucluelet First Nation as well as burial grounds.

“Of course, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the island was largely logged and pretty much clearcut,” he said. “Later on there was a causeway built to the island and a sanitary sewer main and lagoons that were constructed in and around 1984.”

He explained the island was only accessible via a pedestrian bridge up until 1967 when a landfill causeway was built to facilitate logging operations.

“We’ve certainly heard lots of feedback from both the First Nations and Redd Fish (Restoration Society) about a strong desire to try to open up that channel again,” he said.

READ MORE: Ucluelet resident sounds alarm over ‘environmental disaster’

He said the project aims to respond to Ucluelet’s housing shortage as demand grows along with the community’s popularity.

“We’re really trying to focus on responding to Ucluelet’s housing shortage. Of course, due to the popularity of both Ucluelet and Tofino and the happenings of COVID, I think really caused people to focus and start falling in love with these more remote communities and you’ve probably seen that maybe more than any small community in B.C.,” he said.

“Our proposal is to try to address some of those housing shortages, particularly in the affordable and attainable range…With a priority on trying to provide housing for people that live and work in Ucluelet, not for tourists.”

He said the company has developed plans ranging from 200 to 320 units of rental apartments, townhouses and duplexes.

He added another objective is to establish “high quality infrastructure,” like roads, sidewalks and trails.

He suggested the project would include upgrading Helen Road with a priority on pedestrian safety, extending the Safe Harbour Trail and addressing a current odour issue caused by the town’s sewage lagoons.

“We do have an engineering company out of Victoria that is actively engaged and working on a study right now to try to help us understand and deal with the odour issue that exists on Hyphocus Island today,” he said.

He added another focus will be on preserving the natural character, environment and sensitive ecosystems in the area.

He said the company had Redd Fish Restoration Society study the island and come up with “a fairly detailed inventory” that is being incorporated into the plan.

“Although up there it says preserving 20-30 per cent, it’s now closing in on 50 per cent of land that would be preserved in its forested state as part of our proposal,” he said referencing his power point slides.

“A high priority for us is trying to maintain as much of the character and particularly the edge conditions of the island as they exist today.”

Coun. Ian Kennington asked if the company had considered increasing the density under new legislation that allows six units per single-family lot.

Rosenau responded that many communities have been asking for increased density recently.

“It’s really interesting to be frank. In almost all the municipalities that we’re working in now, particularly on Vancouver Island and up in the Okanagan, we’re being instructed by staff and council in communities like Kelowna and Vernon and Lake Country to push the density, not to pull it back,” he said.

“That’s something that frankly we haven’t been used to hearing over the last 20 years and I think that’s really pressure that’s coming down from the province…As we begin to kind of fine-tune the plan, I can see our units getting smaller, I can see them getting more compact as we begin to kind of crunch numbers to try to reach that 75 per cent affordability index.”

He said the company is working in Squamish on projects that incorporate townhouses that are 4.5 metres wide and three storeys tall.

“We’re really trying to be as efficient with land-use as possible all in the name of trying to create a more affordable home,” he said. “Construction prices of course haven’t cooperated since COVID as they’ve continued to skyrocket.”

He added both density as well as exploring ways to house the workers that would be building the project are ways the company is looking to decrease costs.

“We’re seriously exploring putting together our own construction company and trying to create at least a critical mass of units that we could afford to have a team working here in order to try to help bring our cost per sq. ft. down to the point that it’s actually affordable. That is a huge challenge,” he said.

“From everything we’ve heard about building either here or in Tofino, there is definitely not enough contractors here to be able to accommodate what we’re hoping to be able to do when we get our rezoning and subdivision applications through.”

Mayor Marilyn McEwen asked if there would be consideration about building the higher density units first.

Rosenau responded that the hope is to build the units simultaneously.

“We’ve seen some of the precedence here and the emphasis on trying to get affordable units onto the market as quickly as possible. To be frank, from an economic perspective, we’re hoping that we can do them simultaneously, even if it’s only a limited number of single-family homes, maybe 10 or 15, that would be in conjunction with the first apartment building going up would definitely help us from a cash flow perspective,” he said.

“I’m assuming that’s something that we’ll probably need to negotiate with your staff as we start working through the technical details…I can understand the district also wanting to make sure that you’re not just doing single-family lots and ignoring the promise of the affordability units as part of that picture.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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