Tofino has a massive housing problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to rush into a massive housing project without thoroughly kicking the tires first.
Woodsmere Holdings Corp owns a roughly 27-acre lot at 825 Campbell Street and is proposing a 374-unit residential development that would include a variety of dwellings and accommodate roughly 823 individuals.
The housing breakdown is expected to be 200 apartments, split between four buildings, 116 townhouses, two fourplexes, 17 duplexes and 16 single-family homes.
Based on 2016’s census results, the project equates to a roughly 36 per cent increase in dwellings and could house nearly half, 43 per cent, of Tofino’s population of 1,932 locals.
Woodsmere is also proposing a 48-room, two-storey, hotel on the property. The entire project is expected to take roughly 6-10 years to complete.
Before shovels can hit the ground though, Tofino’s municipal council needs to pass three readings of a zoning amendment to allow Woodsmere’s lot to have a significantly higher density than it’s currently zoned for, and council’s approval is tied to public input.
Woodsmere reached out to that public last week through an open house at Jamie’s Rainforest Inn.
Mayor Josie Osborne attended the event and told the Westerly News that Woodsmere’s “is the single largest proposal that’s ever come forward to Tofino council,” and that, while council has already voiced opposition to the hotel, the housing project could be a win-win if local concerns are addressed.
“I hope that people will stay engaged throughout the process and give their feedback and I really hope that people will be able to listen to each other. I know not everyone is able to agree all the time, but it’s really important that you listen to where people are coming from and, in the end, we must remember the decisions we make are decisions that last for decades,” she said.
“I think it’s really important for a developer to have an open house so they can gauge the community, learn more about us and what we want to see in a development…Hopefully they’ll be able to tailor their plan to the kind of feedback they get from the community.”
She acknowledged Tofino’s current housing crunch has pressure to add to the supply running high.
“I anticipate there will be some pressure to put something through and, I think, it’s a situation of balancing the long term needs of the community, not only in housing supply, but also in form and function and affordability of that housing,” she said. “This is going to be a negotiation between the community and the developer about what the development requires in order for the developer to be financially successful and what the community requires in order for us to be successful. Not all of those things are measured by money.”
She added she hasn’t cemented an opinion on whether she’s for or against the project.
“I’m very glad to see that there’s a strong rental component. We do need a lot of rental accommodation in town that we don’t have right now and, I think, there’s a lot of merit to the project,” she said. “I have some concerns and some feedback around density and affordability and we’ll see what happens.”
The district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers was also at the meeting and told the Westerly conversations around amenities won’t start until the development’s amendment passes through its first reading, but affordable housing would “definitely” be a key part of the conversation.
“That will be front and centre in our discussions,” he said.
Coun. Cathy Thicke told the Westerly she wouldn’t reach a conclusion on the project until she heard the public’s feedback, but expressed some hesitancy over the amount of activity being proposed.
“It’s a lot of mixed use and a lot of density in a really, really, small space,” she said.
She added she was happy to see a solid turnout at the open house.
“People who live here are fairly opinionated and tenacious and I think they’ve watched this town grow slowly. We’re taking a big leap looking at this project and, I think, they have a right to say what they think is important,” she said. “People really do care. Not just about adding housing for housing’s sake, but they’re concerned about how it looks and how big it is and, ‘Is there room for my surfboards and my kayaks and my dogs and my bikes.’ We like to think we can live in very small spaces and tiny homes, but I actually think we have a lot more stuff that we like to look after than we acknowledge.”
Hannah Nicholls was on the fence about the project when she spoke to the Westerly.
“They’re not the most attractive buildings,” she said. “They kind of seem like something that would more belong in the suburb of a city versus a small town. They don’t seem to represent the aesthetic of the community, but that is a superficial thing that could hopefully be adjusted with community input.”
She said the proposed density was high enough to be concerning, but housing is a need.
“We really need more housing in Tofino. I recently purchased property in Ukee because I couldn’t find anything in Tofino in my price range. I would like the opportunity to maybe move back to Tofino at some point,” she said.
“There’s a lot of pressure and, I think, people are kind of conflicted on what is the right way to go about it because we don’t want to lose the integrity of our town and the things that make Tofino really special. But, we need to also accommodate what the demographic of the town is now, which is a lot of young people who can’t afford huge houses.”
She expressed concern over the potential for non-residents to purchase the properties if and when Woodsmere’s project is complete and suggested Tofino’s council look for ways to prevent the housing supply from being gobbled up by out-of-towners looking for secondary residences and vacation homes.
“I think restrictions like that are going to be really what protects us and helps keep the price point fair for everyone, because we can’t have them bought up by out of town people,” she said
Emily Thicke was not impressed by Woodsmere’s proposal.
“It’s way too big, The apartment buildings to me look like they’d fit in downtown in a big city like Victoria. It’s a bit excessive for Tofino,” she told the Westerly.
“I don’t mind where it is and what they’re doing. I think it just needs less of the big apartment buildings and more of the single family dwellings because there’s a lot of young families in this town that need housing and it’s not going to work being in a single bedroom apartment for them.”
Paula Orser liked what she saw.
“I think this project is good for Tofino. The housing crisis is something that everyone is talking about and not a lot of people are doing much about it and these people are actually doing something about it,” she told the Westerly. “It’s better than anything I’ve seen so far.”
Orser added she was impressed with the professionalism of the open house and happy to see Woodsmere take its public outreach seriously.
“I was very impressed with the organization. You could tell, with the presentation here, they have put a lot of financial effort and manpower into it,” she said. “There’s a lot of people here who are willing to answer questions, which is fabulous. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to get the answers…It’s good to see that they’re able to stand behind their work.”