An open house event was a relative breeze for the developers hoping to build a new neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ucluelet.
Land development company District Group is proposing 300 homes, comprised of a mix of high and low density rental units, at 221 Minato Road and the company held an open house in Ucluelet on Jan. 25 to showcase the project and collect feedback from residents.
The town had packed into a busy open house a week prior regarding a similarly sized project of roughly 300 homes being proposed at Hyphocus Island, though the Minato Road development has seemingly created less controversy among residents.
“This one is maybe not as crowded as the one last Thursday because this one is a little less contentious,” Mayor Marilyn McEwen told the Westerly News at the event. “I think people aren’t as scared of this one as they are of the Hyphocus one.”
She added the Minato proposal is on the outskirts of town and will not impact neighbouring areas the way Hyphocus could potentially impact Helen Road residents, particularly with traffic.
“That road is quite narrow as it is and it’s a pinpoint, it’s one road in and one road out, whereas this one is a little more open and it’s on the edge of town,” she said.
Ucluelet resident Leroy Falloon attended the event and told the Westerly he has been living in Ucluelet for about a year and just purchased his first home this month.
“It’s a huge project,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing for the district. It’s going to bring much needed housing. We’ve been living in an RV for the last eight months because we couldn’t find housing here. A lot of people I’ve met are living in vans or RV’s or some sort of trailer, so I think this would be a good thing for the town.”
District Group’s director of development Jessica Tempesta told the Westerly near the start of the event that the company values engagement in all the communities it works in.
“We always want to hear what people want to see in their communities, especially early on in the process. It’s the right time to get feedback and be able to incorporate it into any of our proposals,” she said.
She assured there is still time for the development to be reshaped by residents’ feedback.
“We still have a lot of details to figure out in terms of housing mix, unit types, what people want to see on the site; that stuff has yet to be figured out,” she said. “And, we’re still figuring out a lot of technical aspects of the site, so there’s a lot of time for us to incorporate any feedback we get.”
She noted that the company has not yet submitted an official request for the rezoning, but has submitted a preliminary application and presented as a delegation to council on Jan. 9.
A proposed timeline for the project displayed on one of the boards suggests the company expects to apply for the first reading of their rezoning in February and anticipates final approval in April, leading to an estimated construction start date at the end of 2024 and the first homes being built and available to rent by mid-2025.
“The timeline is aggressive, but we are modifying an existing zone versus doing a wholesale change, so we think it’s a doable timeline to bring it to the council,” she said. “If we were doing a bigger change, I think that would be a bit tough, but because we’re just modifying what’s kind of already been accepted, we think it’s reasonable.”
A board outlining the next steps for the project suggests the company is “actively working to address the complexity and sensitivities of the project site,” including collaboration with the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government for assistance with an archaeological assessment of the land.
It added that the Wild Pacific Trail Society is also being consulted about sensitive environmental areas within a potential extension of the trail.
A tsunami report, environmental impact assessment and traffic impact assessment are also being promised and the company is committing to offering residents first dibs on the new homes.
“Ucluelet is in need of quality, well designed rental residential developments…A significant component of rental units (will) be provided within the first phases of development,” a board read, assuring “existing residents of Ucluelet to have the first opportunity to access the rental units.”
The company is also proposing to allocate a roughly 2-acre spot on the site to 65 units of non-profit housing.
District Group’s Mike Nygren told the Westerly that the company has worked with non profit housing providers in the past to offer seniors’ housing and affordable housing.
“It’s not our business, we’re market housing providers, but we have those relationships and the biggest thing those groups need is access to a piece of land and the time to be able to sort it out, so we’ve strictly accommodated that here,” he said.
“So, we’ll do a deal for that land with an affordable housing group, we work with many and we have a few in mind, and when it’s built it will look like it’s part of the development, but they will offer what they offer and that’s subsidized housing…It’s an identified community need and I think it rounds out the mix of housing solutions we’re trying to figure out here.”
A board showed a mix of high-density and multi-family residential housing as well as low to medium density housing with park space in the middle of the property as well as surrounding it.
Longtime Ucluelet local Pieter Timmermans was happy to see the company committing to leaving the areas bordering the site intact.
“It’s a beautiful piece of land and I’d like to see it properly developed,” Timmermans told the Westerly. “I do like the fact that they have provided protection on the foreshore. The mudflats; people don’t realize how sensitive mudflats are. You just can’t have people walking on mudflats. It’s not that type of terrain. So, I’m happy with the protection there.”
He added he also liked the promise of non-profit housing, but wondered if the district could get assurances locked into the development to guarantee that piece comes to fruition.
Coun. Ian Kennington attended the open house and told the Westerly he was interested in seeing the company’s plans and hearing the public’s feedback.
“I’m not sure we’re going to get a ton of it (feedback) just because of its location,” he said. “Using public feedback to make a plan better is always great.”
He added he was generally happy with what he had seen in the developer’s plan and hoped what’s being promised is what is ultimately delivered.
“I was hoping for a little bit more density and less infrastructure per unit but, overall, as long as it turns out to be what they say it is, which is rental housing and non-profit housing, then I think it’s a win for the community,” he said. “But, again, it’s early days and the plans will evolve, so I don’t want to comment too far on what we see here because these are napkin sketches, which is where we start with public comment.”
Coun. Mark Maftei also attended the event and was generally supportive of the project being presented.
“It’s a great opportunity to see and hear firsthand from the developer and also interact with community members,” he said. “My impression so far is that this could be a pretty workable solution to a lot of the housing issues that we’re seeing in our community. I’m optimistic that this is going to move forward in a way that’s going to help a lot of people.”
Maftei agreed with McEwen that the Minato Road development seems to have an easier path forward than its Hyphocus Island counterpart.
“Without getting bogged down in the technicalities of zoning and stuff like that, I think this is the right development in the right location in a way that can help the community grow well…What I’ve seen proposed for Hyphocus doesn’t strike me as being quite as organic as what I’m seeing here,” he said. “My gut is that this just has a higher potential. If Ucluelet’s going to grow, and I think it has to grow, I want to see it grow well…I think this has a higher likelihood of solving a lot of the issues that we’re seeing today.”
He added both projects are in their early stages and that he hopes the developers of each site take the feedback they received from the community and use it to strengthen their proposals.
“I don’t want to endorse either project and I don’t think it’s fair to judge either project until we get a much clearer idea of what they’re actually proposing. That’s not what we’re seeing at either of these open houses. We’re not seeing an official proposal, we’re brainstorming,” he said. “I don’t want to cast judgement until I see how the feedback from the community is integrated into the actual proposal that’s going to come later on down the line.”
Don’t miss out on reading the latest local, provincial and national news. Join our community and receive daily news alerts & breaking news, right to your inbox. www.westerlynews.ca/newsletters.