Surf Shore Estates is proposing a new neighbourhood on Sharpe Road off the Pacific Rim Highway. (Image from District of Tofino council agenda)

Proposed new neighbourhood clears first municipal hurdle in Tofino

“We have a very urgent need for housing in this community.”

An ambitious development application that would bring a new residential neighbourhood to Tofino cleared its first municipal hurdle last week as the town’s council gave their staff permission to proceed with the rezoning process.

Staff will now work with the applicant on a rezoning application process that will include amenity contributions, development cost charges, form, character and setbacks as well as an eventual public hearing before shovels are permitted to hit the ground.

The application proposes to build 26 dwelling units, broken down into 14 townhomes, eight duplexes and four ‘pods’ of staff accommodation with each ‘pod’ containing six beds, all on a roughly 16.5-acre lot at 1200 Pacific Rim Highway, according to a report submitted by district planner Peter Thicke and reviewed by council during their Aug. 12 regular meeting.

The lot’s current zoning allows for one residence as well as accessory buildings and a caretakers cottage, meaning the applicant needed to apply to rezone the land to create the cul-de-sac neighbourhood on Sharp Road that they’ve dubbed Surf Shore Estates, according to Thicke.

He said the townhomes and ‘pods’ would be earmarked for staff housing—primarily for Wickaninnish Inn employees—and the duplexes would be sold at market value.

District records indicate that Wickaninnish Inn owner Charles McDiarmid first pitched the idea for a Surf Shore Estates neighbourhood at the Sharp Road site in a presentation to council in April of 2017.

Thicke said that the land’s rezoning application was received on Sept. 11, 2018.

“Due to staffing changes and a whole variety of other things, we’re just starting to get it going now,” he said. “We’re just gauging the interest of mayor and council on this particular application and whether or not we should move forward to the bylaw stage or not.”

In his presentation to council, Thicke explained that the lot borders a fish hatchery on Sharp Road as well as the future site of the Tofino Housing Corporation’s proposed affordable housing project.

READ MORE: Tofino receives $500,000 for housing project

He expressed reservation over the amount of traffic both developments would bring to the currently undeveloped lot.

“That turn from Sharp Road onto the Pacific Rim Highway is not very frequently used right now, but obviously between this as well as the proposed Tofino Housing Corporation development, it will be a significant addition of density to those areas,” he said. “Between these two developments, the character of that area will significantly change.”

The two potential developments would be separated by MacKenzie Creek, which Thicke described as “one of the last moderately healthy salmon bearing creeks” within Tofino.

“We do really want to acknowledge that we’re trying to develop this housing with respect of the environmental sensitivity of the Mackenzie creek area,” he said.

READ MORE: Salmon populations “drastically declining” around Tofino and Ucluelet

He said the Surf Shore applicants had hired a biologist, as mandated by the district, who concluded that a setback of 13 metres would be sufficient between the development and the creek’s high bank mark.

He added that the area is also a known wildlife corridor with frequent bear and wolf sightings being reported around the hatchery.

READ MORE: Tofino Hatchery wraps up successful season

He also cautioned that the entire lot sits within Tofino’s tsunami inundation zone and that council had received a report the night before urging them to consider slowing any development within low-ground high-risk flood areas. He suggested Tofino’s emergency program co-ordinator Keith Orchiston has taken a preliminary look at the site and is considering a potential adjustment to the area’s tsunami evacuation route to take advantage of highground bordering the east side of the proposed development.

Coun. Tom Stere said he supported pushing the proposal to the next stage, but expressed several concerns around increased traffic and the proximity to a salmon bearing stream.

He also suggested the number of development applications coming in is “quite immense,” and the community needs to talk about how much growth it wants to see.

“That’s a different conversation from the one we’re having here, but it is triggered every time something like this comes across the table,” he said. “I would love to have that conversation come sooner than later because the pace of these applications that are coming in in my short time on council to me is phenomenal and, without that conversation with the community and with council, I just feel uncomfortable with approving or moving forward with so many of these applications.”

Stere said the Surf Shore proposal would greatly change the area’s character and he shared Thicke’s concerns over a consequential escalation of traffic.

“We’re creating a new neighbourhood in essence and, once again, the change in character to that whole area is something that is a concern just in terms of that growth,” he said. “There’s no question the amount of increased traffic in there will be problematic.”

He also expressed concern over the number of cars that could ultimately end up parked on the side of Sharp Road, suggesting the road could become a “de facto parking” lot.

“That being said, I’m way more concerned about creating spaces for humans than for vehicles,” he said.

Referring to Mackenzie Creek, Stere questioned the aplliicant-hired biologist’s suggested 13-metre setback and asked whether council could get a second opinion.

Thicke responded that the district could hire its own biologist, but that would come at a cost to Tofino.

Coun. Andrea McQuade said she was glad to see district staff paying careful attention to the tsunami inundation zone and agreed with Stere, suggesting development applications are coming “fast and furious” to council, but said the rapid growth has been spurred by a long-growing need.

“I can definitely sympathize with and understand where Coun. Stere is coming from as to the rapid amount of development applications that we are receiving. But, I do think that perhaps this is servicing a need that’s here and that we’re catching up a little bit,” she said. “The character of this area will definitely change, but it is in response a little bit to how much this town is changing. I think that we do need to look carefully, ethically, and thoughtfully at development applications like this and act in accordance with those ethics and those kind of ideals that we have for Tofino. I think that due regard has been paid with this application…I think this is thoughtful and the type of development application that we’re looking for.”

Coun. Britt Chalmers also supported the application and suggested supply needs to catch up with demand.

“If we do saturate the market, then that’s going to help with affordability as well,” she said. “We’ve been lagging for decades, so I think getting ahead of it would actually be beneficial.”

READ MORE: Tofino’s housing crisis spilling into hospital

Coun. Duncan McMaster said he “happily” supported the application and suggested highway congestion is a separate issue.

“Traffic all along the highway is a problem and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “This traffic problem is something that has to be sorted out not just for this development, but anything along the highway.”

Mayor Josie Osborne said she was “really enthusiastic about this project” and added that there will be more discussions to come around the concerns that had been raised.

“We have a very urgent need for housing in this community and it is about timing and opportunity in my view. It is not always the perfect location or the perfect project, but we can’t reconcile the urgency of the need for housing with a lot of obstacles when we are provided with an opportunity from a willing landowner,” she said. “With respect to the parking, I understand the concerns and they just drive me crazy quite frankly because I really want us to dig into this and to take some more firm steps forward talking about how many cars people need.”

READ MORE: Tofino driving for change in transportation methods

She suggested the potential future Surf Shore Estates residents be encouraged to walk or ride their bikes, especially given the area’s proximity, and trail, to Wickaninnish Inn where most of them would be working.

She added the potential residents should also be educated on the importance of Mackenzie Creek, to limit the natural incursion neighbourhoods tend to have on surrounding wilderness.

“And that creating a bunch of little trails and having dogs run loose, for example, just is not in the best interest of the salmon stream as a whole,” she said.

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