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Puzzling zoning calls for large pub at Ucluelet beach

A bewildering zoning decision made about 20 years ago allocates a Big Beach property for brewpub
This rendering shows what a new development proposing a brewpub, residential units and vacation rentals could look like at Big Beach. (Screenshot from March 12 council meeting)

A bewildering zoning decision made about 20 years ago brought some perplexity to Ucluelet’s council chambers last month.

The owners of a piece of property within Big Beach Park presented a proposal for a brewpub as well as vacation rentals and residential units at District Lot 281, kitty corner to the community centre, during council’s March 12 regular meeting.

“Right now, we have a really old zone held over from the old Weyerhauser days and it calls for a neighbourhood pub up to 20,000 sq. ft., which is crazy,” said Nigel Gray of MacDonald Gray Consultants, adding the zoning also includes residential units above the pub.

“There’s a couple problems there, obviously nobody wants to live over a pub and a 20,000 sq, ft, pub…we didn’t really think was the highest and best use for the site given what we know about Ukee from past projects. So, we’re coming in with our vision, which is to include a pub component as well because it’s an amazing site.”

Gray explained that, rather than allocate the entire area for a large pub, the developers hope to build a “medium sized pub” along with 12 tourist accommodation units, 12 “micro residential rental apartments” and five townhomes for ownership.

The project’s architect Paul Koopman of dHKarchitects provided some visuals of what the completed proposal could look like, noting the small residential and tourism rental units would be roughly 314 sq. ft each.

“We really see the pub as sort of one of the marquee buildings of the proposal, so we positioned it on the north of the site near the intersection,” Koopman said. “It’s also positioned, I think, really well to engage with the public pathway down to Big Beach.”

He added a pedestrian connection would be created linking the development and pub to the pathway.

He said the development’s ground floor would be dedicated to parking and added that the vacation rentals would be located next to the pub, forming a “complementary relationship” for tourists.

“The pub and the position we’ve placed it in, I think it will be a great place to sit and have a drink and a sandwich. It will have great views of the ocean and I think it will be quite an amenity for the community,” he said.

Mayor Marilyn McEwen asked about the proposed timeline and Gray explained the company is about four months away from putting in an official application.

“If we get a general sense that council thinks this is the right track, we’ll get on it right away,” he said.

Coun. Mark Maftei seemed caught off guard by the proposal and expressed skepticism that residents would be supportive.

“A lot of the other large developments on this scale that have come before council since I’ve been on council have approached me and other councillors, sort of, off the record and I’m wondering how much input you’ve solicited from the community that you’ve incorporated into your plans,” Maftei said. “I’m trying to be diplomatic. I understand this is very early on in the process.”

Gray said public engagement would occur after the application is submitted.

“It’s my impression that council does represent the community, so talk to you first, get a general sense that it’s OK and then we’ll go out to the community with it,” he said.

Maftei noted the community already has a brewery and questioned the company’s due diligence in investigating the town’s needs as well as the importance of the area.

“Have you gotten much feedback about how much appetite there is for short term rentals in the community at this time?..Have you gotten an impression of the general value of Big Beach to the community in terms of how members of the community like to use that space?” he asked.

Gray responded that they had not gauged public opinion on short term rentals, but added he and his colleagues “know the neighbourhood quite well.”

Maftei doubted that the community would like to see a pub on Big Beach and Gray responded that the pub was in the proposal largely due to the site’s current zoning.

“We might move that land-use to commercial, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pub. But, to retain that higher use there on what is one of your major assets here in Ucluelet, I think a commercial use there does still make sense. Whether it’s a pub or not is a matter for discussion,” Gray said.

Maftei pushed back against the idea of commercializing the space.

“I would wholeheartedly agree with you that Big Beach is one of our community’s greatest assets, but the value that I personally put on it and the value that I see Big Beach offering to our community as an asset is as a natural space that’s available for people to enjoy peace and quiet and access to nature and to feeling like there’s a little bit right here in town,” he said.

Gray countered that the current zoning for a 20,000 sq. ft. pub “would definitely not be the right use there,” and reiterated the developers are open to feedback on the potential use.

“If you do have a use in mind of what you think would be appropriate given the context and your local experience, what is that land use in your mind?” he asked.

Coun. Ian Kennington wondered about the industrial use of a brewery and Gray responded the space would not be big enough for a “full-on industrial brewery.”

Kennington suggested the space would likely be better suited for more long term residential units or preserving nature, rather than brewing equipment.

“Having a place to go for a beer after work is fine, but the brewery part of it is questionable to me,” he said.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar said Big Beach is her backyard and she enjoys spending time within its quiet serenity and reviewing the development proposal made her “cringe a little.”

“I am a big fan of the fact that Big Beach is highly accessible,” she said.

“I’m not the hugest fan of the pub idea. I understand the notion of keeping a little bit of something commercial, I’m just not sure what the other option would be. That’s something I would need to think about a little bit more. I like that there’s a residential component. We do obviously need residences, so I get that. I’m not a huge short term rental fan, but I see a little bit of balance there.”

Kennington noted the site is private property and will be developed.

“One way or another, something’s going there. As far as preserving the nature, that’s not really our call here. The call is what’s going to go in that space and what impact it’s going to have. Unfortunately, it’s private property,” he said.

“I think what this is more about is swapping the uses or restributing the density that’s on that site for a different type of product…I think it will be great to see what the next steps are and to see what comes to council and what the community has to say. Generally, I’m supportive of development there and a brewery being part of it, short term rentals being part of it and long term rentals being part of it. It’s a good mix. Let’s see what it gets massaged into as we move forward.”

McEwen agreed.

“This is all brand new to us as of tonight, so we’ll have to go away and mull it around a little bit,” she said.

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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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