Tofino is challenging the recent Canadian census results.
The results suggest a dramatic decrease in development that Tofino’s district office does not believe took place, according to Community Sustainability Manager Aaron Rodgers who told the Westerly News he requested a formal review from Statistics Canada late last week.
The 2016 census’ recently released population and dwelling counts suggest Tofino moved from 1,033 dwellings in 2011 to 1,037 dwellings in 2016.
Rodgers said his office handles roughly 20 building permits a month and that well over four new dwellings have been built.
“I know it’s more than four,” he said.
“My guess is that we’re probably, at the very least, in the dozens.”
Ucluelet moved from 814 to 871 dwellings in that same time period. Tofino rose from 941 in 2006’s census to 1,033 in 2011.
Rodgers said the district office is currently collecting documentation, like building permits and utility accounts, to send to Stats Canada this week and he expects to hear back within the month.
“Hopefully, they’ll take that evidence and do a reassessment of the dwelling count,” he said.
“It has been busy so there’s a discrepancy there and we just want to explore that to understand where they’re coming from and to, hopefully, help them out and make their data better.”
He said it’s important for Tofino to have accurate census numbers in order to plan future development.
“If those base numbers are wrong, that means your projections are wrong and, as you get further into the future, a little bit of wrong can turn out to be a big piece of wrong,” he said.
“Accurate information is important and Statistics Canada has always been the organization that has the most accurate information.”
One concerning Tofitian trend the census highlighted that isn’t being debated by the district is the decline of Tofino’s already low occupancy rate. Just 755 of those 1,037 dwellings are lived in full-time.
Rodgers said his office is busier than it’s ever been, in part, because of an increase in residential development applications stemming from the district’s current focus on bylaw enforcement, specifically business licence infractions like operating a vacation rental without a permanent resident onsite.
“It’s off the charts a little bit right now, especially with the tightening up of the regulations for short term rentals, a lot of people are trying to come into compliance and the way they’re doing that is building second dwellings to have caretakers live in,” he said.
“We can’t stop somebody from buying a house and vacation rentaling it, but we can make sure that if they’re doing that that there is resident housing being provided onsite…I’ve seen quite a few building permits come in, in the last two to three months, and a lot of phone calls about what people can build and, I think, we’re going to see some fairly small, interesting cabins coming online in the next year.”
He said this trend should continue as long as the district keeps up its enforcement.
“As soon as we’re not serious about enforcement, then we may see some of those want to drift back to short term rentals. But, that’s for us to deal with.”
He suggested developers are catching on to council’s concerns.
“Council has a large role to play in what direction they are providing to the community and what they’re saying and what I hear them saying, and I think most people agree, is that housing is essential,” he said noting the recent Parkbridge proposal at Cox Bay was denied, in part, because of the lack of residential housing it would have created.
He said Tofino doesn’t have much land left to develop and does not have an infinite supply of water either.
“With council’s current strategic plan, it’s fairly clear to us in the planning department that if we are going to have development it’s going to have to be housing at this time because we only have a limited amount of water to give out,” he said.
“I’m actually starting to get phone calls from people who want to do exactly that. They want to build housing. It might not be immediately obvious, but I think over the next year, the shift will be visible that we’re concentrating on housing rather than short term rentals.”
Along with ensuring all vacation rentals are also residences, Rodgers said the district is also working on strategies to boost the housing stock, like increasing densities in residential zones and lowering minimum size requirements to make room for the tiny home trend.
“If we want our economies to continue to expand, or continue to thrive, then we need to have people who can work here…Without places for people to live, our businesses can’t continue to grow. So, that’s important from an economic sense,” he said.
“Also, new people bring us new ideas that help us create vibrant communities. The more voices we can have the more interesting communities we can live in.”