Tofino is moving ahead with its affordable housing project on Sharpe Road after hearing concerns from residents around potential environmental impacts and traffic increases as well as questions around whether local governments belong in the housing business.
“The thing I heard in the public hearing that I really do want to address is the sense from some members of the community that the private market can solve our problem,” Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said during the Nov. 12th municipal council meeting. “The private market cannot solve this problem. If it could, it would have. I really believe that.”
Through a partnership with the Tofino Housing Corporation, the district has laid out a 14-unit multi-family affordable housing development for a municipally owned lot at 700 Sharpe Road that would be constructed and managed by Catalyst Community Developments. The roughly 0.5-acre lot was zoned as Park and Public Use District, which allows for cultural or recreational facilities, a playground, public parking and boat moorage, or a campground.
Council approved rezoning the lot to allow for the residential housing project and, with that approval in place, shovels could hit the ground in early 2020, according to Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers told the Westerly News last week that development permits and a housing agreement still need to be worked out and a potential housing agreement bylaw is expected to land on council’s table in January.
“They’ll be pretty much ready to build early in the New Year as long as they meet all the conditions of the development permit and building permit,” he said. “It should go pretty quick here. I know they want to get moving on it fast.”
A housing agreement bylaw will be worked through to determine, in part, how the units will be rented and to whom they will be rented.
“I want to state unequivocally, I believe so much in the municipality getting involved in the provision of below market housing,” Osborne said. “I’m not going to call it low income housing. In fact, I think that’s the wrong way to characterize this. This is about providing housing for people who live in Tofino with wages that are not unreasonable, but are still too low to be able to afford the true market price of housing.”
During a public hearing held on Oct. 22nd, council heard concerns from area residents around the dangers the project could pose to nearby Mackenzie Creek, a salmon-bearing stream. The land’s zoning mandates a 15-metre buffer between the creek and any construction work, but the housing project is calling for that buffer to be reduced to 10 metres.
Coun. Al Anderson said he wanted to see the project move ahead, but expressed concern over encroaching on the sensitive riparian area.
Coun. Duncan McMaster suggested the district has done “everything we can” to address possible complications, including collaborating with a biologist.
“I don’t think there’s much more we can do, rather than just saying no,” he said.
Coun. Andrea McQuade agreed.
“This has been an extremely thorough, vocal and engaged process and I believe wholeheartedly that this is the right thing to do moving forward,” she said.
Coun. Dan Law expressed concern over the project’s location and design.
“I am concerned with the environmental impacts of Mackenzie Creek and the type of development in general, which is to bulldoze, flatten and put in a large parking lot. I think that proposes a lot of problems for runoff and the use of the land,” he said. “I would hope that in the future for low income housing or developments that there is other options than simply to flatten an area and build a large parking lot and housing.”
Law later clarified that he is “100 per cent” in support of affordable housing.
“I just have concerns about environmental impacts and the design considerations for this particular project,” he said.
Mayor Osborne suggested any future residents of the proposed housing project must be educated on the sensitivity of the nearby stream habitat.
“That, probably, is one of my biggest concerns, because I have seen it in other neighbourhoods in Tofino that are adjacent to forests right now, the number of trails and incursions that are made and it’s a natural thing that we do,” she said.
Osborne also spoke to concerns residents have expressed about developments being approved within Tofino’s tsunami inundation zones.
“This puts it back onto the district of Tofino to be very responsible in its need to provide strong evacuation planning and communication with that neighbourhood,” she said.
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