In a 4-2 vote, Tofino’s municipal council sent the largest housing proposal it’s ever seen back to the drawing board.
Woodsmere Holdings Corp. had submitted a plan to develop a 27-acre parcel of land it owns at 825 Campbell Street into 398 dwelling units consisting of 240 apartments—split between four, four-storey apartment buildings—108 townhouses, 34 duplexes and 16 stand-alone single family homes. The proposal also included a 48-unit motel.
If approved, the project would have boosted Tofino’s housing supply by roughly 40 per cent and been built in a phased approach over ten years.
What council was voting on during their Aug. 22 regular meeting, was whether to move Woodsmere’s application through a public process, or send the applicant back to the drawing board. Mayor Josie Osborne and councillors Dorothy Baert, Duncan McMaster and Cathy Thicke voted against allowing the project to move forward, outnumbering councillors Greg Blanchette and Ray Thorogood who voted in favour of moving it ahead.
“I personally find the hotel use unsupportable in this place at this time,” Osborne said. “For that reason alone, I’d really like to see our staff go back and work with the proponent to come forward with something purely residential in nature.”
Prior to council making their decision, Woodsmere president Daniel Jadresko presented on his proposal and said his company specializes in creating rental housing in communities that need it.
“This is how Woodsmere came to Tofino. We’re not here by luck. We have identified a shortage of housing here,” he said.
He said Tofino’s housing crunch is well known and is preventing local businesses from being able to hire the staff they need.
“We’ve all heard stories of people living in tents,” he said.
He acknowledged a key issue with his proposal was that it required nearly twice the density Tofino’s Official Community Plan allows, but said the high density was due to the apartment buildings that would create affordable accommodation in town.
“Density is affordability. It’s that simple,” he said.
He added that he understood the proposed motel was also controversial for council, but said it was needed to make the proposal financially viable.
“It’s going to help us with cash flow to make the apartments affordable,” he said. “We have a difficult time to build apartments in Tofino. Our costs are higher. Our construction cost is 20 per cent higher than in other areas and our financing is substantially less in Tofino than in metropolitan areas.”
Council reviewed a report from District Planner Dana Hawkins who advised them to decline moving ahead with Woodsmere’s proposal as presented, while allowing staff to continue working with the developer to reach a compromise for the location.
“District staff have serious concerns regarding the capacity of the district’s water infrastructure to service the proposed development,” she said adding, “The proposal is inconsistent with Tofino’s rural eclectic West Coast character whose preservation is supported by the [Official Community Plan.]”
Coun. Dorothy Baert agreed.
“I have a desire to support an apartment housing complex, but I also have as great a desire to protect and maintain a certain authenticity in the community,” she said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette suggested the Official Community Plan has become outdated since its last update in 2013 and that it calls for “suburban” style neighbourhoods which no longer work for Tofino.
“We have had several developers try things, approach us, be declined and/or tell us that building rental accommodation and affordable accommodation is difficult, or impossible, in Tofino,” he said.
“For decades, we as an ongoing council have not gotten that message. I think it’s time that we really do a little soul searching here and realize that the billionaire philanthropist is not going to come along and build for us what we want in our dreams. We’re going to have to make a few compromises.”
He noted the proposal could be tweaked if council allowed it to move through the public process and added water should not be a concern as the phased approach was scheduled to take place over 10 years.
“We run up against that every time we turn around and it’s clear to me that we’re going to have to start a proactive process to start getting more water,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster disagreed and said no proposal should move forward until water is addressed.
“I could live with increasing density to get more housing stock and apartments. What’s the killer for me is just the water,” he said. “I’ll also probably oppose every other development that comes down the pipe in the future, because it’s not fair to reject one and not others.”
Thicke said council should adhere to the OCP.
“For better or for worse, it’s a document that represents what this community wants. This community has really only one document to officially state that,” she said. “I don’t believe that what is being presented represents what the community wants.”
Coun. Ray Thorogood expressed frustration by his fellow councillors’ hesitance to allow needed housing to be built.
“We have a huge number of service industry employees that need accommodation, cannot afford to buy and/or are only here seasonally so they need decent rental and I think the proposal is good and I’m in favour of it,” he said. “We’ve talked about it and we’ve discussed it and debated it, but this is a tangible plan that could give people hope that they may be able to get adequate housing through rentals.”
Council directed staff to work with Woodsmere on a more palatable proposal.