The District of Tofino hosted a gathering at Sharp Road in September to celebrate the progress of an affordable housing project. Applications to rent of the development’s 14 units are due Jan. 1. (DoT photo)

The District of Tofino hosted a gathering at Sharp Road in September to celebrate the progress of an affordable housing project. Applications to rent of the development’s 14 units are due Jan. 1. (DoT photo)

Tofino’s need for housing crashes into town’s love of trees

Application deadline for affordable units at Sharp Road fast approaching

Applications for Tofino’s first affordable housing development are currently being accepted, though the deadline is fast approaching.

Tofino Housing Corporation executive director Ian Scott said the Creekside apartment building at 700 Sharp Road is on track for tenants to begin moving in in April and applications to rent one of the $4.6 million building’s 14 units will be accepted until Jan. 1.

Eligibility requirements and information on how to apply can be found at

READ MORE: Tofino cheers progress at affordable housing project

Construction has also begun on the first of two affordable housing apartment buildings at District Lot 114, with the first building, dubbed Headwaters, scheduled for completion in the spring of 2023.

The first building will have 35-units and is expected to cost roughly $10 million with funding already in hand. Scott said the second, 37 unit, apartment building has also received support from BC Housing and he is “very confident” that shovels will be in the ground on that project in 2022 with tenants moving in in 2024.

“Funding has been announced and we’re going through the due diligence…The process that’s required between a funding announcement and actual dollars flowing to construction companies,” he said.

While adding 86 affordable units to Tofino’s supply will undoubtedly be lifechanging for those whose homes they will become, Scott cautioned that the needle won’t move much in terms of solving the current housing crisis.

“My best estimation is somewhere between no and absolutely not,” he said, adding resort based communities across Canada are struggling to match housing demands. “There are consistent pressures on market housing from people who want to move to those locations, from the business community buying up housing for staff accommodation and just general price pressures that everyone is seeing because of second home purchasers and inflationary pressures.”

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He noted housing prices both rental and ownership are going up everywhere and that Tofino would need to double its efforts.

“I think until we’re at 250 we can’t start to breathe easier…With the number of people living in trailers, in the bush, in vans, in garages, above storage lockers and all the other places that people are crammed into in town that I don’t think 100 units is going to be enough,” he said. “Until we get to more significant numbers, we’re barely going to notice the difference generally as a community after these 90-odd units are built. It will be a little bit of pressure off, but I just don’t think it’s going to come anywhere close to meeting the need, so we’ll need to build somewhere else.”

More developments mean more land will be needed and while there is space still left on DL114 to develop, some are speaking out against further development in that area as Tofino’s housing needs are crashing into its love of trees.

During their Nov. 23 regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council reviewed a letter from resident Gary Shaw urging that “no new housing development shall be permitted on forested lands owned by the District of Tofino.”

Shaw’s letter cited DL 114 specifically as an area that should not be developed further.

“These lands are owned by the residents of Tofino collectively, and their integrity is vital to the well being of the residents who own these lands, and for generations to follow. Moreover, they are an important component of Tofino attractions for our visitors,” Shaw wrote.

“The opportunity to walk in natural rainforest environments within the village boundaries is one of the most important benefits residents and visitors alike enjoy and treasure. All future conversations in Council about affordable housing in Tofino should begin with this recognition framing the discussions.”

Shaw said he was on the Tofino Community Plan Committee that agreed to designate DL114 as a site for future housing, but suggested that decision “was made in ignorance by the committee.”

“The decision was made in the manner of most land use decisions in North America: look at a flat map; place a grid on this map; and bring out the ‘for sale’ signs. This is an arrogant and insensitive way to engage with our environment,” he wrote.

“Now we know the beauty and the value of what is there; we also understand the terrible consequences of clearing, draining, blasting, leveling, concreting, paving and poisoning that will accompany any further “development” of this irreplaceable forest. With this undeniable understanding it would be obscene to further degrade our village forests.”

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Tofino resident Eileen Floody questioned whether council’s priorities lie with housing or trees and also wrote a letter opposing any further housing development at DL114 beyond what’s already been allocated.

“I think this community and staff and Council could be more creative, and even aggressive in looking at other options than cutting down more intact forest,” she wrote.

Floody’s letter included a list of alternatives, including Industrial Way.

She cited possibilities around modular units and suggested the district could put incentives in place to encourage residents with large lots to build second residences on their properties.

“Quite a few Tofino residents own large properties. What incentives do they have for having a second residence on their land to rent out full-time instead of having vacation rentals? Also, at what point does the District say no to more tourist accommodations, vacation rentals and large home developments?” she asked. “I think most residents agree that there are more than enough tourists and nonresident owners, and more growth in those areas is not welcome.”

She urged council to consider zoning Tonquin as a protected forest.

“We all have our part to play in the climate emergency. Keeping trees standing and forests intact is one thing we can do. The carbon footprint of the tourist economy should require us to offset those emissions,” she wrote.

Coun. Cathy Thicke spoke in support of preventing any further development at the site and supported Shaw and Floody.

“I share and uphold their opinions,” she said. “In particular their question about the capacity of the area, the density, the ecological issues. It is adjacent to a world class trail and a world class beach and the pressures and the capacity issues there I take very sincerely.”

Tofino mayor Dan Law suggested district staff are working on a report to present to council about options around possible protections for the area.

“I do consider Tonquin Park at DL114 a gem,” Law said.

Scott noted the district does not have much vacant land it owns and purchasing land at market value would mean charging higher rents.

“If we’re going to continue to meet the housing need with the resources we have, having access to land that we don’t have to pay lots and lots of money for is going to be one of the most viable ways to get there,” he said. “DL114 remains one of the most viable opportunities in a great location with decent servicing, that said it’s also, for many people, it’s a very treasured spot and additional development there would be disappointing from an environmental and recreational point of view.”

He added the housing corporation and its partners at Catalyst Community Developments are scouring the landscape for potential buildable land.

“We’re constantly searching for other opportunities and I wouldn’t say we’re putting all our eggs in the DL114 basket by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We’re definitely looking at all opportunities.”

He suggested “any development of any kind in Tofino has pushback” and that a broad community-wide discussion will need to be had to determine whether the community wants to develop more affordable housing at the cost of landscapes.

“People’s concerns and questions certainly give us pause to consider and evaluate,” he said.

“It’s a tradeoff between meeting people’s housing needs versus having an impact on those mature forests and recreational lands that people value…We expect to have an engagement process where we hear broadly from the community about the choices and tradeoffs.”

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