A proposed affordable housing development at Ucluelet’s Lot 13 Marine Drive garnered high public interest despite being unable to hold the normal public hearing or open house event due to Covid-19 safety precautions.
District of Ucluelet staff received scores and scores of letters, 88 pieces of input total—about five per cent of the town’s entire population—prior to the April 28 regular council meeting where council was required to make land use decisions regarding the lot located on Weyerhaeuser lands across from Black Rock Oceanfront Resort.
On March 17, council made the decision, under section 464(2) of the local government act, to waive the holding of the public hearing for Lot 13 in response to concerns over the potential spread of Covid-19. Council notified the community of its decision over the next three weeks in the Westerly News and the district’s digital newsletter. Many of the Lot 13 letters raised red flags over waiving the public hearing.
“I do not agree with having the public hearing waived, as an open forum needs to be held in order to hear the concerns and answer the questions many residents in Ucluelet have,” wrote Elke Spindler.
“A time of quarantine is not the time to hold public input, people are not focused on this, and even if they are concerned, few have the knowledge on how to find the full report in council briefs. Public input should be person at a later date,” Barbara Schramm noted.
Questions for the District of Ucluelet and the developer, Andrew McLane, also came in spades.
Ucluelet realtor Judy Gray asked about the restrictions in the affordable housing rental agreement. She claims it leaves out seniors who live on pensions and haven’t worked in a few years.
Daniel Grinnell wondered why an effort wasn’t being made to hire a local construction crew to build the micro homes. He was among several to question the coastal aesthetic and integrity of pre-fabricated modular homes, McLane’s choice for the units.
Zoe Ludwig wanted to know where McLane “plans to put the grinders and pump stations to deal with the amount of sewage created by 33 homes.”
Parking/traffic issues and the requests for variances from the developer to relax the restrictions of the riparian area were also mentioned several times in the correspondence from the public.
Ultimately, during the April 28 regular meeting, mayor and council voted in favour of adopting a Zoning Amendment Bylaw and Housing Agreement Bylaw, and a series of motions in support of the Lot 13 on Marine Drive affordable housing project.
Councillor Rachelle Cole voiced her opposition for the development moving forward during these uncertain times, and without a real public hearing.
“I feel the community is owed the opportunity to get input, get information, give opinions and see things live and in person. Doing it under these lockdown circumstances, I feel as though we are putting ourselves at risk for not everyone understanding,” said Cole.
“Maybe we just need to stop, step back, and wait until we can do it with the full support of the people we are supposed to be servicing. And do it in a way that is completely transparent and not virtual,” she said over Zoom Video during the meeting.
Developer Andrew McLane replied to Cole via an email to the Westerly.
“I do agree with councillor Cole on a lot of what she said, she also did vote [on March 17] to have it done this way. I have had lots of great conversations with council over the past year and even after the last meeting and I completely understand why they voted the way they did, and I respect that. I also understand that as this tough time gets even tougher, that maybe she felt differently now then when she voted for it in March. I appreciate her honesty, she does have the publics’ best interest in mind. But we also had 88 emails sent to the district, so the public was heard by council. I have all the respect in the world in regards to public process and I feel we did it the best way we could,” said McLane.
Council denied a motion to award credits to the land owner until the affordable housing was created.
“I understand councils position to not award credits until the housing is created, just because that was a point in the deal between Weyerhaeuser and I, we see it as a wrinkle that has now been ironed out. So forward we push,” said McLane.
McLane is currently working on the development permits for Lot 13 or ‘First Light at Marine Drive’. He said he should have a package ready for the district within a month.