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Ucluelet Co-op axes housing and daycare project over district’s delays

“It was gut-wrenching for myself and our board to have to pull that project”
A rendering of what the Ucluelet Co-op’s proposed housing and daycare building could have looked like. (Image from Ucluelet council agenda)

The Ucluelet Co-op has pulled an application for a multi-use development at 2091 Peninsula Road that would have included a daycare and housing units off the table, citing constant delays from the district office.

A letter reviewed by Ucluelet’s municipal council during Nov. 7’s regular meeting signed by the Co-op’s board of directors states that while the board believes the project “would have had tremendous benefit and impact for our community,” it had axed the project.

“As you are all aware, housing and daycare are two of the most challenging issues our community faces, and our Co-operative was prepared to help. We have been working on this project since January 2022 and have invested significantly to bring the multi-use building plans forward for development and building approval,” the letter reads.

“Our team of designers, architects and experts have poured a great deal of time and effort into making this project as affordable as possible and still serve a purpose. However, we are unable to continue due to delays and escalated costs. Unfortunately, due to numerous delays created because of requests from the district team of planners, costs have escalated in real time, and we find that we will no longer be able to fund this project. Ultimately, we are responsible to our members for our financial success – and we cannot proceed in good conscience.”

Coun. Mark Maftei highlighted the letter in the agenda and expressed concern over losing the proposal.

“I don’t know that we need to necessarily get into the nitty gritty now, but this was a really disappointing thing to read and a really unfortunate turn of events,” he said. “I think it behoves us to see how we can make sure that we don’t miss another opportunity like this in the future.”

Mayor Marilyn McEwen suggested rising interest rates played a key role in the project being nixed.

“The letter talks about delays from the district. What it doesn’t say is that the interest rates were a very major contributing factor to their decision to pull the plug on this one as well. I know that from speaking with them,” she said.

The application had been on Oct. 23’s council agenda, but was removed at the start of the meeting.

The Co-op’s general manager Laurie Gehrke told the Westerly News that pulling the project, which was slated to included six housing units, three retail spaces and a childcare centre on a triangular 9,300 sq. ft. lot, was “gut-wrenching.”

“It is a shame. It was something that was being designed with our community in mind. We were not going to make any money with this project. It was basically a breakeven project for us, but it was to support the community because that’s what we do,” she said.

“As a resident it’s very disappointing because that particular project addressed a few needs in our community. I see parents struggling everyday trying to find daycare. I see businesses looking for small spaces to rent. I see people on the Ucluelet Rent It page crying for long term rentals and there’s just no new builds to fill.”

She said the Co-op began working on the project in January of 2022 and submitted an application in March of that year, adding that she and the Co-op board were told that it would take roughly eight weeks to get to the development permit stage.

“We were prepared to build within a year. We understood it could take up to a year to get everything processed, but this has been way over that,” she said.

“It was gut-wrenching for myself and our board to have to pull that project after all the multiple delays and the eye-rolling at the board table when I would tell them, ‘We’re not on the agenda again. We don’t know why we’re not on the agenda again.’ It stayed on our boardroom table and our agenda for well over a year…When we had to pull the project, it was a very uncomfortable decision. We didn’t want to make that decision.”

The district’s CAO Duane Lawrence disagreed with Gehrke’s timeline, telling the Westerly News that the district received the Co-op’s application in January 2023.

“Our understanding is they started this process in January 2022, we didn’t get involved until January 2023. That was the very first time that we received anything. At that time, we told them it was going to be eight weeks until we will look at it,” he said. “It generally takes about four to eight weeks before we are able to open up the folder and see what they presented because we’re dealing with all of the other applications and that is normal. Obviously they took away a misunderstanding of the delivery timeframe.”

He added that the length of time it takes to process an application is based on the completeness and complexity of the application received with four months being a best-case scenario and six to eight months being a good standard for the district’s small team.

He said the Co-op’s application included a “myriad” of circumstances.

“It wasn’t a poorly written application, but there were changes,” he said, adding the changes required included access for the fire department as well as environmental impacts due to a nearby creek and parking requirements.

He added that district staff cannot give 100 per cent of its attention to any one application and was also in the process of a “key priority grant application” from the Housing Accelerator Fund, which took over four weeks of dedicated time from the planning department.

“That happened to be right smack dab in the middle of when this application was being processed,” he said, adding staff was also working on a supportive housing grant application.

“It’s not any one thing and I don’t want to give the impression that it was an incomplete application that caused the delays in the approval process. It definitely had an impact, but it is also the ability of the municipality to respond amongst the other myriad of things that we are doing to keep the municipality running…It’s not that we’re working on one at a time. It’s just a matter of workload.”

The Co-op owned land at 2091 Peninsula Road will now remain vacant and Gerhke said the board does not plan to put the project back on the table.

“That is something we will not do,” she said. “We are not prepared to go through that process again…It’s far too cumbersome.”

She added the Co-op was both surprised and frustrated by the process and questioned the district’s ability to work with developers.

“It was surprising to us. We are not project designers. We had hired a team of designers, architects and experts to make this project as affordable and in compliance as possible. They know the district’s planning requirements, they know the OCP and we were met with delay after delay after delay after delay,” she said.

“Professional developers may not always live in the community, but they know what they’re doing. Professional developers will work with the community and the businesses in this community…They’ll work to make sure that things are done properly,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more of those professionals not come here, or pull their projects. As a citizen, that’s just what I’ve seen and I think it’s not good for our community. We need to have sustainable growth and we need to have supported growth here.”

She noted the district needs to allow for growth and suggested staff may need to be increased or council take on a larger role in applications.

“I hope to see more involvement with mayor and council with potential projects that could benefit this community. I’d like to see things move forward more quickly,” she said. “Honestly I don’t know how the district can solve this, but it is squarely on the district’s shoulders.”

During the meeting’s open question period, Ucluelet resident Matthew Harbidge asked about the Co-op’s letter and whether the district had supported the application.

“Reading the Co-op’s letter, it’s kind of disappointing. What are we doing for businesses to encourage businesses to build affordable housing?,” Harbidge asked. “Losing out on that many units because of delays needs to be looked at and it needs to have a hard look at. Any time any organization in town asks the Co-op for money or donations, they’re the first to give. They always give back to the town and they wanted one thing from us and we didn’t give back to them. I think that’s pretty harsh and needs to be looked at and looked at hard…They’ve stood up for this town time and time again…They stand up for us and I think we need to show them more respect than what we’ve given them. I think that needs to be discussed a bit more and a solution to help them possibly to develop their land and give back daycare wise and apartment wise. I was pretty disappointed to see that.”

Council did not comment on Harbidge’s comments before closing the meeting.

In an interview with the Westerly News, mayor Marilyn McEwen said she was “very dissapointed” to see the Co-op’s letter withdrawing the project and hopes to see it picked back up.

“That project ticked a lot of boxes for the District of Ucluelet, daycare and affordable housing all rolled into one package. It would have been great use for that piece of property there,” she said. “I’m really hoping that down the road the Co-op will continue to pursue this project, possibly when interest rates go down, but I know that building costs have escalated like crazy over the past two years. I just really hope that they will find a way to make this happen for the community.”

She suggested delays in the processing of their permit, rising development costs and increases in interest rates created tough hurdles for the Co-op to overcome.

“I think it’s a combination of those three things that just created that perfect storm that caused them to pull the application,” she said.

She added 2023 has been “a crazy busy year” for Ucluelet’s district office with a variety of developments going on.

“I definitely wouldn’t throw them (district staff) under the bus. They are working as hard as they possibly can,” she said.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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