Skip to content

Ucluelet residents voice frustration over town’s planning department

Residents, businesses and organizations, including the chamber of commerce urge third-party audit
Some Ucluelet residents, organizations and businesses have lost confidence in the work being down at their town’s municipal office. (Westerly file photo)

Frustrations over Ucluelet’s planning department filled council chambers last month.

Council received 10 letters on their April 30 agenda package from residents, businesses and organizations all urging council to review their staff’s processes and find ways to improve efficiency and communication.

The letters were part of a delegation by chamber of commerce executive director Josh Jenkins who also submitted a letter as well as a public presentation at the start of the meeting.

“It is not with pleasure that we are here today at the council meeting making this call for reforms. Advocating for change in an organization that we are supposed to be building and maintaining a strong relationship with is awkward to say the least, but as the chamber of commerce, it is our duty to be the voice of our members and for the business community as a whole,” Jenkins said. “It is also our duty to advocate for a positive economic environment to attract necessary investments to our community.”

In his letter, Jenkins wrote that concerns about operational inefficiencies are growing within the community.

“Numerous businesses, ranging from small enterprises to large organizations, families looking to build a home to larger developers, have voiced their frustrations with the current planning processes,” he wrote.

He suggested the key issues being raised include a lack of clarity on requirements and deadlines, slow or inconsistent application processing, contradictory information from different department staffers, unexpected changes in requirements and downplaying of concerns raised to staff.

He added these have led to significant delays in projects, increased costs, small and large developments being stalled and in some cases abandoned and have put the district at risk of lawsuits from developers as well as building a perception that Ucluelet is not open for business.

“The repeated experiences of our members highlight a critical need for enhanced transparency, functionality, and accountability within the Planning Department,” he wrote. “We believe that improving these areas is essential for restoring trust and fostering a thriving economic environment to Ucluelet.”

He added that the 10 letters included in council’s agenda only represented a portion of concerned citizens.

“Please note that this represents only a subset of the grievances, as others have expressed fear of repercussion for their active applications,” he wrote.

Included among the letter writers was Lara Kemps on behalf of Black Rock Oceanfront Resort who raised concern about the planning department’s efficiency and called for an operation audit by a third party.

“The disparity in timelines and costs, when juxtaposed with those of other municipalities, has sparked concerns about the operational efficacy of our planning department. This incongruence has not only impeded the pace of projects but has also impacted the overall economic vitality of the community,” Kemps wrote.

“To address these concerns and pave the way for a more business-friendly environment, I strongly urge the initiation of a third-party audit of the planning department. Such an audit would serve to objectively assess the department’s processes, identify bottlenecks, and propose actionable recommendations to streamline procedures and enhance efficiency.”

Bronwyn Kelleher, president of Ucluelet’s Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Club, highlighted the club’s attempted navigation through a variety of hoops to host three, bylaw-compliant, food trucks on the ANAF’s property.

“Since that time we have received contradictory information, back tracks on processes and miscommunication between district departments,” Kelleher wrote.

“We are a volunteer run service society. This has put great hardship on the ANAF both financially as well as stress on our volunteers.”

She added the ANAF supports the community through various sponsorships and events as well as offering its clubhouse to local non profit societies for meetings and fundraisers.

“This community deserves to have a positive forward moving support from district staff. The town is in a phase of growth and development that is going to play a crucial role in how our future folds out,” she wrote. “Now is not the time for inner miscommunication, backtracking and timelines for projects bogged down in unnecessary red tape and requirements.”

Mark McCullough and Caralyn Bennet outlined their experience trying to obtain a building permit for a retirement home at Reef Point, suggesting the district failed to provide clear direction that led to “significant financial damages” being incurred.

“The entire process has felt adversarial. At no time during this process did we feel supported or welcomed into the community by the District. Our expectation was to be clearly informed and supported through this process such that we would have an opportunity to be successful,” they wrote.

They suggested their project has faced two years of delays and suggesting the planning department’s lack of clarity has added roughly $500,000 to the project’s building costs.

“We have suffered monetary loss, undue stress and hardship as a result of this process,” they wrote.

Fawn Ross of development company Azura Management, the company currently proposing a 300-unit development on Hyphocus Island, suggested council needs to initiate changes in its planning policies and echoed Kemps’ call for an independent audit.

“From our perspective, the housing crisis is not unique to Ucluelet, but your municipal response to it is,” Ross wrote. “The District identified the critical need for additional housing, then promptly implemented planning processes that hinder all forms of housing initiatives.”

Ross suggested district staff are micromanaging each application and are becoming bogged down leading to slow communications.

“For applicants, proposed projects are crippled by unpredictable costs and devastating changes in timelines. They have no choice but to comply with staff’s discretionary actions as access to Council’s formal reviews are restricted until they do. Projects that should be approved in weeks take months; and those that should be approved in months, are stalled for years,” Ross wrote. “Whether it is intentional or not, the corporate culture shown to applicants throughout this time is one where there is no accountability, understanding, or empathy for risk and financial burden this system imposes on them.”

Judy Gray of RE/MAX wrote that the community is becoming unpopular with developers.

“Ucluelet is no longer known to be a development friendly community and I have seen numerous very skilled and experienced, monied, prospective parties leave Ucluelet dissatisfied and not willing to go through the onerous process that the Ucluelet planning department has told them they would have to do to get to where their prospective project makes sense financially and within reasonable timelines,” she wrote.

“One of the main complaints I hear is that the request for information, studies, engineering goal posts keep moving. Several times I have been told that, ‘We gave them everything they asked for and now they want…’ This is usually followed by, ‘We want to sell and move on.’”

She suggested a small per cent of developments put forward have actually been approved and built and echoed several other letter-writers in calling for a third-party audit of the planning department.

“The lack of development approvals in Ucluelet has contributed greatly to the lack of housing in my opinion,” she wrote. “I sincerely hope that changes can be made that will streamline the development process for our community. I see this as an opportunity to take action for the betterment of our community.”

The Ucluelet Co-op’s board of directors added a letter referencing the housing and daycare project they had proposed, but then abandoned after lengthy delays.

In his oral delegation, Jenkins suggested the solution to Ucluelet’s housing crisis lies within “responsible, beneficial and efficient development.”

He said the chamber is not advocating for “rampant and unfettered development,” and that a responsible and sustainable approach is needed that respect’s the town’s natural beauty.

“When the right development opportunities do come along, we need to make sure those systems we have in place support and streamline development processes rather than creating unreasonable blockades and stifling it,” he said. “Let me be clear about this, it should not be a closed door decision of one person or even one department as to which developments are right for the community and for Ucluelet’s future.”

He suggested significant development decisions should be handled transparently through Ucluelet’s council chambers.

“The proper chain of command desperately needs to be restored in Ucluelet and we wholeheartedly support the mayor and council in the difficult process to fix the vital structure that is needed for a municipality to function at its best,” he said.

“We are not saying that everything is broken in the planning department or any other part of the district. Much of the functions within the district of Ucluelet are working well and we very much appreciate the many hardworking and helpful people in the district staff.”

He added “absolutely crucial” improvements need to be made to the town’s processes, communication and checks and balances.

“This is a monumental task, thus we are calling for greater supports and collaboration. We need to come together as individuals, as departments, as organizations and as a community. We need to support each other, be open to change, make uncomfortable decisions and we need to put in the work. The only way we can make this happen is to work together.”

He added the chamber is willing and eager to help the process with any assistance the district requests.

“This is an important key to advocacy in my opinion. You can’t just call for changes and not be willing to step up and help. Together, let’s make Ucluelet a place where we can all thrive for generations to come,” he said.

Mayor Marilyn McEwen spoke to the recommendations the chamber had suggested to streamline the process and suggested the district is already doing some of them.

She added that changes being made to B.C.’s building code and provincial legislation “puts a lot of stress on the planning department.”

“There is legislation to streamline systems in the planning department, so we have no choice but to follow that. That’s happening in the near future,” she said.

She added council has a housing workshop scheduled for May 13 as well as a strategic plan review at the end of the month.

“At which time, we are more than happy to discuss some of your ideas,” she said.

Don’t miss out on reading the latest local, provincial and national news. Join our community and receive daily news alerts & breaking news, right to your inbox.

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

READ MORE: Ucluelet likely to ease short term rental restrictions after not opting in to Bill - 35

READ MORE: Ucluelet won’t ‘rush’ to opt in to vacation rental legislation

Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

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