A Ucluelet business owner is clamouring against the district’s proposed $1.2 million Village Green Revitalization Project, which will replace roughly 25 parking spots in the downtown core with landscaped greenspace.
“I would prefer to call it the ‘historic government downtown de-vitalization’,” Crow’s Nest owner Jan Draeseke quipped at the start of a Dec. 14 presentation to Ucluelet’s municipal council.
“Why are you prepared to sacrifice the historic and cultural heart of our town for more village green that barely gets used? Who’s idea is this? Where did it come from? I challenge the whole idea as anti-business, anti-cultural, anti-historical and completely disrespectful to the stakeholders who invested their heart and soul into this town.”
The district received a $700,000 Tourism Dependent Community Fund grant in March and awarded a $149,955 contract to Lanarc Consultants and Herold Engineering in August to complete planning and design work, which kicked off in September.
The project’s $1.2 million budget is expected to be paid for with roughly: $116,775 from Gas Tax funds, $400,000 from Resort Municipality Initiative funds and $700,000 from the TDCF grant.
An online survey was published on the district’s website, though the survey does not explicitly state the number of parking spots being lost. The deadline to respond to the survey is Dec. 31.
In an August 17 report to council, the district’s manager of planning Bruce Greig wrote that the project aims to transform the Village Green area into a “prominent pedestrian-oriented community space without vehicles.”
He wrote that the completed work would include improved connections to existing businesses, a safer playground, a larger space to support festivals and events as well as diverse seating and eating areas.
He added that the “welcoming and safe outdoor space” would allow visitors to observe the local marine industry, like fishing vessels unloading at the nearby Whiskey Dock.
The pedestrian-friendly beautification project will remove about 25 parking spaces, including roughly eight directly in front of the Village Green. Additional landscaping features, like a new crosswalk on Main Street, will remove about 15 more, including all seven spaces in front of Draeseke’s Crow’s Nest General Store, which she has owned for 43 years.
“A retail business is dependent on accessible parking to interact with their customers and the community,” she said. “You can carry the most interesting or alluring inventory, but if customers cannot easily access it, they won’t see it and they won’t buy it.”
Draeseke said her presentation against the proposal had received letters of endorsement from Ian Riddick of Heartwood Restaurant and Shipwreck Pizza, Bonnie Gurney of Pioneer Boatworks and Heather Boterril of Foggy Bean.
“People have to drive to reach the West Coast, but you want to stop them on the threshold of the really interesting part of town and make it inaccessible. Why? What is the vision? Surely not another gentrified town that looks like all the rest. We are unique, this is our secret weapon, this is our superpower,” she said. “We are a unique, beautiful community. Not just downtown, but the whole town. We are all in this together. Please, please, think about not just my business, but all the entrepreneurs downtown and all the businesses all over the town. Please don’t doom us to a painful death. This plan does not support businesses or even the citizens of Ucluelet.”
She added the removal of the spots outside her business would lead to the Crow’s Nest being “relegated to a back corner of insignificance and would no longer be suitable for a retail business,” and would likely force her to close up shop.
“With this plan I will not be able to sell anything new and would have to focus on a closing out sale…I will not let my business of 43 years go down without a fight,” she said. “If this goes ahead, the Crow’s Nest will have to start shutting down. If you plan on doing this before next summer, I will have to start now…I really never imagined that my 43 years in business would end this way.”
Draeseke questioned the motivation for the proposed project.
“I’ve been told several times that it would be better for the pedestrians, where are these pedestrians supposed to come from?,” she asked, expressing doubt that people would walk down the hill from the Ucluelet Co-op parking lot.
“You can’t see the Aquarium from up there, or The Crows Nest or the Village Green. I can just hear them thinking I hope there’s something down there because I’ll have to walk back up the hill,” she said. “When was the last time anyone here walked up or down that hill by necessity or by choice?”
She acknowledged the district recently added a new parking lot off Cedar Road, but suggested that lot is unpopular for drivers during the rainy fall and winter months.
“Businesses downtown were led to believe that (Cedar Road lot) was additional parking, not replacement parking. We need more parking downtown, not less. No one parks back there from September to June because it is too far in the rain or the cold and it gets dark at 5 p.m.,” she said.
She added that seniors and families would have an especially tough time navigating their way without the ability to park nearby.
“Being able to pull up in front of a store and run in for what you want is a convenience and a lifestyle that we enjoy in Ucluelet. It is one of the things that makes small town living easy and pleasant. Why do you want to take that away?” she said, adding Ucluelet is designated as an Age-Friendly Community. “This is not age-friendly parking.”
She also questioned why she and other business owners had not been consulted on the plan.
“I am not insinuating that any of you do not take your responsibility seriously, but I implore you to think of the consequences of this plan. Not just for me and my business, but for all the businesses downtown and all the citizens of Ucluelet and all the visitors as well. How important are our historical buildings?,” she said.
“Our downtown is historically and culturally important. It is our heart. It is our identity. Let’s keep it vibrant and functioning for everyone. Please stop the removal of all these parking spaces and allow the businesses to function and even thrive. Please.”
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel thanked Draeseke for her presentation.
“You had lots of sarcasm in there, so I’m going to try not to respond back sarcastically with you. I understand that you may not feel there’s been enough dialogue with you, but that’s the whole point of asking for opinions that we’ve done,” Noel said, citing the online survey. “We appreciate you doing all that leg work and giving us your strong opinions of the plans that have been presented thus far.”
Ucluelet’s Chief Administrative Officer Duane Lawrence said consultation and engagement is ongoing and that construction would not likely begin until the fall of 2022 at the earliest.