Tackling Tofino’s housing crisis was a key issue discussed by the town’s seven municipal councillor candidates at last week’s public forum hosted by the Tofino Chamber of Commerce.
The Tofino Housing Corporation opened a 14-unit housing development dubbed Creekside this year and is on track to unveil 72 new apartment units at District Lot 114 next year.
The THC has proposed additional development at DL114, but residents have voiced concern over the impact that could have on the popular Tonquin Park area.
Tofino mayor Dan Law is running unopposed and did not participate in Oct. 4’s forum, which saw seven candidates vying for six councillor positions make their case for a spot.
The first question Al Anderson, John Enns, Duncan McMaster, Ali Sawyer, Sarah Sloman, Tom Stere and Kat Thomas were asked was whether they support the Tofino Housing Corporation’s efforts and whether they would support continued development of DL114.
Sarah Sloman said the THC is a “well-intended organization” and she supports its continued efforts, however she would not support future expansion of DL114.
She said she grew up in the area and had reached out to residents to hear their opinions on further development of the site.
She said she heard concerns around the pricing of the units being built as well as the environmental impacts further development would have on wildlife.
She added the town is already stretched to capacity and does not have enough hospital beds, care facilities or recreation opportunities to cater to current residents and further growth would further strain Tofino’s water supply.
“The clearcutting will directly contribute to global warming and destroy an old growth forest. A large amount of our population enjoy the trails located in District Lot 114 and this will be a huge loss to them, further limiting recreation options,” she said. “At this time, it would be negligent of me to support future development of District Lot 114 for any housing and I encourage the THC to find another site or plan. I’m excited to see the current phase complete and occupied.”
John Enns agreed.
“It is probably not the best place to put things like that,” he said.
He suggested the new wastewater treatment plant being built could create an opportunity as the facility will require new roads and services to be constructed in a previously undeveloped area.
“There’s going to be lots of place there for development,” he said. “DL114 is a beautiful old growth forest and I love walking through there too.”
He added he supports the THC’s intent and goals, but suggested other, potentially more effective, housing sources could be tapped.
“It takes a lot of time and a lot of money the way that it’s been doing it,” he said. “If we could get a private developer with a covenant so that it would not be just a money making project, I think it would work better, probably faster and probably cheaper.”
Tom Stere said he supports the THC’s continued work, but agreed that DL114 should not be further developed.
“(THC) is a critical component of addressing the housing supply in Tofino, specifically the targeted types of housing as identified in the housing needs assessment,” he said.
He said the district has previously identified DL114 as a suitable location for housing projects, but with the 72 units expected to come online next year, the site has served its mandate.
“DL114 is being developed. A new neighbourhood is being created for residents of the community. At this time, I’m looking forward to the potential options for attainable housing being brought forward by the THC. I feel that DL114 has fulfilled its mandate at this time and don’t see the need at this particular time for further development of this particular piece of property.”
Kat Thomas said she supports the THC’s work.
“I support actions that are going to see Tofino residents with safe, affordable roofs over their heads. I trust that all due diligence has been done to decide on District Lot 114 as the location for the current Headwaters Project,” she said.
She added that accessibility to amenities is an important consideration to cut down on the transportation costs of residents, noting that DL114 is located within walking distance of the grocery store, post office and medical clinic.
“Walkability also reduces traffic, which is ideal for everyone,” she said.
She added high density is key for affordability as well as managing vacation rentals.
“I propose that new short-term rental licences only go to people who are operating in their primary residence, removing the option to be an absentee owner,” she said.
Ali Sawyer said she is a renter living in a house that went up for sale and “feels this issue very keenly.”
She suggested some of the THC’s projects are not affordable for many residents and that more needs to be done to ensure the homes being built are appropriate for the people who need them.
“The duplexes are unaffordable for most people that need them unless they are two very high income earning people with an inheritance,” she said. “If we are doing future projects, we need to look at how much people are making.”
She added she does not support further development in the Tonquin area.
Al Anderson noted that he was the mayor of Tofino when the THC was first launched.
“It was one of the things that was key in my campaigning at that time and I was really glad to see that we got the support of the community and council to get that going,” he said.
He suggested there was little funding support from higher levels of government at that time, so the THC wasn’t able to get any projects off the ground.
“It was kind of hibernating for a while,” he said, noting the THC has recently been the beneficiary of new government grants.
“It’s critical that that body stays in place and continues to do the kind of work that it takes to pull all that funding and partnerships together and I do support its continuation…Its work right now is more important than ever because currently, and only recently, the federal and provincial governments have come forward, recognizing the housing crisis in Canada and B.C. and that we’re all feeling everywhere and finally come to the table after decades of not funding housing. The work that’s getting done right now is largely because those gates have been opened a little bit.”
He said DL114 has been identified as a solid area for affordable housing projects in Tofino’s Official Community Plan.
“That to me is a voice of the community, so I think that’s worth continuing exploring,” he said.
Duncan McMaster noted he is the chair of the THC board and supports its efforts.
“I also support the work of anybody that tries to provide attainable and affordable housing, private or THC,” he said.
He said he attended Creekside’s opening and heard from residents who had previously struggled to find housing.
“You can’t open a paper or watch the news without hearing about the housing problem in Canada,” he said.
He added though that in order to receive funding, the district needs to have land to build on.
“We can’t do this without having land. The only way we’re going to get money from the federal and provincial governments is to offer land up,” he said. “Is (DL114) the most suitable location? Maybe not, but you’ve got to do with what you’re dealt.”
He suggested expensive homes being built are leading to higher rental costs.
“The solution to affordable housing is to build affordable housing,” he said.
“Let’s keep on building more affordable housing. We’ve got to find more land. I’m happy to move from DL114 to somewhere else, we’ve just got to identify where that land is.”
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Community amenities and recreation
The candidates were also asked about community amenities with the forum’s host chamber executive director Jen Dart noting recreation was the second most asked about topic after housing and each candidate was asked what amenities they would support if elected.
Stere said he has long supported increased recreational opportunities, including an indoor recreation facility as well as improvements to the town’s village green, skate park and basketball courts and expansion of the trail network.
“I’m not sure if I’d define it as an amenity, but a necessity, the continued lobbying for a healthcare facility for our region. What has been described as a campus of care,” he said. “What I would like to see is more long term care capabilities and assisted living for seniors to be able to return to and stay in this community.”
He added he would support increased educational opportunities, suggesting that Tofino is the only community in B.C. of its size that does not have a high school.
“Once again I don’t know if this is an amenity, but a necessity,” he said.
Thomas said public transportation is the biggest one that comes to mind, noting the region is on the path towards a public transit service.
She added she would support a new hospital and improved library services.
“The big one on everyone’s mind of course is a recreational facility which includes a pool. I know we can only act on that one once we have a concrete water supply plan,” she said.
“A very personal one to me would be an off-leash dog park. Obviously that would require a lot of public engagement because there’s never been a decided moment for that but it would definitely alleviate some of the problems that we encounter on the beach with dogs running and shorebirds and things like that.”
She added compost is coming to Tofino, though there will likely be a “steep learning curve,” during its introduction.
“I’m looking forward to all the education and navigating the challenges that are going to come with getting us all on board with a whole new system,” she said.
She added she’d also like to see more trash cans in high-traffic public spaces.
Anderson said he’d like to be very focused on two specific facilities during the next term: a recreation facility and a new library.
“I really think by being focused we can make some headway on those projects,” he said.
He noted council has been working on designs and grant applications to build a new recreation facility next to the community hall and suggested the West Coast Multiplex project slated near the airport should not be counted on to fill near-term recreational needs.
“I would love to see the multiplex arena and swimming pool go forward, I’m just wondering if they’re a little bit more than the communities can support on the West Coast right now in terms of operating costs. Those are big projects and we may have to grow into them,” he said. My full support is not behind that at this point.”
He said the community has been waiting about 25 years for a new library facility.
“I really think we deserve to have a proper library building,” he said. “I don’t think we’re moving fast enough on that.”
McMaster said Tofino lacks indoor recreation space and the need is most apparent during the town’s wet winter months.
“I support both the concept of a Tofino recreation centre and the multiplex, yet neither project will go ahead without federal or provincial funding and the competition for those grants is really tough,” he said. “If push came to shove I would prefer a facility in Tofino because having been involved in the fitness industry for a while I know that people use a facility that’s on their back doorstep rather than having to catch a bus and travel down the road for 20 minutes.”
He suggested the new waste management facility could be a source of heat for a potential pool or rec centre.
He said that with the competition for grants high, Tofino will need to be creative and “think outside the box” to come up with affordable solutions for its indoor recreation space needs.
“Let’s not just hope and pray that we get grants, let’s start to think of alternatives and move ahead and try to do something,” he said.
Enns said he’s spoken with people in town and has heard a need for transportation.
He suggested Tofino’s summer shuttle could run year-round to help locals get around in the winter.
“We’re living in a town that’s surrounded by water and people are going to school on water. Our kids need to learn how to swim, but you don’t want to swim in the ocean here,” he said.
He suggested Tofino should collect rain water to help alleviate water shortages.
“There’s lots of roofs that we can tap into that way,” he said.
Sawyer suggested amenities can mean different things for different people.
“Whether it’s having a softball league for your kids or yourself to play in, whether it’s choir, whether it’s being able to go see live music and I feel like we are doing a lot with what we have,” she said.
She suggested that creating affordable housing would increase the town’s tax base.
“Then we’ll have more money to work with to create more amenities for the people that are actually able to stay in this town,” she said.
Sloman said she had spoken with residents about their concerns and “overwhelmingly recreation was brought up. “
“We seem to have an unstable relationship with School District 70 and the use of the gym and the field is not a secure option.
She noted a new daycare facility slated for Tofino is threatening the baseball field.
“Our baseball community is vibrant and healthy. I want to support them to find a secure field with two baseball diamonds. I would like to have a soccer field and a track,” she said. “I think recreation facilities are very important because they can greatly benefit our mental health. Through games we can have greater connections with our neighbouring communities.”
She added she would support a swimming pool if it is financially viable as well as a reliable gym space and a care facility for seniors.
She also spoke in support of hosting more community events and bringing back the Clayoquot Days festival.
The municipal election will be held on Oct. 15. Voting in Tofino can be done at the Municipal Hall, 380 Campbell Street, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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