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Woodsmere housing development set for public hearing in Tofino

Massive housing project has been chopping through district approval process for the past four years

A massive housing project that’s been chopping its way through the district approval process for the past four years is set for another public hearing, despite mayor Dan Law’s adamant opposition.

“I don’t think this is anywhere near ready to go to the public, there’s just too many unknowns and I personally find too many problems with this,” Law said during last week’s regular council meeting.

Woodsmere Holdings Corporation has been submitting proposals to build a housing development at its 825 Campbell Street property since 2019 and first introduced their plan to residents at an open house event in 2017.

READ MORE: Open house nets mixed reviews on massive housing development in Tofino

The first iterations received consistent refusal from the town’s municipal council because of the corporation’s inclusion of a motel, which has since been axed from the application.

The new application includes 24 single family lots, each zoned for a secondary suite, a 55- unit apartment building and a purpose-built, multi-family rental building.

During their April 12 meeting, council voted in favour of putting the project through to a public hearing, though the word “cautious” was used by several councillors to describe their support and Law voted in opposition.

Manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said Woodsmere’s proposal is just the first phase of what is expected to eventually become a 488-unit development.

“It’s a pretty significant development overall, definitely a large new neighbourhood if it were all to come together,” he said.

He added that approval of the first phase would be contingent on a lengthy development agreement that includes the district receiving parkland and ensuring the town has enough water supply to accommodate the new homes.

“The development agreement is the key for staff to move this forward. Without the development agreement and the understanding of the developer that they will need to address all those items, staff won’t be able to recommend moving forward,” he said.

He suggested the proposal lines up with the OCP and also with the need for housing, though added that Woodsmere is not willing to provide affordable, non-market housing.

“In terms of non-market opportunities, that was a non-starter with the developer so there is no non-market aspect to this development,” he said. “This is the type of housing we want and where we want it, the only exception being the affordability aspect of it. It will be market housing.”

He said the district had requested seven price-restricted units to be part of the proposal, but the applicant had countered with a promise to apply for funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

He added vacation rentals would not be allowed within the community and all units would be mandated as long term housing.

“To the developers credit, this type of housing is aimed at Tofino residents: Small, single family lots,” he said. “This is not aimed at somebody buying a vacation home.”

Coun. Duncan McMaster expressed concern over whether the development could fit within the town’s water capacity.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “To me, we have to determine this water capacity problem before we move any further.”

READ MORE: Housing proposal highlights capacity concerns in Tofino

Rogers said water supply is a key concern and is covered off by the developer’s agreement, noting that council has three more opportunities to nix the project after granting second reading of the bylaw.

McMaster added he was disappointed to see no affordable housing being offered.

“I’m nervous about this,” he said. “I’m surprised I’m nervous because I’ve tended to support Woodsemere in the past. Maybe it’s just because I think developers are smarter than we are…Recognizing the lack of housing stock, I’ll let it go, but I’ll be watching every little thing that happens on this one I’m afraid.”

Coun. Tom Stere agreed.

“I do think supply will help in the creation of affordability down the line,” he said. “I do believe that bringing supply into the market is critically needed because as we all know, there is none here.”

Stere asked if the applicant would be willing to gift land for the district to build its own affordable housing project on, but Rodgers said that was also “a nonstarter for Woodsmere at this time.”

Coun. Jacky Challenger said she was concerned that Woodsmere had denied the district’s request for non-market housing, and asked if it could be put back on the table if Woodsmere doesn’t receive funding from CMHC.

Rodgers responded that that sort of compromise had been discussed and is not in the cards.

“The applicant, at this point, was unwilling to give us a backstop on that item,” he said.

Coun. Britt Chalmers noted Woodsmere has been proposing developments at the site for four years and she was impressed to see the application’s evolution.

“It is nice to see that over the years now we’ve been on council and how many times Woodsmere has come back, it is getting closer and closer to something that works for our community,” she said.

Mayor Dan Law expressed a passionate opposition to moving the project to a public hearing.

“I wonder if we’ve got a development agreement here because it appears that the developer isn’t really wanting to give council what council has asked for,” he said.

He questioned how the district could present the application at a public hearing without council’s own questions answered.

“Really, what are we asking? Is this normal? Do we go to second reading and have a public hearing when we’re putting all those unknowns onto the public and we’re going to try to sell them this as well? I have a problem with that to be honest,” he said. “I feel that we are saying that we are going to hold the line, but at each step we’re not.”

Rodgers acknowledged the application isn’t perfect, but suggested it filled a need for the ‘missing middle’ who do not qualify for Tofino Housing Corporation units, but can’t also afford homes currently available in Tofino.

“Do I love where we are? I don’t. This is not the gold standard of development applications, but I think it’s good enough for us now and I think it does provide us much needed housing even if it’s not the affordable housing that we all want,” he said.

“I am recommending that we move forward on this. This is not a perfect application. This is not a perfect development. But, I think, it’s something that we can live with and hopefully the beginning of something that we can be proud about in the years to come.”

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He reiterated there will be opportunities for council to nix the project if they gave second reading.

“I’m not 100 per cent convinced that we’re going to get through this development agreement,” he said. “There’s a lot of road in front of us yet on this development because of the fact that we haven’t gotten everything that we wanted at this stage and we still have to get all of that and that means more work for the applicant—or work for the applicant—and I don’t think that’s going to be a quick turnaround, based on my previous experience.”

Law suggested affordable housing should be part of every development application the district receives.

“There are other developers that are very willing to start the conversation with affordability at the forefront. We’ve seen that and I think we’ll see that coming again,” he said. “If we want to get it, we should hold people to a standard that we expect…If that’s the word that gets out, then other developers will come and they will realize that.”

Both Coun. Al Anderson and Coun. Jacky Challenger both said they “cautiously” supported moving ahead.

“If we push for the gold standard, we’re going to get the gold price as well for the people trying to buy into it, which actually excludes more people I think,” Anderson said. “The average income in Tofino is not that high, we need to get affordability on the market…The community is asking for this.”

Law was the only vote in opposition in moving the application to a public hearing.

“What I’m looking for is not the gold standard, but really just to get it up to bronze or silver to be honest. I just want a minimum guarantee for affordability and I don’t see it,” he said.

“We need housing. We absolutely need housing. There’s going to be developers who come with housing that will fit the bill and that will have an affordable component. Those are the developers that I want to deal with and go forward with. Mr. Rodgers thinks that we should go forward, I don’t. I think bringing this to the public right now for a public hearing in some ways does a disservice to the public.”


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