Behest of the West: What’s the deal with the church?

Treading water might keep you afloat but it doesn’t move you forward.

Treading water might keep you afloat but it doesn’t move you forward.

In a move that some might have mistook for progress, Ucluelet’s council recently agreed to renew a development permit application for the building formerly known as St. Aidan’s on the Hill church. It had expired in November.

Attached to the development permit application is a Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 2013, that lays out the amenities the building’s developer Leif Hagar must agree to provide before his rezoning application is approved.

Amenities are fascinating fixtures in rezoning applications where districts ask developers to throw in some love before an application is approved.  Think of it as a, “Nice application you’ve got here, would be a shame if anything happened to it,” kind of conversation.

Hagar has paid $250 for a historical plaque and $8,000 in parking-in-lieu fees but is still tasked with the installation of four bike racks and four benches, as well as providing maintenance, in perpetuity, of the nearby community garden and pedestrian right of way.

He recently presented photos of the benches he’s working on and designs for the bike racks he plans to build. Everything seems to be moving smoothly but we’ve been here before and, frankly, we’ve been here for far too long.

Lets take a walk down memory lane together to remember what brought us here: the four-year anniversary of Ucluelet’s iconic church entering a zoning purgatory it hasn’t yet managed to escape.

Community members built the church in 1952. It was deconsecrated in 2010 and sold to Hagar in 2011. Things looked great out of the gate. Hagar was praised when he announced the building wouldn’t be torn down and would instead be transformed into a venue for community events.

In October, 2011, the building was used as a key backdrop for the Superman Man of Steel movie and the shot proved so effective that it became a staple in the movie’s trailers.

In December, the building hosted its first major event: a launch party for local band Left at the Junction to release their new album ‘Dark rainy night.’

Then January 2012 hit and everything crashed when a Valentine’s Day fundraiser was abruptly cancelled after Hagar was told by district planner Patricia Abdullah that the building didn’t have the proper zoning to host events.

Hagar penned a letter to the editor published by the Westerly News in June that called for Abdullah to be fired and a year’s worth of verbal barbs were traded back and forth.

The relationship seemed to rekindle and council received a report from Abdullah in July 2013 that supported Hagar’s plans by suggesting a centrally located event-venue was needed in Ucluelet.

A public hearing was scheduled and Mayor Bill Irving told the Westerly that Hagar and the district “worked collectively to not only do the rezoning but the development permit and the development variance permit as well.”

Hagar was optimistic heading into the hearing.

“The public hearing is probably the only potential obstacle at this point and I think the whole community wants to see it move forward,” he told the Westerly.

The hearing was held on July 16, 2013, roughly 10 locals showed up. Hagar presented a petition with 166 signatures in favour of his application and two people spoke in favour of it at the hearing.

The Co-op grocery store and local Roger Gudbranson, submitted letters opposing the church’s development due to its lack of parking.

While the parking issue became the key public concern, a much greater issue developed behind the scenes as the district’s building inspector refused to sign off on Hagar’s plans for the church.

These concerns came to light in a July 2014 Westerly News story where Hagar claimed the district had “crippled” the project.

Irving told the Westerly that hands were tied.

“If we put our stamp on a building that is defective and somebody’s injured then the district, the taxpayers, the residents, pay the price,” he said.

The church was a key talking point leading up to 2014’s municipal election in November and many eyebrows were raised when a sign promoting Dianne St. Jacques mayoral bid was posted on the church.

Considering she bested incumbent candidate Irving by just 8 votes, it isn’t a stretch to assume St. Jacques’ name on the side of Ucluelet’s most centralized and talked-about building secured her victory.

This council has been in place for over a year now and the church’s only reportable progress in that time is an application being renewed two months after it expired.

It’s time to stop treading water.


Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.