Qualicum Beach residents expressed mixed opinions on a proposed 16-lot subdivision at a lengthy, at times heated, public hearing this week.
The majority spoke in opposition to the development at 850 Eaglecrest Drive because it requires an amendment to the town’s official community plan (OCP) to develop land designated as estate residential. The proposed subdivision is also outside the urban containment boundary. Current zoning on the 2.5 hectares allows only two single-family dwellings — this will need to be amended to accommodate the proposal.
Linda Todson, from Todson Design and Construction, said there will be two duplexes on two of the lots and 10 others will have a secondary or garden suite along with a single-family home. This will give families a more affordable option by having multiple dwellings on a lot, she said.
Residents opposed to the project questioned council for considering a significant OCP amendment while Coun. Robert Filmer is on medical leave and there is still a by-election yet to be called to replace former councillor Adam Walker, who now serves as MLA for Parksville-Qualicum.
Opposed residents said this project could set a precedent for further development in the estate residential properties. Jay Smith said that Qualicum Beach will be on its way to becoming “Surrey by the sea.”
“We call this the slippery slope fallacy in public policy theory — the reason it is not true is that any informed council such as yourself will take every decision seriously and decide on its merits case-by-case,” said Mark Holland, a planning consultant who spoke in support of the Todson development.
Holland said a town’s OCP is meant to set a general direction for policies and objectives, but is constantly being updated through a democratic process. The three hour-long public hearing is proof of the process, he said.
“The answer is clear, this is off limits. This is that bridge that’s too far. Many people have begged, they pleaded and they try to appeal to your better nature. I’m going to try something just a little bit different — I dare you. Nothing is going to more formally galvanize the community against you,” said Ezra Morse, president of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society, to the mayor and council.
Morse said the project has nothing to do with housing, countering arguments that the development will provide needed diversity in the market. “We are talking about 16 lots, just 16,” he said before pointing to other housing projects in the works, including an affordable housing project on Railway Street.
Some of the opposed speakers asked Mayor Brian Wiese not to vote on the issue, saying the Todson family was a significant donor to his election campaign.
“We are just the last people who would do something like that and council are not the type of people to accept bribery,” Linda said. She said they supported the mayor’s campaign because they liked his platform, but did not know him before.
Rick Todson contributed only $180 to the mayor’s election campaign in 2018.
Eaglecrest resident John Wood criticized online discussions surrounding the development proposal — “a small group of about 30 people who are continually active on social media have been circulating misinformation and lies and these are no better than Trump lies,” he said.
“These people do not represent our community, whether that be Eaglecrest or Qualicum Beach. It would be nice to go on social media and try to correct these mistruths and lies, but as a friend of mine once said, ‘never try to wrestle with the pigs, you’ll just get dirty and the pigs enjoy it,’” Wood said.
He expressed support for the development and said it is a project with a social conscience, which will help combat the lack of housing in the community.
Many who were opposed suggested council put off making a decision until the next OCP review, which could be three years away. The OCP is reviewed every six years, according to the town — the last review was in 2018.
“These people don’t actually care that this location possibly is being developed, they’re purely against the current council, whatever they try to do,” said Steve Knutson.
Knutson also expressed concern about the time of the public hearing, a gripe shared by both sides. The meeting began at 10 a.m. — many said this prevents working people from attending.
A common theme among the opposed was the project only benefits the developer — Knutson countered this argument, saying many jobs will be created during the construction process.
These jobs and housing opportunities could be created in a different locations, without developing in the estate residential land, opposition said.
“Whether you are in favour of this project or not, it is a very sensitive area of the town,” said Lance Nater.