Qualicum Beach town council voted to issue a development permit for an affordable housing project on Railway Street and Village Way after a lengthy, heated discussion about last minute changes to the building.
The 56-unit proposal was brought back to council after the Qualicum-Parksville Kiwanis Housing Society made changes to reduce the overall height and increase the overall footprint of its planned multi-residential building.
The applicant reduced the height by one storey since the last time council considered the project, while keeping the same number of units.
Coun. Teunis Westbroek moved to further reduce the height to no taller than four stories at council’s May 27 meeting. This was ultimately carried after a long discussion on the impacts of reducing the height a second time. It is not clear whether the project will still have 56-units or if the building will require a larger footprint to accommodate.
Coun. Scott Harrison spoke firmly against the reduction, calling it a “huge mistake.”
“They listened to the feedback from the people in the community, they were asked to reduce the height — they have,” Harrison said. He added the reduction could result in a larger building, more tree removal and fewer people being housed.
Coun. Anne Skipsey said there are still concerns in the community with too much density and the design of the project. She suggested referring the development back to staff to look at these issues.
“I think that the density is dictating what is being built and I think that it should be the community and our vision that dictates what is being built here,” she said.
Mayor Brian Wiese said council has had discussions on the development for months and he did not think referring it back to staff would be productive.
Coun. Robert Filmer said he was worried the building will look like a “parking garage with windows.”
“Although these types of projects are important, I think there is a way to make them look and fit into the town and I don’t think this is on that right path,” he said.
Wiese recognized not everyone can be happy with the project, but said the development permit stage is not the time to bring up concerns on design.
The town has an open grant application with BC Housing for the project and expects to hear news about it in the coming days or weeks, according to Daniel Sailland, chief administrative officer.
He cautioned council against last-minute changes, which could hinder the town’s relationship with BC Housing.
Wiese said he was concerned a drastic change to the application could result in losing the grant. He said this would be the “biggest travesty of this term” and he “could not live with that.”
Luke Sales, director of planning, also said he did not feel comfortable with changes, but suggested council only speak to the height issue and not density, to leave Kiwanis with the option of a larger footprint to accommodate the units.
Harrison was the only councillor to vote against the height amendment. He was concerned the project would not meet the demand for affordable housing and said the amendment was not in the interest of the future of the community as a whole, but more in favour of NIMBYism.
“This is the one time we were actually going to make significant progress and we are walking away from that progress and we are calling it prudence. It’s a disgrace,” Harrison said.
There are 60 people on the Kiwanis waitlist for affordable homes, according to Sailland.
The main motion to direct town staff to issue a development permit, with the condition that the building be no taller than four stories, was carried with only Skipsey opposed.