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Qualicum Beach's bus garage site not a priority

The future of a former school bus garage site remains vague at best after Qualicum Beach town council voted to make it a parking lot for the foreseeable future on Monday night.

Councillor Bill Luchmeijer said after the meeting that the site — which cost the town $1.5 million — is just not a high priority for this council.

"Our focus is on downtown infill," he said of council's ongoing plans to make development in the Village Neighbourhood easier and faster.

The site is, however, located within that zone. Luchmeijer added that the land will, eventually, be part of future community planing sessions to determine what it might become. The council prior to the November,  2011 municipal election had purchased the land from School District 69 (Qualicum) with the intent of creating a public arts space or facility there in the future.

Monday night, council ordered staff to make the site into a public parking lot with an estimated 72 stalls and main entrance off of Memorial Avenue at Fourth Street — while rejecting a staff recommendation to provide them with a list of other possible interim uses for the site.

They also asked that staff remove the hedging and fence where the property borders on an existing parking lot between The Old School House arts centre and the Qualicum Foods grocery store, instead of just trimming the hedges. There is no planned vehicle access to the new parking lot through the existing lot, to help keep heavy traffic away form the existing crosswalk on Fern Avenue.

A staff request to add up to $31,000 over the next five years for the upgrade and ongoing maintenance of the new parking lot, was rejected by council. The implication there, said mayor Teunis Westbroek, is that staff find the money in the existing budget to cover those costs.

Coun. Mary Brioulette said she is concerned the decision will, essentially, keep the site as a parking lot, and asked if a covenant should be placed on the property to ensure other uses will be considered.

Town administrator Mark Brown said there's no need for a covenant, as council's motion does state that it remain a parking lot "until such time as a long-term use of the property can be determined."

The bus garage building itself will be closed to the public. Brown told council that it is an industrial building, used for the servicing and repair of school buses — and not appropriate for public assembly without considerable upgrades to meet the required building codes. Town staff, on the other hand, can use it, he said, for such activities as firefighter training.

"Firemen tend to go in and out of buildings that aren't safe for anyone else," quipped Westbroek.

Council ordered staff to have the parking lot upgrades complete and ready for public use by the May 5 weekend — in time for the annual Fire and Ice street festival.

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