In response to two requests in one month for the use of a vacant city property for affordable housing, Coun. Kim Burden pushed through a motion that will lead to a public consultation process to determine the best use of four lots on Jensen Avenue, off the corner of the Alberni Highway.
“I brought it up previously under the topic of creating affordable housing,” Burden told council during the new business portion of its July 17 meeting in council chambers. “We’re not a developer; we’re not holding property for long periods of time unless it has strategic value.
“I think it’s time we decided what those lots are best used for… I also think we maybe need to engage the public to see what their wishes are for that particular piece of property. And I’d like to see us move forward with determining what the strategic purpose of that original purchase was.”
“Are you making a motion?” Mayor Marc Lefebvre responded.
“Yes,” said Burden.
The properties in question are on the block of land between city hall and the Parksville Volunteer Fire Department station. They consist of four lots zoned for multi-family residential, a zoning supported by the city’s most recent Official Community Plan (OCP), and three lots designated for parking.
During council’s July 5 meeting, developer Daniel Duggan, appearing as a delegation on behalf of Affordable Housing Vancouver Island, suggested the property be donated to a non-profit developer for creation of a sustainable, affordable co-housing project.
Early in the July 17 meeting, Major Norm Hamelin and Earl Blacklock of the local Salvation Army also asked the city to consider donating that property or another like it for an affordable housing development to ease a local housing crunch made worse by the displacement of 35 residents in the July 6 Ocean Terrace apartment fire.
Burden’s motion called for an open-ended public consultation “with no presupposed bias.”
“Holding (the property) empty when we have housing issues, holding it empty when it’s not producing any revenue, holding it empty when it’s really serving no purpose… I’d like to see us determine what the best use is,” said Burden.
Debbie Comis, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the city was in the busiest part of its development season and asked for a clarification on Coun. Burden’s preferred time line for public consultation. She suggested if it could wait until fall or early winter, city staff could step in to provide the consultation.
“I don’t want it to fade away,” Burden said of the issue. “I know staff resources are stretched; I would be prepared to seek the use of a consultant to provide the consultation process with the public.”
Coun. Mary Beil said the city has been well-served by contracted consultants on the ongoing Community Park Master Plan, and asked what the city might be expected to pay for a consultant to oversee the public engagement for the city property.
“I would think it would be somewhere between $30-50,000,” said Comis.
The motion passed unanimously, with Coun. Sue Powell and Coun. Kirk Oates absent.