Cohousing in Qualicum Beach — and then there were two

The concept has been talked about in the region for decades

One cohousing project shifting into a regular development in Qualicum Beach leaves just two in the works.

Cohousing was described by one local proponent as ‘physically and legally the same as a townhouse strata project, (but) socially it is a more community oriented spirit like cooperative housing.’

The concept has been talked about in the region for decades and became a hot topic in 2014 when Livewell Cohousing’s Parksville proposal moved to Qualicum Beach and eventually dropped the cohousing aspect after several rezoning denials.

While that proposal — now called Alder Crossing — continues in the early stages as a fee simple residential project on Laburnum at Claymore Road, the oldest proposal in the area is still slowly brewing a few hundred meters up the road.

“This is really interesting land and we’d really like to see younger people here, and maybe some older people, to carry on a connection with the land,” said Ron Buechert who co-owns 40 acres up Laburnum close to the Rupert Road corner.

His partner in the Qualicum Beach Cohousing Society’s (QBCS) “Valterra” project, Ruth Adler, has been talking about cohousing for at least 20 years he said.

“Livewell tried to do it too fast for Qualicum Beach,” Buechert said, suggesting they scared council by not building a relationship first.

He said that while Livewell’s concept was more like a social, European retirement community, they imagine a much more agricultural community.

“We want to foster a strong connection between the people and the land,” he said. “You don’t have to participate in it directly, but you have to respect it.”

Their land is currently zoned agricultural, with a 50 acre minimum lot size that would need rezoning, but Buechert said there are none of the sensitive wetland or habitat issues that complicated the Livewell proposal and they have been in regular contact with town staff and appear to be on the right track.

They imagine a small cluster of around 30 units on about three acres, less than a tenth of the land, with the rest of it dedicated, perhaps with long term covenants, to things like agriculture or other more natural uses.

Literally surrounded by wilderness including forestry company land, forested town land and protected agricultural and Crown land, Buechert said their property was logged 100 years ago.

That means it is currently considered a crucial “recruitment forest,” he said, explaining that at 80 to 100 years “a new forest explodes with important biological diversity. The owls have moved in and there’s all kinds of red listed (endangered or threatened) species.”

He said that while people living on the property would have an impact, “it would be much less disruptive than developers clearing it.”

They are far from working out the final details but Buechert said they would like to see some affordable housing component, saying they’d happily sell their “asset below value to achieve other goals,” namely protecting the land.

While there is nothing currently scheduled, the Valterra proponents (www.valterravillage.ca) are going through a recent feasibility study in fine detail and are always looking for new support.

A third group of cohousing proponents that were unhappy with the loss of the Livewell proposal are also trying to gather like minded people for a third project. At this very beginning stage, they are hosting regular casual coffee gatherings to find interested people. Search ‘Oceanside Cohousing’ at meetup.com to connect with them.

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