Qualicum Beach’s development process isn’t working, according to at least one councillor and developer.
“There is no question that the community needs to take a look at its development approval process and I think council will be the first ones to acknowledge that. I would have some constructive comments as well,” said Gary Morrison after council decided not to ask his company, Livewell Cohousing, to proceed through the application process.
“Council is being asked to provide preliminary advice as to whether or not (Livewell) should proceed through the standard application process,” Director of Planning Luke Sales said of a motion on the Oct. 26 agenda stating: “That council directs the proponent for the Alder Crossing development to proceed through the formal application review process.”
The Alder Crossing proposal would see 29 single-family homes built in a corner of a 20-acre rural-residential property at Laburnum and Claymore roads, without a previously proposed cohousing component, touted by Morrison as “the most environmentally sustainable project in the mid-Island, possibly all of Vancouver Island.”
Sales later explained to The NEWS that, while not a standard part of the process, it was “not inappropriate.” The intent on staff’s part was to find out if there was any interest or if the proponent should stop.
“The applicant must not be listening to what we’ve been saying for eight months now,” said Coun. Barry Avis of what he called the proposal’s eighth appearance. While it was never encouraged, it has also never reached as far as a formal rejection.
“I was shocked it was even on our agenda and surprised quite honestly that staff had put it there… I thought the message had been very clear,” Avis said.
“I think it’s entirely inappropriate for us to make this motion,” said Coun. Neil Horner, who like Avis had been vocally opposed.
“If the proponent wants to go through the process, they’re free to do so, if they don’t want to go through the process they’re free to do that as well,” he said. “For us to make this motion gives this almost pre-approval, which makes a mockery of any process that comes after,” he said, calling it “an abuse of process.”
Horner continued that in his 25 years covering councils as a reporter, “I’ve never seen any developer ask council to ask them to make a submission — you make a submission or you don’t and you let the chips fall where they may.”
“Frankly I’m bewildered by what’s going on,” Morrison said by phone the next day. He wasn’t at the meeting, but heard a full report from a representative.
“My sense is that staff was trying to do the right thing and because of all the prior pushback… staff wanted to make sure council was on side with this updated application.”
“Now that appears to have been perceived by council as being an unnecessary extra step instigated by Livewell.”
“Delegations are supposed to be opportunities for free flow of information back and forth where council gives the applicant guidance and we share our views,” he said.
“But what Qualicum Beach has done is used the delegation process and committee of the whole… as part of the approval process. It is not.”
“I’ve always assumed I could go away, take their advice, update the plan and return. Council has, I think, assumed that advice by the committee of the whole was somehow binding council resolutions and that’s where we’re on different wavelengths, that’s why council feels quite fatigued.”
Morrison said he’s used to the formal first reading at a regular council meeting being the do or die moment, so he’s been pushing to get to that stage and get a public airing.
“But it looks like this project is essentially being killed in the pre-application meetings.”
“Do it or don’t, we’re not going to ask you, perhaps we should beg you,” Horner said.
“It’s fair comment to think that somehow there is a sense of approving the project instead of saying they can go through the process,” said Mayor Teunis Westbroek agreeing with Horner and Avis.
“It’s not up to us to decide if they can go through the process,” he said, adding “we will decide on the project when it comes to first reading.”
Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer suggested a friendly amendment to include the wording that the application proceed “without prejudice,” but that was voted down.
Council, except Luchtmeijer, eventually voted not to ask Livewell back, but that doesn’t preclude them from trying.
Luchtmeijer also introduced a notice of motion to ask staff for “a report outlining the current process for accepting development plans and presentations to council,” and how to improve them.
Morrison admits his frustration, touting his “great plan,” and hoping council doesn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” but at the same time admitting “I don’t see many reasons to continue right now.”
“Livewell needs to step back and think whether all of this grief is a productive use of our time.”