To the surprise of no one, development and the Official Community Plan were the hot topics at Tuesday’s all-candidates forum in Qualicum Beach.
Both mayoral candidates and all nine people vying for a seat on town council in the Nov. 15 municipal election were in attendance at the forum, sponsored by the Qualicum Beach Residents’ Association. After the candidates’ opening statements and a few technical issues with microphones, the approximately 750 residents who filled the civic centre were given the opportunity to ask their questions. Topics ranged from community committees to council relations, but what people seemed most interested in knowing was how the incoming town council would tackle development and work with the OCP.
The candidates will do it again tonight in a similar format at the civic centre starting at 7 p.m. in a forum sponsored by the Qualiucm Beach Chamber of Commerce and The NEWS.
“We have areas where we can develop, we have places where we can infill,” said mayoral candidate Teunis Westbroek. “We have had lots of opportunities. You see on Mill Road, where there are big houses being torn down and three new homes are being built and there is density for more. I think that’s the approach.”
Mayoral candidate Denyse Widdifield countered this positivity by saying, “We have to look at the fact that Qualicum Beach has been pretty much stagnant for the last 15 years.”
“We have not built many homes and have not given any opportunities for economic development in this town. And we have not given the courtesy that is needed for people that want to invest in this town and develop some land. I am for planned controlled growth … let’s have some good dialogue with the developers and let’s welcome the ideas, look at them, investigate them and then make a decision.”
Barry Avis (council) said “I think we have been doing the part,” listing developments such as Eagleridge, Arbutus, Parkridge and three conodminiums that took place during his previous time on council. “I also know that during our last OCP preparation it was shown that with our town plan that currently exists that we could build out to (a population of) 12,000 … without doing any other thing.”
Mary Brouilette (council) agreed that there are already foundations to build on, but she said there is work to do. “We have a number of empty lots in town. We have some buildings that are in shambles,” she said. “I would like to see us more proactive and contact the owners of these buildings, find out what they need, what the hold up is. And if it’s the town holding it up or if government is in the way, then let’s find a way in discussion to talk about that.”
Dolores Fraser (council) took a different view on development. “I’m getting the impression that the population has gone down a small amount in the last while, not that it is growing. I think part of the key is that development matches reality and that it is done in a way that fits in with what we have already,” she said. She then added, “I would like developers to keep in mind that council is not here just for developers, but mainly for everyone.”
Neil Horner (council) also sees development following community influences. “From what I understand, development relies on the economy,” he said. “When there’s an upturn in the economy, when there’s a good idea that comes forward about development in the community that requires some infrastructure that isn’t already there and it fits in with the OCP, then I’m all for it.”
“I think we need developments that reflect our unique environment and that aren’t going to cost us an arm and a leg to put in services,” said Diana La Monte (council), who later spoke about how it is important for council to follow the OCP and Quality of Life surveys. “I would also very much like to see more affordable housing in the downtown core … a lot of people who work here cannot afford to live here.”
Bill Luchtmeijer (council) also focused on the importance of the OCP in development. “I think one of the things that we have to go back to each time is our Official Community Plan,” he said. “Our OCP says that we have a build out of 12,000 people, but there are no tools in our OCP that tell us how we’re going to get there. I think one of the decisions that this next council is going to have to make is how are we going to look at our OCP and how are we going to give it some teeth.”
“Give it some tools to carry out the mandate of the plan,” said Luchtmeijer. “Right now we talk about the wonderful ideas, but we have to have something that will make those ideas work.”
Len Mustard (council) didn’t share too much of his own opinions on the topic, instead saying, “I do not come to this election with any preformed ideas. I’ve come to listen to you (the residents). Bring me the ideas that you have and I will listen to them very carefully and if I agree with them I will support them with everything I’ve got.”
Anne Skipsey (council) questioned if development was the correct answer to help the economy. “I don’t believe that building new developments necessarily equates to sustaining the economy,” she said.
“Through my door knocking, I’m actually very surprised at how many people vacate our community during the winter months. And for me, that’s a real concern. I think there may be other things that we can do to sustain our economy, like bringing in more tourists, perhaps from the Prairie provinces that like to migrate out here during the winter.”
Said Dave Willie (council): “One of the reasons we looked hard at the downtown core (was) because the downtown core already had all the services in the ground already,” he said. “For many of those buildings, they’d already paid for those services … and over the next many years they will contribute taxes towards the services that need to be redeveloped elsewhere.”
The moderator for the evening was Kristin Nickles. The QBRA planned to have the entire forum available for viewing online (qbresidents.ca).
The next all-candidates forum in Qualicum Beach will be hosted by the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce and The NEWS tonight (Thursday) starting at 7 p.m. at the civic centre.