The previous and current proposal for the affordable housing development on Railway Street and Village Way. (DYS Illustration)

The previous and current proposal for the affordable housing development on Railway Street and Village Way. (DYS Illustration)

Qualicum Beach affordable housing project gets development permit but subject to height reduction

Council has heated debate on the issue

The Qualicum-Parksville Kiwanis Housing Society’s affordable housing project will be awarded a development permit – but not before one more change to its proposed design.

The town’s advisory planning commission recommended council approve a development permit for the proposed 56-unit, multi-residential development located on Village Way and Railway Street. But at council’s regular meeting on May 27, Coun. Teunis Westbroek made an amendment to the recommendation to add “subject to a reduction of height to a maximum of four storeys on any sides of the proposed development.”

Westwood’s amendment led to a heated debate that forced mayor Brian Wiese to call for a break to ease the tension. Council eventually endorsed the amendment. It was added to the main motion and passed with a 4-1 vote with Coun. Anne Skipsey voting against.

Coun. Scott Harrison strongly opposed Westbroek’s amendment and called it a “mistake.” He feels it will significantly reduce the number of units, which are badly needed to address the growing demand for affordable housing in the community.

“They listened to the feedback from the people in the community,” said Harrison. “They were asked to reduce the height and they have. Then we’re asking to reduce the height one more time. So you’re going to have a larger block of a building which will result in more trees being removed, significantly less green space being present, and significantly less people being helped.”

The original proposal by Kiwanis was for a building that would feature five storeys on the south side and six storeys on the north side. The advisory planning commission requested the height be reduced by one or two storeys, which the Kiwanis complied, bringing it down to four storeys on the south side and five storeys on the north side without compromising the proposed 56 rental units.

RELATED: Council gets first look at plans for affordable housing project in Qualicum Beach

Westbroek’s rationale was in response to concern of some residents against the height of the multi-residential building. He said it’s a reasonable condition to include in the development permit.

Harrison pointed out council should not be responsible to only a handful of residents who are against the development but to the community as a whole and longterm future of the town. He indicated he ran for council with the objective of raising awareness of the crucial need for affordable housing in Qualicum Beach.

“This is the one time we were actually going to make significant progress and we are walking away from that progress and we are calling it prudence,” said Harrison. “It’s a disgrace.”

Skipsey said she supports affordable housing but raised the concerns expressed by residents and the community about the density and the design of the proposal.

“My preference, and I appreciate Coun. Westbroek’s proposed amendment but I really think this needs to go back for one more look before council approves this. And I think a conversation with the community would be appropriate with the neighbours.”

Skipsey asked the motion be referred back to staff to address issues of height, density, form and character and impervious surfaces.

Wiese did not agree as the development is already in the development permit stage and too deep to be reviewed again. He indicated council went through the many features of the development and had imposed changes to make it look better. He said changes should have been made either during second or third reading.

CAO Daniel Sailland advised against imposing drastic changes at this stage as it might impact the grant application that has already been submitted to BC Housing for consideration. He also pointed out that Kiwanis already has 60 people on its wait list for affordable home.

Town planner Luke Sales shared Sailland’s position and does not feel comfortable making changes on the fly. He suggested council focus on just the height issue and not density to give Kiwanis flexibility to make the development work.

“If we do the drastic changes and Mr. Sales said we lose this totally, that would be the biggest travesty of this term that we lose this,” said Wiese, who added “he could not live with that.”

Although Harrison opposed the amendment, he said he didn’t get the chance to vote against it, saying the question “opposed?” wasn’t ask and voting ended quickly. And by not raising his hand, Harrison’s vote was counted as being in favour.

“If given the opportunity, I would have voted against an amendment that reduces energy efficiency, reduces the amount of greenspace for the public and increases the number of trees that will need to be removed,” he told the PQB News. “As well, I fear this will require more of the units for young families to be repurposed to single bedrooms, and this will also increase costs for a non-profit developer. A compromise was offered by Kiwanis, and no factual information on the needs of the community or the building were provided in the rejection of that compromise.”

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