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SPECIAL REPORT: DCC debate in downtown Qualicum Beach

A former premier, a mayor and developers differ on what it’s like to do business in Qualicum Beach
An artist’s conception of The Clarion

As the debate continues about the forgiveness of development cost charges for the The Clarion project in downtown Qualicum Beach, the owners of two prominent addresses in the village are voicing their frustrations about working with the town on their projects.

The NEWS has obtained some e-mails that seem to condemn the town's treatment of developers who have completed high-profile buildings on Second Avenue. The e-mails are being used here with the permission of the authors and are presented as quotes.

Town staff were asked to comment on some of the allegations, but declined.

Bryan Virgin, the owner of the iconic Dolly's Home Hardware store, completed his building long before the current council  — which passed a motion in 2012 waiving DCCs in the village — was elected.

"If we were not an established business of nearly 40 years we would never have built our building," said Virgin, whose concerns seem to centre around his dealings with town staff, as opposed to DCCs.

"When the (current) mayor and councillors use past building projects as examples of successful projects, they are out of touch with reality," said Virgin. "Cost over-runs, due to the works and services agreement that the developer is responsible for and has no control over, are outrageous to say the least — the (town staff) can read into the agreement anything (they) see fit with no regard to cost or stress."

Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm built the TD Canada Trust building, with condos above the bank (called Villa Rose), also before any relaxation of DCCs.

"If Qualicum Beach wants quality development in the downtown area, they must reward the developer, not punish him," said VanderZalm.

"We did a solid concrete building and paid top charges for everything, including the DCCs and off-site costs," he said. "We had planned to do another development on Beach Avenue, where we had purchased a property, and also 'kiddie corner' from our development on a municipally-owned site, but the cost and the fact that we lost money on the Villa Rose development changed our plans."

"Charge me double if I want to build something outside of the downtown or the development area but give me a break downtown."

Teunis Westbroek has been mayor of Qualicum Beach since 1999.

"I think both developers (Virgin and Vander Zalm) are very good people to work with," said Westbroek. He also said Vander Zalm had a successful development before Villa Rosa and therefore "he knew what to expect."

Westbroek was not in favour of the successful 2012 council motion that waived DCCs for the downtown village.

"Any shift to reduce DCCs will eventually affect all taxpayers, residential and commercial," said the mayor.

Westbroek also agreed some charges applied by the town were not fair.

"I agree off-site costs were unreasonable and we have addressed that," he said.

At least one local developer, Dean Dreger of Amplio Development Corp., said he believes things are better since the last municipal election. Amplio was the first company to take advantage of the new DCC incentives in building Sage Manor on Second Avenue, a three-storey, five-unit complex that Dreger said has sold out and/or fully rented.

"Our system was broken last term," said Dreger. "I too swore to never build in this town again after my last experience. I can now safely say we have new policies in place and a new culture at senior staff level that makes building in the core a truly pleasurable experience."

Dreger said he believes the work of town councillors Mary Brouilette, Bill Luchtmeijer and Dave Willie have been instrumental in the changes in both bylaws and attitude at town hall.

"Leading from the front is something we haven't seen for a while and one this community is not used to," said Dreger. "It is a testament of (those three councillor's) character, that despite the horrible publicity (they) continue to receive, (they) have not yielded to misguided pressure. Instead, (they) have listened to all the stakeholders. So I thank (them) for rising to the challenges this community truly faces and implementing policy to protect this beautiful village."

While it could be argued the vast difference in population makes comparisons between Qualicum Beach and Nanaimo an apples-oranges exercise, the city of Nanaimo has been DCC-exempt for downtown development since 2001.

"Since that time, we have seen considerable downtown development including the Pacifica high-rise on Front Street, the Studio NA project on Chapel Street, the VIVO project on Franklyn Street and the redevelopment of Port Place Mall," said Nanaimo's director of planning, Andrew Tucker. "We have also had a number of smaller multiple family infill projects which have taken advantage of the DCC exemption elsewhere within the Old City Neighbourhood DCC Exempt area (i.e. the residential area that immediately surrounds the Downtown core)."

Tucker also said he has learned a smaller community on the Island, Campbell River, which already exempts DCCs in its downtown core, "is looking to create or has created a tax exempt area in their downtown that will provide a five-year exemption for all new development."

Tucker said he believes the evidence shows more incentives for developers has had a positive effect in his community.

"I would state that the various incentives created by the City of Nanaimo in the downtown area have been a huge success and have led to significant private investment and revitalization of our core," said Tucker.

"The lesson would seem to indicate that more incentives are better, not less."

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