The owners of high-end retirement communities on Vancouver Island say they have a $25 million plan for the vacant property next to Qualicum Beach town hall.
Berwick Retirement Communities wants to build an amenities-laden complex with 91 living units on the high-profile one acre that was the cause of much controversy when the previous owner wanted to build a 53-unit condo building he called
"We've been at this a long time, like 50 years," Berwick founder Gordon Denford told The NEWS this week. "And we always wanted to be in Qualicum."
Chris Denford, Gordon's son and Berwick's president and CEO, presented drawings of the proposed facility that includes patios and a solarium with a view of the ocean. It would also include a theatre, a wellness centre and meeting facilities that could be used by community groups. He called the style of architecture English arts and crafts design.
"We designed a building that fits in the community better than
The Clarion did," said Chris. "It has far more advantages than The Clarion ever did."
Gordon said the look of each of Berwick's facilities is unique.
"Every project is planned for that community," he said. "Seniors don't want to be going into a building that looks like it doesn't belong in the community. If you go to any one of our six communities, they look like they belong."
While the scope, amenities and use of the proposed facility bears no resemblance to The Clarion plan, there is one thing that's similar: the height. Berwick is proposing four-and-a-half storeys, a bone of contention for those who opposed The Clarion. Gordon was asked how Berwick intended to get around that issue.
"We are going to have to get around that," he said.
The proposed facility would house people for independent and assisted living. Other Berwick facilities on the Island also have units that house people who need more intense care, but the Denfords said the Qualicum Beach facility would not have licensed care, nor palliative care.
The monthly costs for a unit — they do not offer long-term leases — range from $2,400-$4,500, which basically includes everything, including meals, they said, adding that this proposed facility would also employ the equivalent of 40 people full time.
Berwick has built retirement communities in Campbell River, Comox, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Victoria (two). The average age of the residents is about 84. The facilities have won awards for design and architecture, including the Campbell River site being honoured in 2015 Construction Achievements and Renovations of Excellence (CARE) Awards of Vancouver Island for multi-family project of the year, best landscape and best outdoor living space.
"Likely we will be project-of-the-year in Qualicum if we get to build it," Gordon said with a smile.
Ah yes, the if-we-get-to-build-it question. The Denfords, and their vice-president of construction Bill Bomhof, said they have not yet applied to the town for a development permit.
"We want to start the public consultation process first," said Chris.
That would include meetings, starting in the next couple of weeks, with resident associations and the chamber of commerce, said Bomford. The Berwick officials said a best-case scenario would see them apply for a development permit by the end of the summer, start construction in the spring of 2017 and see occupancy in the fall of 2018.
If the last attempt to build something on this land is any indication, the project will undoubtedly create much discussion in the town. A community group with a slogan that yelled "take back our town" was formed because of The Clarion proposal.
The Denfords said they are aware of the history of the land and the ill-fated Clarion project. They said they recently took Mayor Teunis Westbroek, CAO Daniel Sailland, director of planning Luke Sales and three town councillors on a tour of their Comox and Campbell River facilities.
Coun. Bill Luchtmeier (he did not attend the tour), said he is familiar with the Berwick facilities. He also said the proposed project has some advantages for the wider community.
"There would be more density (than The Clarion proposal), which wouldn't be bad for the downtown core, good for our shops," said Luchtmeier. "The project seems to be very high-end, which would be a bonus for our community. They (potential residents) would spend a lot of money in our restaurants and shopping."
Luchtmeier and Westbroek are the only two members of the current council who were on council during the heated debates about The Clarion in 2013. Luchtmeier said some of the opposition to The Clarion was about the height of the facility, but some of it was "political posturing."
"I think the political climate has changed somewhat," Luchtmeier said this week. "And we are in mid-term, so I think that will take that posturing out."