Council disregarding East Village concept

Editor:  In this article, Kevin Monahan points out that Town Council’s plan for revitalizing the East Village does not align with the earlier “concept” they presented to the public, and gives an eye witness account of the questionable process that brought that project to its current state. Mr. Monahan was a member of the 2018 OCP Steering Committee, and a member of the Town’s Advisory Planning Commission.

The recent Second Opinion QB article on the bus garage property was very interesting. But I have some perspective on that situation that goes back a little further.

The East Village revitalization concept was first floated during the development of the Official Community Plan in 2017. At the time it was a pure concept with very little “flesh on the bones”. All that was shared were some drawings showing a vibrant street scene with lots of ground floor commercial and residential behind and above.

It is time for Council to rescind second reading of the proposal, thus going back to a point prior to the public hearing, so that the issues can be discussed openly and honestly.

However, in the spring of 2019, more concrete proposals were brought forward. This included a rezoning plan and a proposal to sell the Town parking lot to the owner of the property adjacent which fronted on 2nd Ave and Berwick. The proposal was for a residential development, a far cry from the “concept” drawings. Pure residential developments along the south side of 2nd Ave would have contributed nothing to the street life of the East Village, and was, in fact, a huge departure from the concept which had been the subject of previous “concept” consultations.

At the public hearing on September 9, 2019, it turned out that the owners of the nearest business (Naked Naturals Whole Foods Ltd.) had never been informed of the proposal, even though the Town parking lot is immediately adjacent to their business.

At the public hearing, Kris Baker (Naked Naturals co-owner) asked that the process be stopped until they had an opportunity to put a plan forward for consideration. He promised to make a proposal for residential development, combined with a new Naked Naturals store and outside amenities which would much more closely conform with the original “concept” for the East Village. At the end of the public hearing, Councillor Filmer proposed to adjourn the hearing, because to close the hearing would initiate a blackout period until adoption of the bylaw, during which no one is permitted to speak to council on the subject. He proposed that the hearing could be resumed after Naked Naturals had made their proposal. He was supported by Councillor Walker, but the two were outvoted by Wiese, Westbroek and Harrison. So the Public Hearing was closed.

Concept drawing of East Village presented by Town of Qualicum Beach in 2017
during development of the Official Community Plan.

Naked Naturals did indeed make an application to purchase the 2nd Ave parking lot. To my knowledge there has been no further movement on the subject. Since the project involved the sale of public land, Council was in a difficult position, having made an agreement to sell the municipal parking lot to the developers of the adjacent property, without having consulted with other local business.

Then, in January of 2020, after several months of inaction the Town announced that it had entered into a tentative agreement with Naked Naturals to buy the bus garage property for a grocery store development. Second Opinion QB has documented very well what happened next. Had this proposal gone through, Naked Naturals would no longer have been in a competition with the East Village developer for the sale of the 2nd Ave parking lot. When the bus garage deal failed, Council was left with the same problem — How to proceed with its promise to the 2nd Ave developer, when they had left Naked Naturals out of consideration. To this day there has been no further movement on the proposed development. And yet, no one can talk to Council about this subject. How convenient!

It is time for Council to rescind second reading of the proposal, thus going back to a point prior to the public hearing, so that the issues can be discussed openly and honestly. These discussions should return to the original consultation concept which incorporated the idea of a vibrant commercial streetscape instead of monolithic residential developments that do not incorporate any affordable housing. But unfortunately, I don’t really hold out much hope for that eventuality.