October 14, 2022 – If you were asked to sum up the performance of Town Council and Administration over the past four years, what would be your response? Our civic affairs analyst weighs in. — Editor
The past four years have seen dozens of issues, proposals, and actions discussed and decided by Town Council and Administration but each is dealt with on its own, unguided by any overarching concept of community development and enhancement.
This “transactional” behaviour vs a planned, cohesive approach leaves the community vulnerable to rash, incoherent plans, designs, projects and a precarious future, with attendant financial burden.
Many people, including some developers, are wondering, is Qualicum Beach destined to become a hodgepodge of unattractive urban sprawl like too many other “ruined” communities? Is there a level playing field for developers, contractors, and businesses, or are insiders being dealt a favoured hand?
And many people wonder where our Official Community Plan has disappeared, and why those goals, initiatives and guidelines are seemingly ignored or stalled in perpetuity.
We look at several examples, some small, some not, to illustrate the problem of the current Council and Town Administration’s transactional approach to managing our community and its future.
The Qualicum Beach Community Cinema, mired in snail-ism
The Qualicum Beach Community Cinema is a case in point. The what, you ask?
The QB Community Cinema was eagerly anticipated before the election of the current Council, the topic of much discussion by the public.
The society behind the community cinema project is frustrated at the snail’s pace the project is proceeding at Town Hall. You can still buy a membership in the society but there appears to have been little or no action or tangible results to date.
Parksville — which had not even identified a community facility to host performances four years ago — got into gear in 2018, obtained the money from other sources of government in 2020 and commenced construction in 2021 of an attractively designed and situated building in a corner of their community park (without cutting down any trees).
This summer residents and visitors to Parksville were able to enjoy popcorn and refreshments while they watched performances in their new Outdoor Theatre and Gathering Plaza.
In Qualicum? Nothing but chain link fences around vacant properties. But then, the town’s welcome billboard at the primary entry to Qualicum Beach on Hwy 4 has sported a porta-potty for several years, an unfortunate but perhaps apt symbol.
The East Village example
The “East Village” area was a contiguous block of under-used land on Second Avenue East overdue for upgrading and conversion to a mini-neighbourhood of its own.
How exciting. Here was one rendition of the community’s aspiration, circa 2017. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead, over the past four years the Town commenced down the path of a series of disconnected construction projects, each clashing with the other in purpose and design, serving no sum-of-the-parts cohesive contribution to community. The predictable result of a Council and Administration demonstrably unable to create a plan and follow it.
One-at-a-time transactions have already guaranteed we can expect nothing more than a disappointing hodgepodge of construction, highly profitable for some developers, at the expense of community enjoyment and pride.
A closer look at transactions #1 and #2 in the East Village
Recently the second chunk of construction was approved by Council. Two structures are supposedly to be built, neither of which bears any resemblance to the product of transaction #1, the brew pub at the east end of Second Avenue. Already it is glaringly apparent that our civic leaders have no overarching design, either in form or in function, for this neighbourhood. Or, if there is, their secret has not been shared with the public.
Kelland’s slogan of “Will Build To Suit”, planted on signs all over town, pretty much sums up the ad hoc transactional nature of construction that our Town Council and Planning Department not only tolerate but seem keen to enable.
Build to suit whom?
Readers are excused if you feel a bit victimized by the bait-and-switch antics in Qualicum Beach over the past four years. Let’s continue with the East Village example.
We have been subjected to multiple proposed designs for the south side of Second Avenue in the East Village. And that doesn’t include the proposal that Kris Baker and his Naked Naturals team inserted into the mix when the Town clumsily but intentionally excluded them in the planning for the East Village where they were already operating the main commercial establishment and source of employment.
We were initially teased with the idea of a pedestrian-centred mini-village street vibe as illustrated in the above sketch. Then two years later the CA Design team offered their idea of a strip of side-by-side residential townhomes. The community had concerns about the bait-and-switch in that 2019 proposal, as reflected in the article by Kevin Monahan published in January 2021.
But now in 2022, a completely different residential construction transaction has been approved (see Windley / Schley image). This is a mind-boggling, shape shifting, complete disconnect from the original 2017 artist sketch.
This dramatic building design change was completely ignored and/or misreported by PQB News. Their latest coverage is still anchored with the original sketch as can be seen here in an October 5, 2022 story by Michael Briones, long-time Black Press reporter.
Maybe that happens when the publisher is preoccupied with events in her own Port Alberni ‘hood; hard to keep up from a long distance.
Or perhaps they referred to the QB Town website where Luke Sales’ East Village Revitalization project still carries that original sketch from 2017, now irrelevant and completely misleading.
Given the latest artist rendition of the Windley / Schley buildings, the QB residents who described their aspirations for this area in the 2018 Official Community Plan (OCP) are forgiven if they feel a tad betrayed by the Town.
But people should not be surprised. In other transactional decisions such as the Todsen development, the Council trio of Wiese-Harrison-Filmer have chosen to disregard the OCP when and if OCP policies impede their pet projects.
East Village ad hoc transaction #1
Somehow the Town Council / CAO brain trust in 2019 decided what this Town really badly needed was another bar / restaurant. Not sure the existing dining and wining establishments would agree, now or then, especially the ones that have since closed or are for sale.
Needed so badly that the Town committed to lease Tidal Brewery the land for forty years for $7,000 per year. The Notice of Lease does not indicate that the lease rate is to be adjusted either for inflation or periodically recalibrated to current market value. Using an estimated land value of $700,000 tells us that the tenant was given use of the land for an inordinately long term at a ridiculously low cost — essentially a long-term loan of taxpayers’ money to a private business at an interest rate of 1% per year, and the tenant pays no property taxes.
Apparently this sweetheart deal did not attract any attention from the lax provincial government regulators whose Community Charter legislation (section 25) prohibits Town Council from providing “a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business.” There was no outcry from the QB Chamber of Commerce either for this preferential support handed to a private business coming to Town to compete with existing bars and restaurants whose landlords are not so generous.
So now we have Fern + Cedar standing as a lonely sentinel at the east end of Second Avenue.
When first opened, the retro corrugated metal siding motif brought to mind Tom Larsen’s funky Tin Town development in Courtenay, but without its cohesive community hub vibe.
Transaction #2 – Schley and Windley
As we reported previously, jaws dropped and taxpayer anger ensued when the Town sold all three of its adjacent lots on east Second Avenue for a total of only $525,000, about half the market value at the time. READ Questioning recent sales of town-owned land
Another even more blatant violation of the Community Charter prohibition on disposition of Town owned land for less than market value. A half-million-dollar giveaway of taxpayers’ money to Ken Schley and Jeff Windley, millionaire property owners/developers who weren’t in need of any handouts.
Did the Town even need to sell the parking lots?
In a word, no. The current East Village proposal is for construction of two side-by-side buildings. Why wasn’t Schley advised to submit his best design for a single condo building on his own two lots? Why did the Town allow itself to get hornswoggled into such a lousy deal?
Just imagine if the Town still owned its three adjacent lots. Soon-to-be premier David Eby and BC Housing are pushing for affordable housing to be built on publicly owned land in virtually every municipality in BC, with the provincial government, in partnership with the feds, willing to pay for its construction through the Community Housing Fund, as well as subsidize ongoing operations to enable affordable rentals.
But we blew it when we gave this land away for a song. This missed opportunity to priorize provision of modest-income rental accommodations in our Town is yet another shameful example of irresponsible stewardship of our Town’s land and financial assets.
Can’t wait to see what the next one-off real estate transaction in that end of Town looks like. Maybe Marty Abbott will apply for a development permit to build a casino on the north side of the street? With neither a plan nor leadership anything remains possible.
Much will depend on what kind of stewards of the Town’s long-term interest we elect on October 15th.