Mayor’s haste to grease skids for Pheasant Glen

The current Pheasant Glen Official Community Plan and zoning amendments application is scheduled for a Public Hearing (and possible final approval) on March 31, 2021. Mayor Brian Wiese continues to barrel ahead at high speed, trampling and diluting opportunities for public input despite long-sustained opposition, and ignoring the recommendations of the Town’s planning staff and its Chief Administrative Officer that the developer has not yet provided the Town with sufficient, reliable information necessary to make an informed decision about the merits of this questionable and contentious proposed development.

We take a closer look at some of the critical issues should Qualicum Beach residents be committed by Town Council to support this proposed overturn of a major existing OCP policy.

What’s in it for the residents of Qualicum Beach?

Often the sales pitch for approving any such venture is the growth in the Town’s tax base.

Yes, the property assessment roll grows, but sometimes not enough to offset the additional costs of servicing the new commercial or residential properties. Given their recent spending of millions on non-essential capital projects, the Town does not appear to be lacking in property tax revenue. It would appear that expanding the residential population in Qualicum Beach is not a priority. The Town may already be at or near its optimum population. There is no mention of any population growth objective in any of the Town’s current Strategic Plan priorities or initiatives.

[Hired Pheasant Glen promoter Nigel] Gray’s performance had all the earmarks of a pig-in-a-poke pitch to a gullible or compliant audience without providing any actual substance or commitment.

On the other hand, increasing the supply of short-stay rental accommodation for visitors has been and continues to be an economic objective for the Town. Visitors are a valued driver of hospitality sector employment, as well as sales revenue for local merchants of a wide range of goods and services. And who would object to having another local venue for special events like weddings.

So, it’s no surprise then that the Town, through its Official Community Plan (OCP), has specifically indicated that it “supports the location of a destination resort within the Pheasant Glen golf course property … provided that the development includes no permanent residential use.” [our emphasis] This idea for a 200+ room destination resort, even outside the Urban Containment Boundary, has been ‘on the books’ for at least 15 years.

So why has a Pheasant Glen destination resort never come to be?

The owner of the 50+ acre site is a reluctant bride. The current basic argument by the applicant, Golf Clan Holdings, fronted by Craig Dutton and assisted by agent / promoter Nigel Gray, is that unless the Town allows construction of permanent residences on their site, it is not financially attractive enough for them to build any tourist accommodation.

Image from Pheasant Glen Land Use Concept document submitted for “Multi-Use Lifestyle Resort Community”

Converted to plain speak, the owner would probably much prefer to subdivide the property into 200+ units, each with its own title, and a combined land value of $10 – 20 million. A majority of the units could then be sold with minimal additional capital investment by the Dutton’s Clan. Their application — as it is currently proposed — would enable that cash windfall to happen.

In the Dutton Golf Clan submission, Gray claims that “it is an accepted truism of contemporary planning theory that a successful resort development must include permanent residential accommodations.” Seldom is the word “truism” found in the same sentence as “theory.” [Once upon a time it was both a truism and a theory that the world was flat. Not to be confused with proven, immutable facts.]

Of course for developers the least risk, highest and quickest financial return on land not yet zoned for residential is to somehow get it zoned for residential, and then subdivide, sell and/or build on some or all of the resulting individual lots. This, however, does not necessarily translate into commensurate benefits for the host community, and often can result in unanticipated impacts, long-term operational headaches and/or financial drain.

Why is this proposal being rushed through Council in such an unseemly haste?

The current Dutton Clan development application came before Council for first reading on January 13, 2021. Council agreed to pass it on for comment by the Advisory Planning Commission, BUT only after there was “confirmation that the proposed first phase will include: a club house; a brew pub or tap house; a tourism focused [whatever that means] lodge with a minimum of 40 rooms [they probably meant 40 guest suites]; a minimum of 60 units of villas and/or cottages; and a confirmation of trails connecting the golf course and the community trail network.”

“This is a beautiful opportunity to kill this ongoing problem of Council trying to deal with the aspects of the population of Qualicum who are adamant about this staying where it is and the more enlightened individuals who understand that this property will sit stagnant forever without some changes to the approach.”

Qualicum Beach Advisory Planning Commission (APC) Chair Bill Scott

Just a confirmation — no Performance Bond, no prescribed penalty if the developer doesn’t follow-through according to plan and promise; setting the community up for yet another failure by a developer to follow through on its “commitments”. In the commercial world it would be considered a contract breach exposing legal liability to enter into an agreement but fail to follow though with agreed upon terms, but many residents of Qualicum Beach will recall other “pig in a poke” failures that were permitted by previous Councils, with no remedies.

The Pheasant Glen resort proposal brought to Council by the Dutton Golf Clan is only half-baked. See for yourself. Here is the “Land Use Concept” submitted for their proposed “Multi-Use Lifestyle Resort Community”.

In his report to Council, Town Planner Luke Sales acknowledged that “Given that the proposal is completely flexible in terms of tenure, building style, and where the buildings will be sited, staff cannot do a complete analysis of the proposal appropriate to a zoning amendment review. … Staff recommend advancement of the OCP amendment, which sets the framework for a more flexible integration of permanent residential use. However, staff recommend deferring the zoning amendment until there is clarity around the permitted uses, where the buildings will be sited, and how the tourism potential of the site will [be] retained.” [our emphasis]

Converted to plain speak, Mr. Sales wisely suggested, with the concurrence of CAO Daniel Sailland, that the major OCP issue be dealt with first, before Town staff attempted to work out any specific zoning revisions or exemptions for the property. In other words, unless and until the Town agreed (with, one would hope, the informed support of its residents) to allow permanent residential use for one or more units at that site, there is no reason or benefit to delve into the thicket of property development constraints to be included in zoning by-law revisions.

Council refused to accept this Planning Department recommendation, and pushed the Land Use by-law amendment through its first reading too.

What did the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) have to say?

Bottom line: The APC agreed with the Planning Department recommendation to deal with the main OCP issue first, and to defer any consideration of the details of the application, concluding unambiguously “THAT the Advisory Planning Commission supports the application for 1025 Qualicum Road in principle, and recommends Council, through a public process, to revise Section 2.2.6 Rural, Policy 9 of the current Official Community Plan, to allow “flexible tenure”, i.e. permanent residential and tourist accommodation on this property, prior to considering this application, or any subsequent revisions thereto.” [our emphasis]

Readers are encouraged to listen to both the Pheasant Glen application presentation and the subsequent discussion by APC members about the project.

The APC’s explicit encouragement of public consultation regarding the OCP restriction on permanent residency at the Pheasant Glen site is to be commended. However, several comments by APC members call into question the APC’s objectivity, including:

  • “We need Council to make a definitive answer on the OCP [policy 9 in section 2.2.6]. Then, once that’s there, it clears this application to go forward without any hitches.”
  • “We need to tell Council to consult with the public to make revisions to that section [of the OCP] so that this application would then be in compliance with the OCP.”
  • “This is a worthwhile project to go forward once the obstacle of the OCP is overcome (or not).” [our emphasis]

APC chair Bill Scott revealed considerable bias and probably lost credibility with many community members when he enthusiastically declared: “This is a beautiful opportunity to kill this ongoing problem of Council trying to deal with the aspects of the population of Qualicum who are adamant about this staying where it is and the more enlightened individuals who understand that this property will sit stagnant forever without some changes to the approach.” Wow.

Apparently, there is only one viewpoint and one approach that should prevail in Qualicum Beach — damn the torpedoes, developers rule, regardless of what residents and taxpayers think.

These comments all came after what could be considered the most significant exchange during this APC meeting. Commissioner Petronella Vander Valk posed an excellent question to the Dutton Clan’s hired promoter Nigel Gray following his presentation: “Can you provide any guarantee that there will be [any] actual tourist accommodation within the resort area?”

What incentive is motivating Wiese and company to stampede through this March 31st Public Hearing? The optics are not good and reflect badly, not just on Mayor Wiese, but on our entire Town.

Gray’s response: “100% of the units on the property will be available for tourist accommodation. We can guarantee that.” A clever answer? Yes. An honest answer? No. What Gray failed to add, however, was that any given unit would be available for short-term visitor occupancy if, and ONLY if, the individual unit owner chooses to make their unit available.

Each property owner could reside year-round in their unit and never rent it to anyone. They might go abroad for four months each winter and either leave the unit unoccupied, or loan it to a relative wanting to escape the polar vortex in Alberta, or list it with VRBO or AirBnB, or could choose to make it available as part of a resort rental pool. Or, they may purchase a unit simply as an investment, or to have a ready retirement place when they finally get their gold watch. Meantime, the property owner might rent it (or not) directly to hand-picked long term residents.

APC Commissioner Vander Valk wisely asked the appropriate follow-up question: “What if no one decides to rent their unit out?” Gray’s response: “That’s the nature of a free market economy.”  So much for the guarantee – kinda sounds like one of those warranties that is good for the lifetime of the product. Along with “we’ll keep as much tree canopy as we can”, and in response to the question “Is there a timeframe for building out beyond phase one?”, Gray answers “The market will dictate that.” All this malarkey sounds a tad too much like a penny stock promotion by a pump-and-dump pro from Howe Street. Bottom line:  Gray’s performance had all the earmarks of a pig-in-a-poke pitch to a gullible or compliant audience without providing any actual substance or commitment.

What about Community Amenity Contributions?

Since the subject of community amenity contributions has become a hot topic for the on-going Todsen / Happach development application, it is worthwhile analyzing what we know about potential amenities that the community would stand to gain from this Pheasant Glen resort proposal.

The Town has not yet set its price. If it were to follow the “50% of land lift” Todsen / Happach approach, given the assessed value of the parcel today at about $4 million (according to BC Assessment), the resulting land value with permissive zoning for 200+ sub-divided units would likely be at least $14 million (back-of-the-napkin calculation), resulting in a contribution to the Town of roughly $5 million (i.e., 50% of the $10 million uplift in value).

Gray provided an estimate of the number of long-term (post-construction) jobs that this development application would result in during his presentation to the APC on February 17, 2021. Twelve. That’s right, potentially a whopping dozen new jobs.

Attempting to pre-empt such a levy, what is the property owner and applicant offering?

Two thousand dollars per “unit”, payable only when someone applies for a permit to construct the “unit”. In other words, a maximum of 225 x $2,000 = $450,000 or, as a third grader would tell us, about a tenth of what’s reasonable. And, the Town might be waiting a long, long time to collect on each “unit” depending on when, or if, the owner applies for a permit. Another pig-in-a-poke.

But wait, there is a second option suggested by the applicant. How about, instead, two cabins designated as “Affordable [Resort] Employee Housing?” No indication what Gray and the Golf Clan believe is the definition of “affordable.” But the more relevant question would be, why not pay resort employees a living wage so they would be free to avail themselves of other market rental housing in and around the community? Speaking of resort employees …

How many new hospitality sector jobs would come with this resort?

Gray provided an estimate of the number of long-term (post-construction) jobs that this development application would result in during his presentation to the APC on February 17, 2021. Twelve.

That’s right, potentially a whopping dozen new jobs. Reservations, event marketing and coordination, cooks, servers, bartenders, room service, housekeeping, bookkeeping, maintenance, groundskeepers, security, drivers etc. Grand total: 12 jobs … maybe. Keep in mind, having a single person at the front desk of a 24 x 7 hotel operation requires four full-time people each working a 42 hour week.

That tiny item in the presentation was, to this observer, the ultimate ‘tell’ about the real gist of the Clan’s intentions. Perhaps the lack of a sincere attempt to create a real destination resort at Pheasant Glen explains why neither the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce nor the Parksville & Qualicum Beach Tourism Association are publicly drumming up any support for the project. Or maybe the Parksville resorts don’t want the competition.

Will the public be consulted?

The next time that Qualicum Beach revises its Official Community Plan (OCP), the denizens of the Town might decide that they really need an isolated, condensed, gated pocket residential community south of Rupert Road, comprised of a few hundred detached single storey boxes sprawling over the 50+ acres. That is not what the public decided when the current OCP was constructed less than five years ago.

Will there be a fulsome public discussion, thoughtfully analyzing all of the related implications of what’s currently being proposed? And if so, when?

Qualicum Beach Council has decreed that BOTH the OCP and the zoning amendments be the subject of concurrent Public Hearings on March 31, 2021 convened for 10:00 am — against the recommendations of senior Town managers as well as the Advisory Planning Commission. Once Mayor Wiese’s gavel comes down to end the Public Hearings, the public is prohibited from any further communication about  the proponent’s application with any member of Council. Public transparency and accountability get discarded, but of course Town staff and Council would be free to continue their private discussions behind closed doors with the Golf Clan Holdings agents and promoters.

March Madness – Qualicum Beach style

Those of us who have worked in the public sector recall, not-so-fondly, the annual chaos of March 31 — getting pushed by vendors to just sign the contract, issue the purchase order, or at least issue a letter-of-intent so they could get their month-end bonus. And getting pushed by management to get goods received before fiscal year-end, lest available budget goes unspent. March madness.

Which begs the question:  What incentive is motivating Wiese and company to stampede through this March 31st Public Hearing? The optics are not good and reflect badly, not just on Mayor Wiese, but on our entire Town.

The future lies in the hands of Qualicum Beach residents — to mutely acquiesce or to demand transparent, accountable and responsible government.