Naked Naturals – tangled web spun by Town staff, next move Council Nov 17

The Town’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC) met to review the Naked Naturals proposal on September 21, 2021. While generally supportive of the concept, the APC commissioners had a number of concerns about the details. The commissioners asked for several improvements, and specifically requested “that the APC be given the opportunity to review the proposed modifications to the entire development design.”

“One of my main concerns as well is the other half of the project. It’s really hard to understand how this is going to work without knowing what is the other half of the project. What is that ‘town square’? How do you get under it and into this building? We’re really only being presented with half of a project…”

Andrew Brown, Advisory planning commission

However, Town planner Rebecca Augustyn, with the concurrence of her boss Luke Sales, balked at the request of the Town’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC) to review the revised design for the proposed new Naked Naturals grocery store project and, instead, recommended that Council give second reading and proceed directly to a Public Hearing. Planning director Sales acknowledged during the regular Council meeting of October 27, 2021 that this would prevent the APC from having an opportunity to review the revised design. The Town planners gave no explanation for their dismissal of the APC request for a second APC review.

Council expressed appreciation for the APC’s work, and unanimously rejected the Town planners’  attempt to deny the APC a second look. Both second reading and the subsequent Public Hearing were postponed until after the APC completed their second review.

In a previous article, Bus Garage property development hobbled by Town foot-dragging, Second Opinion QB reviewed this proposed development of a new Naked Naturals grocery store, which includes apartments and a restaurant on the second floor, based on the architect’s presentation to the APC on September 21, 2021.

The staff report for Council review, attached to the October 27 agenda, included the APC’s recommendations as well as a summary of design improvements that were being proposed as a result. NOT addressed in the staff report was the APC’s request for “a unified landscape plan for the entire bus garage area, additional residential units, revised upper floor plans, or additional elevators.”

Trucking issue now on Council’s radar

In our previous article we noted the absence of attention by planners, Council, and the APC to the issue of trucks. We can now report that trucks have become a recognized issue. In fact, Council spent the first 10 minutes of their October 27, 2021 discussion (tune in at the 1:04:00 mark of the video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkI5b-Ry2NE on the issue of trucks, starting with Councillor Westbroek’s question: “Is there a way for us to look at changing the approach to the loading dock that would have less concerns for the people who live in that area?”

Unfortunately the ensuing trucking discussion was narrowly focussed on the beep-beep-beep factor of trucks backing into the store’s docks, without attention to the equally disturbing noises (engine, brakes, compressors) and the noxious fumes of delivery trucks and waste haulers.

Surprisingly, Council did not ask the obvious question why trucks wouldn’t be entering and exiting via Fern Road, as is the case with other large volume retailers such as Qualicum Foods and the Liquor Store.

Plan for the entire Town Square suspiciously missing

The Advisory Planning Commission is understandably vexed by the absence of a defined context (aka the “Town Square”) into which the proposed store development is supposed to be integrated.

When Councillor Scott Harrison asked the Planning department: “Do you have a rough timeline of when we might see some updates on the Town Square?,” Luke Sales was coy and non-committal. Sales stated, “the Town has engaged an urban designer… they are working on that right now… we’re not there on the details, but that process is started.”

This is the kind of vague response that Luke Sales has been giving for months about the Bus Garage – Town Square project; so much so that this foot-dragging by the Town planners appears to be intentional.

Second APC review yields candour, clarity but perplexity remains

The Town is to be commended for providing public access to APC discussions. All participants (APC commissioners, architects, project proponents) are to be commended for their candour and clarity in making suggestions, their sensitivity to the public interest, all while respectfully defending their positions.

As can be observed in the recording of their second meeting (November 3, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRpwza2LsRs, the APC again posed several design concerns and suggestions to architect Carsten Jensen and project proponent Kris Baker, co-owner of Naked Naturals Whole Foods.

This image and the image below both purport to show the proposed building plan at the same corner of Memorial and Fern (from different angles). Yet, the images show vastly different space allotted for the chunk of “Town Square” space that would supposedly be adjacent to Fern. Which illustration is correct?

As anticipated, APC commissioners remain frustrated by the as yet still unknown “Town Square” context/plan being conjured up, apparently in secret, by Luke Sales and the urban planner(s), sharing none of the specifics with the APC, and perhaps not even with Naked Naturals, the project proponents.

APC Commissioner Walter Hoogland, attempting to find a better process, stated: “I see a huge opportunity here for the Town of Qualicum Beach, its urban planner, and Naked Naturals to do something so we can get it right. The way it sits right now, it’s not right. It’s just not going to work, and I can’t support it.”

Birds-eye view looking south-east (Memorial Ave and Fern Road intersection is at upper left). Naked Naturals proposal for Bus Garage – Town Square property, Qualicum Beach, BC.

When asked by APC meeting chair Andrew Brown to be specific about what doesn’t work, Hoogland explained: “The urban planning around the site and the project itself — they don’t marry to each other right now. And we have to look at it as an Advisory Planning Commission, and the works and services to this site need to be addressed. They are not addressed.”

Brown echoed this continuing perplexity: “One of my main concerns as well is the other half of the project. It’s really hard to understand how this is going to work without knowing what is the other half of the project. What is that ‘town square’? How do you get under it and into this building? We’re really only being presented with half of a project from the town’s point-of-view. And so our hands are kind of tied.”

Perhaps that’s exactly what Town management wants. Hands tied, eyes blindfolded. The public is left to wonder whose agenda is driving what will eventually emerge in this premier Qualicum Beach location. Readers can go the Town’s website to see what information is being shared about the Town’s work regarding this property over the past ten months at https://www.qualicumbeach.com/_commons. But, there is little to learn there.

On that webpage is a list of “key landmarks”, where Town planner Luke Sales includes a single bullet “Feb 2021 – Working Groups formed to discuss how best to engage remaining Town land for amenities and parking.” Sales provides no information about: Who selected the members of these working groups? What were/are their qualifications? Whose interests are they accountable to represent? What tasks were they assigned? What are their deliverables? What is their work schedule? To whom do they report? And, specifically, since they are planning and designing things, what is their expected working relationship with the Advisory Planning Commission?

The lack of transparency about this whole exercise is disappointing, and fosters public distrust. Even downtown resident Marlys Diamond, who seldom criticizes the Town’s leadership, recently commented on this opacity stating that “little is known about the special group that has been working with it [the project] behind the scenes.”

Truck access apparently dictated by Town engineer fiat?

One unsubstantiated Town position did surface during the second APC meeting. Unlike the first APC meeting where trucks were not discussed, in the second APC meeting the project architect Jensen proactively addressed truck access options, leading to a 20 minute discussion (starting about the 56:00 mark of the video).  

A startling comment went unchallenged. Jensen informed the APC that “The Town engineer definitely does not want to see trucks exiting onto Fern Road.” There is no evidence of this being a Town policy or directive — which would of course be currently breached by the Liquor Store, Qualicum Foods, Windsor Plywood and others. Town staff in attendance at this APC meeting offered no confirmation, and no suggested rationale or justification for this ghost policy.

Truck option A – Naked Naturals proposal for Town Square property.

Attempting to work within the constraints of this alleged policy directive, architect Jensen was obliged to try to rationalize truck option A, seen in the graphic here, and suggested that:

Step 1: All trucks and tractor trailers enter from Memorial Avenue onto Fourth Avenue West.

If trucks approach from the south, the turn seems barely feasible. However, if they were to approach from the north it appears that larger transports would need to move over to the far east side of Memorial Avenue, blocking (or colliding with) oncoming traffic to try to avoid bouncing over the protruding curb and landscaping at the south-east corner of the store — adjacent to what is intended to be the primary entrance for the upstairs residents of the proposed project, young children included.

Step 2: The driver now has to perform a 90 degree turn, in reverse, into the store’s dock, blinded on the driver’s side unless the trailer is equipped with a properly cleaned backup camera.

As Town Planner Luke Sales (under) stated, this is a “relatively tight” turn. For a 50 foot long trailer, this might not even be physically achievable if one of the docks is already occupied. If this truly is the plan, this accident-waiting-to-happen manoeuvre could become the most popular spectator event in Town.

Back to Council – Second Reading November 17, 2021

At the conclusion of their November 3, 2021 meeting, the Advisory Planning Commission passed the following two motions:

THAT the Advisory Planning Commission recognized that while major improvements have been made on the project, the Commission remains concerned about the following two unaddressed concerns:

1. The scale and design of entrances and flow into the residential component and relative to the restaurant space.

2. The Town’s process to ensure successful joint planning, design coordination, construction and operations of the Naked Natural project, town square project and underground parking project.

THAT the Advisory Planning Commission does not recommend advancing with a project that depends on the missing elements of the Town’s parking plan.

The Planning department’s stunning response to the APC’s concern “about advancing a building design for Naked Naturals without a more complete understanding of what will be developed on the surrounding Town land” seems to be, to paraphrase, don’t worry about it now, it’ll all get worked out later “through a collaborative design process for the remainder of the site.”

Meanwhile, second reading is re-scheduled for the November 17, 2021 regular Council meeting, with a subsequent Public Hearing recommended for December 8, 2021.