District Acquisition Corporation is in the process of purchasing the former Alberni District Secondary School property, and is proposing to develop the now vacant lot in multiple phases.
Members of the corporation were at the city of Port Alberni’s Advisory Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, Nov. 2 to present their application for the former high school property.
District Acquisition Corporation is in the process of purchasing the property; they have put down non-refundable deposits and are waiting until Dec. 20 of this year for the sale to fully close.
The first phase of their proposed project involves a single family residential subdivision along 16th Avenue and an apartment building at the corner of Burde Street and Anderson Avenue.
The applicants have proposed amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) Bylaw and to the Zoning Bylaw to allow these changes.
The application to amend the OCP is for the entire property, by designating the majority of the site as ‘Multi-Family Residential’ and a smaller portion as ‘Residential.’ The property is currently zoned as ‘Institutional’ because of the school. The application to amend the Zoning Bylaw is proposed to be in phases.
Resident Pat Kermeen was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting to encourage the group not to change the zoning.
“This is the only large site available within the city that we can do a comprehensive development,” she said. “It can create employment, it can be very useful for the city in a variety of ways. Dividing it up and putting two small pieces of multi-family [residence] is not a good use of the property.”
Brandon Crema and Michael Nygren spoke on behalf of District Acquisition Corporation. Both Crema and Nygren grew up in Port Alberni, but worked in real estate in Vancouver before they decided to leave that company and start one of their own.
“We’re concentrating on mostly rental product and multi-family,” said Crema. “In the majority of the province, vacancy rates are at an all-time low. This is a big site and it’s a big opportunity. The property’s been sitting there a long time. We think there’s a real opportunity here.”
He added that there is an employment piece that needs to be talked about in the community at large, but it didn’t fit in with their analysis of the site, given that there is a shopping centre nearby with a lot of vacanies. “There should probably be more of a base of employment there,” he said.
Resident Dave Jarrett was concerned about where the group was getting their funding from.
“The majority of our projects are limited partnerships where we bring in outside investors, as well as ourselves investing in these,” said Crema. “We try to keep the investment dollars from the area that we’re doing business.”
In the case of this project, he said, most of the investors are from Nanaimo and Port Alberni, or people who rent vacation homes in the area.
When asked, director of development services Scott Smith said that any investors who have voting influence in any of the upcoming decisions regarding the zoning would be required to declare a conflict.
Former mayor and committee member Ken McRae said, “I know how hard it is to get people to invest in our community. Really difficult. I really congratulate you for coming back to your community.”
He asked what the timeline of the project would be, and Crema said it would be dependent upon the process.
“It’s probably a five to seven year plan to get through this project,” he said. “Maybe 10, depending on the different pieces that are brought in. We’re going to slowly work through it with a comprehensive plan at the beginning, so that it’s not piecemeal and disjointed at the end.”
John Douglas from the Port Alberni Shelter Society asked if they had any plans for building affordable housing.
“We build more market-rental product in town,” said Nygren. “That is going to naturally displace a lot of people that are in older apartment buildings. So you are inherently creating more affordable product, but it is based on the fact that you are building target product.”
Crema added that their gameplan is to build “liveable” units, with amenities such as in-suite laundry units and balconies, that can compete with new buildings in town.
Ellen Frood, the executive director of Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society, said she was concerned that the developers are “barely there” when it comes to affordable housing.
“I just want to voice a concern that there’s a critical need,” she said.
Darren DeLuca, the realtor who has been representing the applicants, talked about “the discretionary renter,” who wants to be in an apartment because they don’t want the maintenance of a house.
“It’s very much attractive housing for the community,” he said. “I think the most important thing for affordable housing is supply.”
He went on to add, “There’s a hometown premium in this project. This property has been for sale for three years. Nobody was interested in doing business in Port Alberni. The only real reason that this property is being developed right now is because these guys have an attachment to this community and they’re bringing their expertise and their ability to attract funding to the community.”
The minutes of this meeting have been passed on to Port Alberni city council, and will be received at a Tuesday, Nov. 14 meeting of council. Any amendments or developments will have to be approved by city council, and a public hearing must take place before this happens.