Port Alberni residents expressed concern during a Dec. 5 public hearing about development plans for the former Alberni District Secondary School lands.
District Acquisitions Corporation is in the process of purchasing the 23-acre property on Burde Street that used to house the old high school, and is proposing to develop the now vacant lot in multiple phases.
The applicants have proposed amendments to the Official Community Plan (OCP) Bylaw and to the Zoning Bylaw to allow the first phase of their proposed project—a single family residential subdivision along 16th Avenue and an apartment building at the corner of Burde Street and Anderson Avenue.
More than two dozen residents attended the public hearing last Tuesday, and a few of them brought forward concerns such as the impact on the neighbourhood and view, loss of sun during the winter months due to the apartment building’s height, drainage issues and the need for weed control on the site.
One of the most common concerns seemed to be for traffic and parking, especially near the intersection at 10th Avenue and Burde Street.
Mayor Mike Ruttan, the former principal at ADSS, noted that this intersection has been an issue for a while.
“That intersection has been problematic for generations,” he said on Tuesday. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at.”
Brandon Crema was in council chambers to represent District. He said that although a traffic study might be required for the development, it might not be necessary immediately.
“A high school typically creates a lot more traffic,” he pointed out.
Resident Bob Kanngiesser said he hopes the developers and council make a good effort to make sure the development is right for the city’s needs. “This site is one of the last large developable properties in the city,” he pointed out.
He added that the city needs affordable housing, and he would like to see the site zoned for residential community, so that it can accommodate assisted living, private living and residential care homes.
“What really concerns me is there’s not really a firm development plan,” he said. “I encourage council not to let it get cut off.”
Crema said that he and his business partner, Michael Nygren, were born and raised in Port Alberni, and have returned to the community after spending some time in Vancouver.
“We’ve come back to try and bring something good to the community,” he explained.
The lack of a “firm” development plan, he said, is intentional. “We have been taking a soft approach to it,” he said. “This is one of the last big properties in the city.”
He and Nygren have been looking at what is happening in town, especially in terms of vacancy rates, and have determined that there is a need for this type of development to alleviate some of the rental concerns. New market-value rental stock will make older stock available, he added.
They have included a space in their plan for seniors type living. In terms of care facilities, Crema said he and Nygren have been looking into the possibility.
“We have been looking into it, but it’s very complicated,” he said. “It’s not our area of expertise. We have talked to some of the user groups in town. We are willing to have conversations.”
They see the space as a complete development, and plan to eventually use the whole property, rather than just pieces of it.
“We want it to be a success for the city, and in order to do that, we have to meet the demand,” he said.
He went into detail about their plans for some of the single-family homes. Many of the lots will be larger than a quarter of an acre, with larger housing and parking. They also plan to maintain green space. They have also completed a sun study on the potential apartment complex, to ensure that shadowing doesn’t leave the property. There will be resident and visitor parking on site, to help cut down on some of the parking and traffic concerns around the area. Crema and Nygren plan to build, retain ownership of and responsibility for the management of the building.
Crema said they have been advised by a multitude of consultants. “We think that this is executable,” he said. “We think this is a good plan.”
District brought this plan to the Advisory Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, Nov. 2, where it was supported and passed on to council.
Any amendments to the OCP Bylaw and to the Zoning Bylaw will have to be approved by city council at a regular council meeting before the development can take place.