Gibsons council will consider a development variance permit for a six-storey mixed-use building at the former Irwin Motel site in January.
The 21-metre building at 826 Gibsons Way would set a precedent as the tallest building in Gibsons, said a staff report for a Dec. 6 committee of the whole. The next tallest buildings would be at the corner of Soames Place and Gibsons Way (15 metres from average natural grade) and the one under construction at 1000 Venture Way (18 metres from average natural grade).
The application is asking for a nine-metre height variance so as to build two buildings rather than one block. Planner Kate Thomas said at the Dec. 6 meeting that the proposal reduces the building’s footprint, maximizes the green space, provides “a little bit more liveability” and “slightly less shadowing” for neighbours.
Along with commercial spaces, the building is to include 86 residential rental units – a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Inclusion of rental accommodations in the complex isn’t guaranteed, council heard. As this is a development variance permit, not a rezoning, the town cannot require a housing agreement to bind the developer into offering rentals.
Developer Julian Burtnick of Shazach Holdings Inc. said that the market will determine what kind of housing there will be. ”We're building with the idea of rentals. But we're not going to limit it to rentals only,” he said.
“The height is purely architectural and making a better living site,” said Burtnick. “The units over the height restriction can be easily distributed onto the ground areas and have the same number of units.”
Burtnick also said that they hadn’t maximized the allowable density on the site.
What about 'small town character'
Coun. Annemarie De Andrade raised concerns about “small town character” and the precedent a building of such height could set.
Coun. David Croal said that for him there are only three buildings in the upper village that would fit “small town” characterization (the old school house, St. Bart’s Church and the Heritage Playhouse). Balancing the need for housing and distaste for sprawl eating into green spaces, Croal supported the project.
Coun. Stafford Lumley said he saw this as a town “upgrade” in the more commercial Upper Gibsons area.
Coun. Christi Thompson echoed Croal’s comments, saying that Upper Gibsons is a developing area and this proposal feels like “it's moving in the direction of where the community is going up there.”
What about the people who live there
Asked about displacing the people living at the site, Burtnick said that they notified the tenants last year, around November or December, of impending eviction in or around spring 2023.
“We run a deficit with the people that are there,” said Burtnick. “And the quality of buildings is, most of them are close to uninhabitable.”
“I believe affordable housing…[it] falls back on the town and the governments to do that and not the private developers,” said Burtnick. He added that at the company’s development at 1000 Venture Way (the aforementioned 18-metre high structure) is locked into a 30-year rental covenant. “They're not affordable, but they're market rents,” he said.
Mayor Silas White said that BC Housing has visited the site twice and met with the residents and that the town has been pushing to make those residents a priority for supportive housing.
“Rentals are very difficult right now and they're going to get more difficult,” he said. Among the obstacles to building rentals Burtnick listed: inflation in labour and material costs, high interest rates and municipal, provincial and federal governments adding to building costs “almost on a daily basis."
“And you have banks limiting financing to them, unless you go through somewhere like CMHC. But the fees are enormous.”
“We essentially subsidize these rentals for probably the first 10 to 15 years of the buildings,” said Burtnick.
At the Dec. 15 special meeting, council approved sending the proposal out to neighbours for comment. The decision of whether or not to issue the permits is set to come forward at the next council meeting in January.