Committee asks for less institutional, more welcoming design for supportive housing project

Gibsons council’s planning and development committee wants BC Housing to rethink the design of a proposed supportive housing project on School Road.

The application for a form-and-character development permit was before the committee on Sept. 17.

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The design BC Housing has submitted for the old RCMP site at 749 School Rd. is similar to the Hightide project in Sechelt, which is a three-storey, 40-unit modular building.

Representatives from BC Housing told the committee the building’s size is dictated in many ways by the modular construction process, where sections of the building are built at a factory on the Lower Mainland.

A planning department report said the proposed design fits many of the criteria for Development Permit Area 4, but not all of them – for example, the building is not vertically stepped, has a large area of flat roof, and the end of the building facing School Road is a full three storeys, instead of the two recommended in the design criteria.

Most committee members didn’t raise many issues about the landscape plan, which calls for retaining most of the big trees on the lot, but the siding colours, accents and roofline did come in for some criticism.

“Brown,” Coun. Stafford Lumley said with an audible sigh before going on to say he thought the reliance on earth tones would make the building less welcoming, especially for residents looking to “make their life right again.” He noted an earlier design, which he preferred, included some red accent walls.

“I fully appreciate the economics you’re working with in going with a cookie-cutter design and prefab,” Coun. David Croal said, but added that he agreed with Lumley on the overall look of the building and suggested varying the siding materials and colours to make the building less linear and “a little uplifting.”

Committee member and architect Scott Keck, who submitted comments in writing, also objected to the earth-tone colour scheme and said, “More emphasis should be placed on natural wood products and wood detailing.”

And Coun. Annemarie De Andrade said BC Housing should consider incorporating some First Nations design elements and making the entrance off O’Shea Road more “welcoming.”

Mayor Bill Beamish said that while he also understands that BC Housing’s financial restraints and the desire to get as many units on the site as possible limit the ability to be more creative with the design, he wants to see something that looks less “institutional.”

He also said he didn’t think the Town should be bound by “provincial policy and objectives” for the design of a site that it would have to live with for a long time and wanted to know if a better design could be achieved by cutting the project down to 38 or 36 units.

“It’s a high profile area, and it’s an area in transition,” Beamish said. “It’s an area that is going to have a number of other buildings built along that corridor and we are going to be holding those developers to a high standard of development and we want this [project] to fit in with that high standard of development.”

The committee recommended supporting issuance of a development permit, conditional on the zoning amendments being approved, and a reworking of the design to add timber frame features, change the colour scheme, provide a more welcoming entrance and enhancing the windows to look more “homey.”

A public hearing on the zoning and Official Community Plan changes needed to allow the project to go forward was scheduled for Oct. 8, but conflicts have forced the Town to change the date. A new date will be set at the next council meeting.


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