Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station, a proposed state-of-the-art research and education facility, received a unanimous decision by Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors to go ahead with its zoning amendment application.
At the Oct. 11 planning committee when the decision was made, former Pender Harbour director Frank Mauro called it “a really important first step in getting it built.”
“The entire community is very, very keen on this project,” he said.
Before construction can begin, Ruby Lake Lagoon Nature Reserve Society, which is organizing the project, needs to get permission from the SCRD to allow it to build and operate an aquarium, a restaurant, gift shop, auditorium, research laboratories, conference centre, dive centre, offices and a caretaker’s residence. That permission will require an amendment to Pender Harbour’s new Official Community Plan, which was adopted in October.
As part of the rezoning application, the SCRD received a preliminary overview of the project, including building design, infrastructure and environmental management.
“Initial studies for the project indicate that the development is feasible,” said senior planner Yuli Siao at the meeting, before adding that more details, such as transportation plans and servicing options, are needed before the application moves ahead.
The board voted to refer the introductory report to the Pender Harbour Advisory Planning Commission for further review and then to introduce the bylaw amendments at a future planning committee meeting.
According to architect Jeremiah Deutsche, who is working with the Lagoon Society on the project, construction could start in the fall of 2019. Before then, the project needs to get through the rezoning process, which includes finalizing traffic and storm surge studies, followed by final drawings.
The PODS project is projected to cost $27 million with a 26 per cent contingency at Vancouver prices, said Michael Jackson, PODS executive director. “We still expect it to come in at around $20 million,” he said.
Jackson said the organization is also working on finalizing a business plan, which could be released in time for Christmas, along with the organization’s new website. So far they have raised about $3.5 million and are planning to launch what Jackson called “a huge fundraising campaign” that has been two years in the making, starting January next year.
“It was not possible to start raising capital funds for the building until we owned the land and have all the necessary permits and permissions in place to begin building,” he said.
Deutsche said the permitting process was delayed slightly because the Pender Harbour Advisory Commission did not meet in October.
If the application makes it past first reading at the board, staff have recommended that two public information meetings be held to discuss the project, one in Madeira Park and another in immediate proximity to the Irvines Landing neighbourhood, where construction is slated to take place.