The future of a large property in East Porpoise Bay is in doubt after Sechelt council turned down first reading for the Sechelt Sustainable Community (SSC) project in a 6-1 vote March 7.
The development proposal for the 169-hectare (417-acre) property was based on a housing mix with 1,360 units as well as agricultural areas, a hotel, a waterfront shopping district and a private school campus.
SSC development manager Todd McGowan told Coast Reporter the investors will meet later this month, but a decision to go back to Sechelt council with a similar proposal is not likely.
“I view SSC as being dead,” he said. “The owners of the company are going to have to look at what the next steps are.”
McGowan estimates the group has spent as much as $2 million to get the project to this stage, including studies, events and community engagement.
“All these people that invested in this project really did it because of this sustainable concept and to create this amazing, unique community,” said McGowan. “I think they’re probably reeling a bit and shocked as I am that it didn’t move forward and the current zoning still sits there.”
The property is currently zoned for a 1,600-unit development with a golf course.
SSC filed its OCP application with the District of Sechelt in February 2015, and a zoning application later that year.
The zoning bylaw was given first reading in 2016, but council later rescinded first reading citing technical errors.
The March 7 vote followed a presentation from McGowan, and a detailed analysis by director of planning Tracy Corbett.
McGowan told councillors that the project was at a crossroads.
“Following years of significant expense and effort with limited results to date we see that we have three options,” he said. “We can proceed now with the SCC vision of creating an integrated sustainable community; we can build to the current zoning of a golf course and 1,600 homes; or we can sell the property to a third party that would most likely have little or no connection to the Sunshine Coast.”
Corbett’s analysis pointed to several concerns that would have to be addressed if council chose to go forward, such as inconsistency with Official Community Plan policies due to the growth characteristics and servicing limitations placed on the development. Those policies include the urban containment zone, the “Downtown First” vision, which says “the majority of new growth, particularly higher density residential uses,” should be in the core, and the servicing and infrastructure policies.
Corbett recommended more than 30 conditions the developer should have to meet if the project was approved.
SSC was formed in 2014 by then Sechelt mayor John Henderson, local homebuilder Clark Hamilton and a group of investors that includes current company directors Robert Smith of Vancouver, Kerry Wang of Richmond and David Nesbitt of Hong Kong.
The involvement of the man current mayor Bruce Milne defeated in the 2014 election has raised questions in some quarters about the role of politics in the decision making around the SSC proposal.
Milne addressed those questions immediately following the vote.
“I’d like to say that, if anything, it’s been just the opposite,” Milne said. “Because this was raised before the 2014 election there’s a number of people on council, myself included, who in an attempt to be absolutely objective gave more credibility and credence to this as it came forward. We tried to keep asking, and providing and working and telling our planners to help the work get through, and we didn’t get what we needed from the developers.”
However, McGowan said there’s some disbelief that the same project that got unanimous support at first reading in 2016, would fall in a 6-1 vote this year.
“Since then any information they’ve requested from SSC, we’ve given to them. They clearly thought two years ago that this was good enough to go to council and move ahead to the next step. I have no idea why when they were faced with the same information [March 7], they voted it down,” said McGowan.
At the March 7 meeting Milne noted the number of times the word “risk” came up in the planner’s report, and said, “I don’t think it’s ready. I’m going to recommend that we say yes to the vision documents that set out the values for the District of Sechelt, that we say yes to the Official Community Plan, that we say yes to the downtown business core and yes to Downtown First, and we say no to SSC for first reading or further development.”
Coun. Darnelda Siegers, the only one to vote in favour, argued that Sechelt residents should have their say.
“I think we’ve been hearing from the community for quite a while that they would like a say in this, and the only way they’re going to get that is if we give it first reading and take it to a public hearing where they can actually give us the input and let us know whether they want this to move forward or not,” said Siegers. “I’m going to be supporting this so we actually get that input.”
Councillors Doug Wright and Darren Inkster said they too would normally lean in favour of getting projects to public hearing, but in this case voted no.
“Why would I take it to the community if we’re not satisfied that this is good for Sechelt?” said Wright.
McGowan said SSC feels that if the project had been granted a public hearing, councillors would have heard directly from the community whether they felt it was good for Sechelt.
“What’s most concerning is that the mayor and councillors clearly consider that their views and opinions are more important than those of Sechelt residents. Otherwise they would have allowed those Sechelt residents to have their say at a public hearing and give their opinions,” McGowan said.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to hear what their community has to say about something that has such a large positive impact on the future of Sechelt.”