After two controversial community dialogue sessions earlier this year, Pemberton’s Committee of the Whole heard a presentation on a Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS) affordable housing project on Tuesday, May 17.
The project, as proposed, will be a five-storey, 63-unit housing development with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units as well as ground-floor commercial space, located on the corner of Harrow Road and Highway 99.
According to SSCS, 30 per cent of the units will be market rentals, 50 per cent will be “rent geared to income” (or subsidized units for households that meet BC Housing limits), and 20 per cent will be “deep subsidy,” or geared to those with low incomes.
The need for affordable housing in Pemberton is pronounced, as the community continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, with 32-per-cent growth in the last five years, according to Stats Canada’s most recent census.
“We need to recognize that growth needs to be accommodated with … housing, and housing needs for vulnerable working populations,” said SSCS director of housing Jessie Abraham. “We know that rent rates are now unattainable for the average individual or family. In the past 10 years, rents have increased by 74 per cent and we know that there’s a critical lack of affordable housing supply.”
According to Abraham, in addition to addressing the housing crisis, the project will also address the increasing need for social services in the community when SSCS moves its office to the new commercial space on the ground floor of the building.
The development process began a few years ago, with the first step being to find a suitable location for the new building. According to Peter Gordon, owner of Cascadia Consulting, throughout the search for a location, the following research—which whittled the location pool to six—and the consultation with “a number of landowners … we were only able to come up with one site that remained out of the six,” with that one site being Harrow Road.
The next step involved applying for funding from BC Housing. And out of 73 communities applying for the same funding for more than 13,000 housing units across the province, the Harrow Road project was one of 14 approved to go forward.
“Only 19 per cent of those units were approved by BC Housing, and Pemberton was fortunate to be one of these,” Gordon said. “This is no small achievement, especially given we were the only application that also needed funding to purchase the land. That is rare. So in this case, BC Housing will pay 100 per cent of the cost of this project. Again, rare.”
However, that “rare” level of funding and collaboration from BC Housing, in addition to the upcoming quiet period for council over the summer months and the looming election in the fall, has created an urgency to move the process forward before the upcoming election or else risk losing the funding and the project altogether.
“No one invited this problem, but it is real. We have a very tight and short timeframe to achieve our zoning, or we will lose the opportunity to take advantage of the BC Housing funding. It will go to another community. [Circling] back to what I said about BC Housing also funding the land purchase, they will only do so once the land has the appropriate zoning in place,” said Gordon about the year-end closing date of the land purchase and the unwillingness of the vendor to extend the purchase window a second time.
“So we must have a third reading ahead of council closing down for that election, as there will not be sufficient time after the election to schedule a public hearing and third reading, other consultations with other agencies, and then hand it back to BC Housing for processing the funding prior to completion date.”
In the SSCS presentation to the Committee of the Whole, Casey Clerkson, principal at CPA Development Consultants, which is working with SSCS on the project, made it clear that the proponents made sure to address each of the community’s concerns regarding the building, which were raised at the community dialogue sessions earlier this year, including building height, parking, drainage and the proximity to the neighbouring community to the north.
“We very much want to hear what the public has to say, how they feel, and identify some of their concerns. We are here to listen, we are here to work with staff and we are here to work with the community on ensuring that we have the most appropriate proposal,” said Clerkson.
Since the community sessions, the proponents have shifted the entire site plan to create more of a buffer between the project and the adjacent neighbourhood, engaged a third-party transportation engineer to ensure appropriate parking needs will be met, and retained the services of a civil engineer to come up with a stormwater management plan.
“And I think one of the loudest pieces that we heard, of course, is around the height,” Clerkson said, noting that many of the questions raised related to the need for the building to be five storeys.
“Why not a four-storey? We looked at this and due to the flood construction level, we would have to import about 2.75 metres of fill on this site, where an exemption would be permitted for the commercial use as [currently] proposed [with the five-storey]. So the ultimate height difference between a four-storey building and the proposed five-storey building is actually less than five feet.
“So I just I want to ensure the team here listening today, that we are listening, and we are hoping, and wanting to respond accordingly.”
While Councillor Amica Antonelli was still concerned about potential flooding in the area and felt “frustrated” by the rushed timeline of the proposal, the committee ultimately agreed to move forward with the proposal and direct staff to continue processing the application as is.
Any remaining concerns with the project will be deliberated at a future special meeting scheduled for late August.Read more at www.sscs.ca/programs/harrowroad.