I bring you greetings from the city of Parksville.
I know we only have a limited time so I will attempt to provide you with a short version of Parksville 101.
I am sure most of you have already been to Parksville. If you have not visited us before, I ask what's stopping you? We are in the middle portion of Vancouver Island, a short and scenic ferry ride from Vancouver.
Our initial claim to fame is that we are a tourist area created because of our pristine sandy beaches and magnificent views in every direction.
People soon discovered the moderate climate - no snow shovel required. Amazing scenery, flat and walkable landscape and coastal ambience also provides the best place in Canada to retire to. It should be no surprise that Parksville's second industry quickly became retirement.
This sounds wonderful and it really does have many benefits.
What we didn't do, was peek into what the future would look like.
For many years we prospered and so we did not try to understand the issues an aging population.
What we really were creating was the baby boom scenario we see today, but 10 to 15 years ahead of the curve that is currently being felt by the rest of Canada.
What did we do?
Well, we did what most of the communities across the country are doing today and we put our head in the sand.
We didn't address the obvious.
We continued to do what we had been doing for the previous 20 years.
We built patio homes for 55+ ages.
We under build the density for apartments rentals.
We developed vacation rentals instead of apartment rentals. We continued to build on large lots and faced fierce opposition to heights in excess of 3 stories.
As anyone who has been to Parksville knows, the vast majority of the residents are well over 55 years old. 4 years ago our work force comprising of those individuals between the ages of 20 and 55 represented only 24% of our population. Compare that to the provincial average of 48% and you see how the problem started to build.
We have managed to improve this to 27% over the last 4 years by adding a significant number of Apartments and stratas. But we have a long way to go still.
I could bore you with a lot of statistics or just tell you the obvious, we have to increase the segment of our population that makes up the work force. In 2019, attracting young, working people to Parksville became an integral part of our one page business plan.
This brings us to todays discussions.
Even if everything else was perfect we would not be able to improve upon our demographics, we didn't have anywhere for younger families to live. The single family residences were priced at a point where very few first time buyers, or even second time owners can afford them. On top of that we were not building near enough apartments or stratas to shore up the lower priced housing market and offer a step to home ownership, or even rentals.
To make Parksville a sustainable community, one of council and staff's main goals had to be to attract young families. We had to make a concerted effort to change the demographics to a point that a minimum of 40% of our population falls into that work force demographic.
We became creative. We gave infill a whole new meaning.
We convinced coop gas to add rental units to the top of their gas station.
Who would have thought that they would have had a waiting list for the units. The tenants love it.
Clever design was used so you would not even know there is a co-op store below you.
A focus on downtown revitalization and support for the construction of multifamily homes has resulted in 1000 apartments and stratas being built in the last 4 years.
Many of the new homes are going into our downtown core or urban edge.
Council approved a zoning amendment and development permit to facilitate the conversion of a long-term empty field, a former highways dump site at the gateway into town. The owner built a large mixed use commercial development and added 85 geared to income units as well as a number of town houses. Council waived dccs, permit fees and supported the higher density development to create this gateway model neighbourhood, directly beside the health centre and an elementary school, not to mention parks and recreational trails.
Berwick developments have chosen to build a new facility next door to city hall.
We have approved changes in density to convert single family homes in our downtown use three storey buildings with commercial and professional services on the ground floor, as well as bringing people to live and work in our business district.
We have several vacant parcels around the downtown core, the city sold to a developer, and they are recurrently being upgraded to 190 residential units, 30,000sq feet of new commercial space and ring vibrancy to the entrance of our downtown. Having people live here will encourage better services. Walkable lifestyles and a new energy in our core that we hope will attract young professionals and families to our piece of paradise.
How did we make this about face and improve the numbers and types of housing options that were being built.
The first step we took, I mean within the first couple of weeks of taking office we hired a dynamic cao who put together a team that was geared to one thing. Excellence in customer service.
Don't tell the residents you can't do it, tell them how they can get it done. Staff's mantra became yes, we can.
In previous years it took weeks to get a residential building permit, it took months to get development permits and in far too many cases it sometimes took years to get rezonings, if at all.
If we were going to attract development to Parksville we had to provide what other communities were not, faster turn around times. Our average turn around time for a building permit for a single family residential building is one week and three weeks for a commercial development.
Now, we shouldn't be bending over for developers but what is fair is that they know what the expectations are when they make an application especially for development permits and rezoning. Most of the developers I talk to just want to move the project through the process so they will put together what ever is being asked of them. What I found was that initially, especially on development permits, I would hear well this staff member likes to see this in an application and this councillor doesn't like that in the application. The reality is that development permit applications requirements are specified in the local government act and it was our director of development that started to reel in all the pet peeves that had been developed over the years - we are lucky to have a fantastic planning director. He changed the mind set from one of gatekeeper to facilitator - someone who provides the necessary information that will be needed to support informed council decisions. He works with the applicants to reduce the friction and provide guidance.
Our building inspection department, on the larger buildings, only review the application to ensure the zoning requirements have been met, and no variances are required, and ensure that all the necessary paperwork has been submitted and then look for the engineer's stamp. If it is all there, we issue the permit.
On top of these items we believe that we have improved our turn around time by letting the community know we are open for business. Our reputation for providing excellent customer service and clear neutral technical advice has attracted developers from the region to our city. Many developers have multiple projects underway In Parksville.
Council has directed staff to review the feasibility of streamlining affordable housing projects by automatically applying the density established in the ocp designation for the site, even where the zoning has not caught up. For example, if the property is zoned single family residential but the ocp designates the property to be multi family with a higher density then the density for the project would match the multi family residential requirement. This would negate the need to rezone the property.
We are suggesting that we first try this out on projects for affordable housing units and see what the ramifications are.
When dealing with affordable housing we use as many incentives as we legally can, such as dcc waiver, fee waiver, permissive taxes/grants, partnerships with bc housing and other non profit organizations and yes we do donate land if the circumstances are correct.
Combine the amazing council
Willingness, open discussion, housing
We have come a long way but there is still more ground to cover. If we want Parksville to be sustainable and attract the diverse demographics that will make Parksville healthy, we need to continue to focus on what our community needs are without housing, there is no community.