Qualicum Beach residents are casting ballots in a byelection Saturday to fill the council seat vacated by Adam Walker, who was elected last year as NDP MLA for Parksville Qualicum
Like many communities on Vancouver Island, the waterfront town of close to 9,000 residents, many of whom are retirees, is facing a shortage of affordable housing, and as home prices rise, it’s evaluating applications for major development projects.
One example is a rezoning proposal for the Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, which would include 225 housing units in a mix of forms, with some hotel rooms and apartments. A brew pub, native gardens and trails are among its proposed features.
The town is also dealing with a doctor shortage and considering a proposal for a temporary housing shelter on municipal land.
Five candidates — including a former stunt double for Arnold Schwarzenegger — are vying for the seat on the council, which made headlines when a first-term councillor recently took a two-month medical leave of absence after describing the council atmosphere as toxic.
The council now consists of a mayor and four councillors, but given the scope of matters coming before it, candidate Brian Denbigh — who retired in 2018 as Nanaimo’s manager of road and traffic services and superintendent of sanitation and moved to Qualicum — says it’s time to add two more councillors.
Denbigh, who also spent 11 years as an auxiliary RCMP officer in Nanaimo, figures his professional experience would make him a good resource on council. Denbigh said he listens and does his research before taking a position. “I never make a rash decision.”
Candidate Sarah Duncan, a branch manager with Coastal Community Credit Union, is calling for development of multigenerational affordable housing in Qualicum. Seniors are scrimping on food costs because of the cost of a mortgage or rental home and young people are living unhoused outdoors, she said.
The benchmark value in April for a single-family house for Parksville-Qualicum was $743,400, up by 16 per cent from a year ago. That’s the highest of the regions within the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s area, which covers the Island north of the Malahat.
“You can go on any social-media platform and people are looking for a home to rent,” Duncan said, noting some post photos of their families, because “they can’t find somewhere to live and they’re desperate.”
Duncan, a former chair of the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Parksville Qualicum Community Foundation, says she supports the community’s planned East Village revitalization, fostering the arts, encouraging tourism and supporting seasonal and residential housing in new projects to support the local economy.
City hall’s plan to hire a communications consultant is welcomed by Duncan, who suggests offering apps for electronic devices with information on topics such as when roadworks are being undertaken or when it’s garbage collection day.
Peter Kent, a real estate agent who served as Schwarzenegger’s stunt double for 15 years, said his previous experience serving on Squamish council has given him a familiarity with municipal process and procedure, an advantage when joining city council part-way through the term. “I understand codes of conduct and budgeting and official community plans and all of those things.”
He, too, supports the East Village development plan and welcomes other ideas to create mixed-use areas, including affordable housing.
Kent questions the location of a proposed temporary dry housing project for people coming off the streets, planned for municipal land near the public works facility.
Kent, who believes the facility is needed, suggests considering the use of airport lands instead.
Kent’s history includes hosting the Gemini-award winning TV show Stuntdawgs, which grew out his more than 30-year experience in film and television.
In the 2018 election, former councillor Anne Skipsey ran for the mayor’s job, now held by Mayor Brian Wiese, after serving as a councillor since 2014. She now hopes to re-join council in the byelection.
Skipsey, daughter of Art Skipsey, who served as Qualicum Beach’s mayor for a dozen years, earned a degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University and spent 15 years working for the City of Burnaby.
Skipsey was at the forefront of last year’s campaign to save the 1938 St. Andrew’s Lodge, which council had ordered removed. In the end, council held off and a society was established to upgrade and preserve the lodge.
Skipsey, who volunteers in the community, supports growth and development but is concerned that council deviates too much from the official community plan. She is also advocating a tree- and vegetation-management plan. “Almost every municipality in the province has one. So we’re definitely lagging behind in that regard.”
Jean Young, a long-time resident of Qualicum Beach and owner of Arbutus Fashion and Lifestyle, was a leader in setting up Qualicum Beach’s summer market downtown. Last year, it was cancelled because of the pandemic, but she hopes it will run again this year in some form.
Young is concerned about seniors who find themselves priced out of the local rental housing market, and advocates opening therapeutic farms for people in need, pointing out there are many in Europe.
She also said all building projects should incorporate green initiatives.
The first advance poll was held May 5. Another one is set for today.