Despite an attempt by Coun. Hugh MacKinnon to reconfigure the building from five to four storeys, Comox council approved Wednesday the development of the Lorne Hotel project.
The project has been at the centre of public opinion for more than a year, and gained momentum from those both for and against the proposed five-storey building following a public hearing earlier this month.
Last fall, rezoning and development permit applications were given first and second reading by council for a five-storey mixed-use building – the first of its size in Comox.
The project would feature a pub/bistro on the first floor, and a variety of condos from 700 to 1,500 square feet on the remaining floors.
In late November, the town hosted a public open house for the proposed development where residents came out in droves to view the latest architectural drawings and ask questions to the project manager Shawn Vincent and architect Harry Whitfield.
As a result of the feedback and comments from the open house, Vincent addressed council in early April with the latest design changes for the commercial/resident building.
“I have heard from many they want the project to go forward, but many do not support the five storeys on that small lot size,” explained MacKinnon, who noted the building will be with the town for the next 40 to 50 years.
“Let’s give a little bit more time to get it right.”
He proposed a motion to ask the developers to return with a proposal that is four, rather than five floors, and to continue with the Comox By The Sea maritime theme and with historical reference to the Lorne.
It was supported by Coun. Barbara Price, who added she heard a variety of reasons from the public as to why the building should not proceed as proposed, including height, inappropriate design, too little parking and that it would forever change the rural look of the town.
“I supported the motion to change to the project. We do need to look at the public for their views,” she explained.
Both Couns. Marg Grant and Ken Grant opposed MacKinnon’s motion.
“There’s another point we need to consider – that we’ve had one application to build the Lorne. If in fact, we were to send out a message to future investors that well, yes, we’re open to business, but this is going to complicate the application, what kind of message does that give to future investors?” said Marg.
“You make it sound like we can just lop a storey off; it’s just a simple little tweak to a plan at the very ‘nth’ hour,” added Ken Grant.
“This is a major change to this building – this will send them back to re-plan and redesign the entire building. There’s no chance that these guys are going to go ahead if we’re going to do that. To bring this at this time, I think is wrong.”
MacKinnon argued in the sprit of compromise, it was important to consider feedback from the public hearing, and that in the past, council has made changes to projects following a public hearing.
Ken Grant replied while that has happened, changes have never been to a major portion of a project.
“Compromise will kill this project, and you’ll end up with a vacant lot. Compromise should have been brought forward way earlier in the process.”
Richard Kanigan, the town’s chief administrative officer confirmed if council did indeed vote in favour of the new motion, the project would require another public hearing because the change to the project would be significant.
Coun. Russ Arnott noted council was voted in to make hard decisions, and questioned if 45 years from now, if a five-storey building will be much of an issue.
“I didn’t get into this gig to have everybody like me. I’ll do my best. To sit here and try to appease everybody, we cannot do it. None of us here can do that, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
MacKinnon’s motion was defeated 4-2, with Price and MacKinnon voting in favour. Mayor Paul Ives was not present for the vote or any previous discussions of the project due to a declared conflict of interest.
Comox Zoning Bylaw Amendment No.1791 and Comox Phased Development Agreement Bylaw No. 1792 for 1770 Comox Avenue passed third reading 4-2, with Couns. Arnott, Ken Grant, Marg Grant and Acting Mayor Maureen Swift voting in favour.
After the meeting, developer Shawn Vincent said he feels the project is going to be the centrepiece the community is hoping for.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people in the community and at the end of the day, we really have compromised. We’ve heard the concerns of the local people, but we’re not building a building not just for today, this is a building that is going to be there for 45, 50 years.”
He added if paperwork and planning goes smoothly over the summer, construction could begin in the fall.