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VIU students research Cumberland’s past, future

Specific practicum topics were King George Hotel’s significance, densification incentives
The site of the King George Hotel in Cumberland. Photo by Mike Chouinard

On a stretch of Dunsmuir Avenue in downtown Cumberland, there are two properties that point to the community’s past and its potential future.

At 2723 Dunsmuir stands the old King George Hotel, a fixture downtown for much of the community’s history.

Right next door, work has started on a new multi-family, mixed-used building that highlights some future questions around densification and affordable housing.

To help the community as it grows while trying to maintain its historic character back to its early mining days, a couple of community planning students from Vancouver Island University spent time this past year doing practicum work on some kind of project or problem.

Statement of Significance

Neethu Syam was focused on completing a Statement of Significance for the King George Hotel. These statements describe the historic, social and cultural values of the heritage feature.

“The King George Hotel is valued as a place of shared memories and is tangible evidence of Cumberland’s social and cultural landscape,” she told council during a recent committee meeting.

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She discussed some of the building’s design elements, such as the old sign, the facade, original windows and multi-pane French doors on the second storey.

“This two-storey hotel has four important heritage values,” she said, citing its historical, architectural, social and cultural importance to the community over the years.

Syam outlined some of its history since being built more than century ago and its several iterations, such as a fire in 1933 after which it had to be rebuilt. She touched on some of the uses including its function as a government liquor store for many years. The hotel closed in 2014.

She attended meetings of the heritage committee, consulted sources for her research such as the local archives and interviewed residents with knowledge about the hotel’s historic, social and cultural value to Cumberland.

Senior planner Karin Albert said the village tries to complete a couple of Statements of Significance each year, but with challenges from the pandemic, they have fallen a little behind. The hotel has been identified as one of the sites to be added to the community’s heritage register.

Density bonus

While the other VIU student, Jacob Burnley, was not researching any particular property, the mixed-use building now being erected next to the King George is an example of downtown densification.

“Currently, the Village of Cumberland has a density bonus in some of its zones,” Albert said.

Burnley’s role was to compare what other communities are doing about densification as well as the obstacles to these kinds of developments. Specifically, he was looking at density bonuses for developers and community amenity contributions for the village commercial mixed-use zone (VCMU).

An example would be providing some kind of investment incentive such as allowing more units to be built on a site, especially if some units are sold below market value to provide more affordable housing.

Burnley looked at communities such as Burnaby, New Westminster, Campbell River and Parksville, though as he pointed out these are all larger than Cumberland, so making a comparison can be difficult.

From his other research, he found that bonuses may not work across whole zones but might be better applied on a site-specific basis, though this approach can be costlier for local governments to manage. He also pointed out such measures can work for non-profit housing projects, such as one in Campbell River, and suggested next steps for the village such as working with an outside land economist.

“In terms of realizing the potential, it’s not all bad news here,” he said.

(This story has been edited to fixing a spelling error.)

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