Comox candidates separate on housing, growth issues
Most new candidates for six town of Comox council seats would do more to require that developments include an affordable housing component, while sitting council members say affordability is being addressed with a 90-unit building on Anderton
During an all-candidates meeting last Friday, Comox council and mayor candidates separated themselves on two key issues: affordable housing and how the town should manage growth.
About 400 people jammed a Comox Recreation Centre meeting room Oct. 12 to hear the candidates answer questions that included amalgamation (mostly opposed), air quality (mostly for it) and preserving heritage (incumbents steered clear of Mack Laing, newcomers did not).
After all the candidates reaffirmed that they love the Town of Comox, they quickly disagreed on how the town is addressing its affordable housing crisis.
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Asked how Comox should address affording housing, sitting council members Russ Arnott (running for mayor this time), Maureen Swift and Ken Grant said the 90-unit apartment building going up on Anderton Avenue was addressing the town’s housing issues.
But all the challengers said the council could and should do more to ensure developments include a mix of housing types and price ranges.
Alex Bissinger argued for more multi-family units. Don Davis lamented the mall owners didn’t convert its top floor into apartments. Stephanie McGowan reminded voters that 40 percent of Comox residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and 20 percent spend more than 50 percent.
Patrick McKenna said council should encourage developers to build lower-priced units with “affordability” covenants. Nicole Minions would press for more townhouses and collaborations with developers for affordable units and partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Mayor candidate Tom Diamond said it takes five months in Comox to get a permit for secondary suite. He said that’s too long. And he said the town should take a longer-term housing view in its Official Community Plan review next year.
Asked how the town should deal with growth, several candidates turned the discussion back to housing issues.
McKenna said he liked how the town was handling growth, but added, “What I don’t like,” he said, is that 90 units are being built with no covenant for affordable housing. “Nobody asked. Affordability has to be top of mind of staff and council.”
Nicole Minions said housing prices have grown by 40 percent recently, and council hasn’t done enough to collaborate or fast track multi-family units. Don Davis should the town should consider building up and remove its height restrictions.
Mayor candidate Diamond said some developers have abandoned Comox for other communities that have less red tape delays. Arnott said the town requires 10 percent of a development’s value in land or cash, but didn’t say how the town should use this housing reserve.
Asked about preserving heritage, McGowan said the town has lost many heritage sites and would like the new council to find an alternative to the court application to demolish Shakesides, naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home.
Minions agreed, saying the council could do a second look on Mack Laing and find a win-win. “These (Mack Laing Heritage Society) are good people trying to do what they think is right,” she said.
Bissinger said there was an “amazing opportunity” with the Mack Laing property, while Davis pointed to other Valley communities, like Cumberland (Jumbo’s Cabin) that have preserved historical buildings. Chris Haslett said a fresh set of eyes with new council members might find a reasonable solution.
Incumbent Swift said she was proud the current council has addressed the issues after 36 years. Incumbent Grant didn’t address the Laing issue, and talked about a heritage designation into the town’s zoning bylaws.
Mayor candidate Arnott said the town has protected the Filberg property and tried to save the historical house near the Comox Golf Course that was torn down for a condo development. Arnott said the builder will use some of the old building’s material and called that a “win-win.”
Mayor hopeful Diamond said Hamilton Mack Laing should be celebrated, and that his trusts with the town were an opportunity for pride in the community. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to put Comox on the map,” he said.