Port Alberni city council has decided to proceed with a rezoning application for a piece of park land, rather than evict a local business.
Alberni Paving has been a long-term tenant of the Alberni District Fall Fair Association, but in recent years, they expanded that tenancy under a sub-lease to include occupation of a piece of city-owned land that, unbeknownst to both parties, falls outside of the lease area.
The matter was investigated in 2014, following an online complaint from a resident, and an eviction notice was given to Alberni Paving in March of this year.
In November, the Fall Fair Association sent a letter to council, asking the city to rescind the eviction notice.
Because the location of Alberni Paving’s secondary occupancy is outside of the area leased from the city to the Fall Fair Association, it is not within the association’s ability to sublet. Furthermore, the area in use by Alberni Paving is considered a “light industrial use,” while the land is currently zoned for parks use.
The city may have consented verbally to the occupancy when it first occured, but City CAO Tim Pley said he could find no record of this.
“This is a challenge for us,” he said during a council meeting on Dec. 11. “We’ve got a land use contrary to the zoning, which we cannot turn a blind eye to. If we were to not repair this situation, it really would put us in a situation where we would be hamstrung in terms of enforcing land use contrary to zoning in any other regard.”
Pley brought three options to council on Monday: continue with the eviction; extend the eviction and give Alberni Paving more time to find a suitable location and the Fall Fair Association to explore options for adjusting to the loss of revenue; or enable the tenancy by amending the Official Community Plan and zoning of the land parcel from parks use to light industrial use.
“It’s a difficult situation,” he added, “one I’m sure no one intended to create.”
The land, adjacent to the Fall Fairgrounds, is land that the city does not have an active use for, and it would lead to a loss of revenue for the Fall Fair Association if they were to lose the tenancy.
Both councillors Dan Washington and Ron Paulson were in favour of a rezoning application, rather than losing a local business.
Denny Zomar, owner of Alberni Paving, explained that their business works by digging up old asphalt, running it through a machine with a bit of canola oil and laying it down as new asphalt.
“We have to find storage for our asphalt chunks, our product that we use,” he said. “Where we were before, which was on the fairgrounds, just wasn’t working. We’d have to move every year for the Fall Fair when it comes into town.”
Councillor Denis Sauvé, however, pointed out the fact that there had been a recorded complaint from the neighbourhood.
“We’re actually talking about a zoning which is park, and there’s an industrial process working on it,” said Sauvé. “There’s a zoning process for a reason.”
“I don’t think anyone has any problem with Alberni Paving as a company,” agreed councillor Chris Alemany. “It’s just the incompatibility with the location. I can’t believe there isn’t somewhere that [Alberni Paving] could be that isn’t on the edge of a park, on the edge of a stream, on the edge of a fish habitat.”
Zomar pointed out that there are other industrial businesses running along the top of the Roger Creek ravine.
Councillor Sharie Minions said she wasn’t sure where she stood on the report.
“I think it probably isn’t hurting anyone in the current use it’s in,” she said.
She added, “It’s easy to sit up here and make the decision, but when we get to a public hearing trying to rezone parkland…a lot of us are probably going to change our minds…because the public is not going to be happy about us rezoning any amount of park space to light industrial.”
Scott Green, vice chair of the Fall Fair Association, said he was involved with the negotiations with the city to get the lease many years ago. “We were under the understanding that it was our property,” he said. “That’s how this all came about.”
He added that the tenancy brings in about $15,000 for the Fall Fair Association.
Council did eventually vote to start OCP and rezoning applications for the parcel of land, but both Sauvé and Alemany voted against the motion.
The eviction date has been extended, pending a decision on the rezoning.