The Town of Qualicum Beach council has again discussed the possibility of developing a rural innovation hub on town-owned land.
Director of planning Luke Sales, in his report at the committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 22, indicated the town currently has no light industrial businesses, which could be another source of tax revenue, and very little value-added agricultural activity despite the town owning an abundance of farm land.
In 2019, the town wanted to establish a light-industrial sector at unused lands at the southern part of the Qualicum Beach Airport.
Sales said the airport land was suitable as it is already zoned f0r industrial purposes. A courier company and wood manufacturing business expressed interest in starting a business at the airport land but they moved on when the B.C. government denied the town’s application for a variance in the B.C. Airport Land Use Operation Policy (Section 7.1.3) last year. The town was told the land was solely for airport uses only.
Last year, town staff identified 16 hectares of town-owned land located on Qualicum Road and View Road that could be applied to open up new value-added light industrial, forestry and agricultural area.
Sales told council expanding the light industrial activities in town would create a variety of benefits as it would reinforce and diversify the tax base in town, it would create jobs and support local suppliers and more broadly support the opportunities for value-added agriculture and forestry in the area.
“It’s potentially an area with a lot of opportunities that hasn’t been used in any way,” said Sales. “The concept of a Rural Innovative Hub is to bring together those types of non-urban uses. This is not an urban expansion in any way. It’s light industrial forestry related uses and also agricultural uses. The town land could potentially be leveraged to create a hub in this area.”
The area is composed of idle properties, agricultural land and an old sand pit and outdoor storage space that was previously used by the town’s parks department. Land within the ALR would be proposed for value-added agricultural uses, while the light industrial uses would be in the non-ALR land.
Should the town council take this direction, Sales said the next step would be to issue requests for proposals to gauge the interest of other investors. A community group has already approached the town, looking to establish a large community-owned greenhouse operations to advance their food security mandate.
Sales said the town would also need to explore extending municipal utilities to the area. The town applied for grant money to expand municipal utilities to the area but it was unsuccessful.
“Both light-industrial and value-added agriculture do, in most cases, require municipal services.” Sales said. “Water for example is a requirement for a lot of value-added agriculture even though most of the agricultural land in the town does not have access to municipal water. And similarly, sewer is a benefit. Probably many of these types of uses cannot operate without sewer.”
BC Hydro lines also needs to be installed in the area.
Kim Burden, executive director of the Parksville and District and Qualicum Beach Chambers of Commerce, said they would absolutely welcome a rural innovation hub.
“The move to create more light industrial land is something that is severely lacking in the community and it really hampers that branch of economic development that we believe Qualicum Beach needs going forward,” said Burden. “It’s great to have the small businesses that we have. They’re all awesome and make a huge contribution but a more significant investor would make a big difference in terms of creating new employement. We’re always talking about attracting young people to the community and in order to do that we absolutely need that employment.”
Burden said the proposed location is ideal as it is located outside the major residential areas and significant retail areas.
Council received the town report as information and did not make any decisions on the staff recommendation.