The property where the Habitat for Humanity affordable housing project was supposed to go. (Dawn Gibson/Sooke News Mirror)

Habitat for Humanity backs out of Sooke housing plan

Organization cites poor timing

Habitat for Humanity has backed out of buying land in Sooke for affordable housing.

The organization was eyeing a piece of land located at 2008 Murray Rd, which is currently zoned as parkland and owned by the Sooke Lions Club.

Habitat for Humanity planned to build a cluster of townhouses on the property, which would have varied between two and four bedrooms, each around 1,200 square feet in size.

Yolanda Meijer, chief executive director for Habitat, said the main reason the decision to pull the application was due to poor timing, controversy over the land the project was to be built on, and delays in the rezoning process at municipal hall.

“There was a lot of factors, and we don’t think there is anyone to blame. We should have submitted our application sooner, but we had a couple of unexpected things happen,” Meijer said.

She added that Habitat didn’t predict the rezoning process to take so long, and because of the change in municipal government coming up, the project would have been postponed even longer.

Sooke Lions president Al Beddows explained council wanted to hold off on the process until January next year, and Habitat said that wouldn’t work because it conflicts with other projects they are working on.

“We just lost 12 units of affordable housing because the district was dragging their feet,” said Beddows, who plans to run in this fall’s civic election.

[Sooke council] preaches how much Sooke needs affordable housing, well they had it on their lap and they let it slip.”

Beddows added that many of the Lions are feeling frustrated because the land will be hard to sell if council continues to drag out the process.

“It makes it hard because if Habitat for Humanity can’t get the zoning through in a timely manner, how is anyone else supposed to? It makes it look like Sooke is difficult to do business with,” Beddows said.

Sooke Coun. Kevin Pearson said he, along with the other councillors, are disappointed to lose the opportunity.

“I’m not entirely sure what happened, and I would’ve liked to have seen the application come before council at a public hearing, but appears that bureaucracy got in the way,” Pearson said. “It seems like our internal process didn’t suit theirs at this time.”

Pearson said Habitat for Humanity is a world-class organization, and their project would have been a perfect fit for Sooke.

“This was a golden opportunity for Sooke, and it appears to be lost,” Pearson said. “Affordable housing is fundamental for our community, and I would like to see the process and timelines for projects like this sped up in the future.”

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait agreed, and said the project didn’t work out because of unfortunate timing.

“I know Habitat has their own timelines, and we tried to prioritize their application, but unfortunately our timelines didn’t match up. We didn’t get to see the application before it came to council, but we tried to get the rezoning done in three months, which usually would take anywhere from six months to a year,” Tait said.

“But maybe that’s something we could look at going forward, is trying to make some sort of a system where we could move affordable housing applications along even quicker.”

Tait said she spoke with Habitat, and though this particular site didn’t work out, the district and Habitat are going to continue trying to bring an affordable housing project to Sooke.

“I look forward to working with them in the near future,” Tait said.

Another reason Habitat decided to pull the plug on the project was because of how many concerns were brought forward about the land at the project’s open house.

Beddows said the land was used as a park, but the club decommissioned it because it wasn’t being used. Regardless, some people in the community want the land to be left as green space.

The Lions are still going to try and rezone the land and have it sold, whether it’s used for housing, commercial space, or as a parking lot.

“We were unaware there was controversy about the land, so it definitely caught us off guard,” Meijer said.

She also noted that while Habitat was waiting for this project to get approved, another large project in Saanich was approved. Habitat feared that the timelines would collide, and working on two big projects would be too much at once.

“It was unexpected because the land was donated to us, and wherever land is donated, Habitat will go there first,” Meijer said. “But I don’t want Sooke to think that we aren’t interested or are scared away. We just thought it wasn’t in our best interest to move forward in purchasing the land at this time. We want to make sure all the controversy is resolved.”

She said Habitat will likely look into doing a project in Sooke sometime next year, once the Saanich project is finished.

“We are still keen for a location, and we hope it happens. We will continue to work with the Lions and the District, and would be delighted to build in Sooke, whether it’s on that site or not,” said Meijer.

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