Downtown is believed to be one of the areas best poised for new developments. (File photo)

Downtown is believed to be one of the areas best poised for new developments. (File photo)

Development remains consistent in lead up to official community plan process

Pandemic or no pandemic, Ladysmith is growing. New developments have sprung up in recent years, and more development will be needed to meet the demands of a growing population. And that challenge of growth is something that the Town of Ladysmith is taking seriously.

Director of Development Services, Jake Belobaba said that 2020 has been a record setting year for developments in Ladysmith, and those developments have included ‘a little bit of everything’.

“We’ve had industrial development such as cannabis cultivators, office developments such as Madill, mixed-use such as the Belaire site and the Dalby’s proposal, so pretty much everything — residential, suburban, multi-family.”

Q2 and Q3 of 2020 saw significantly more development permit applications than the same period in 2019. In Q4 there was a slight slowdown; however, Belobaba expects a few more applications before year’s end.

“That may push us over in total applications compared to 2019. As it stands now — total application wise — we’re consistent with 2019, but it’s possible we go over.”

“What’s more relevant is that we’re seeing larger, more complex developments, and more complex applications,” Belobaba added. “In terms of impact, they have a larger impact on the town because of their significance. Regardless of the numbers, that is a significant change that appears to be happening.”

There has not yet been any significant decline or change in Ladysmith’s development characteristics. Belobaba said that the Town is expecting more of the same in 2021, although with the uncertainty of the COVID economy, he’s reluctant to make a definite projection about what the future may hold.

One of the early effects of COVID-19 on developments is that the Town is seeing a high number of building permits. With people in lockdown, more people are taking the opportunity to renovate their homes, which results in that increase to building permits.

“We haven’t crunched the numbers on this, but at first glance, there is a possibility we’re getting a large number of renovations rather than new homes. We are still getting a lot of building permits for new construction, and new homes in subdivisions and things like that. What we are seeing is a lot of construction activity in general,” Belobaba said.

Of all the areas of Ladysmith that are primed for development, Belobaba believes that Ladysmith’s downtown core, and the periphery of downtown, are the most attractive areas to developers.

“Ladysmith’s downtown is regarded as a really interesting and exciting downtown, but there’s also a lot of infill sites that developers could pick up and redevelop in or near the downtown.”

Infill sites refer to vacant lots, or existing buildings that are under utilized or no longer viable.

“We have had inquiries about sites that are clearly within what people perceive as Ladysmith’s downtown that are very interesting in what they would bring and contribute. We have not necessarily received applications yet, but we are hoping that those will come to fruition as actual applications for development.”

Belobaba said that Development Services is working to compile data on the kinds of developments occurring in Ladysmith, and he looks forward to sharing that information with the public.

The Town of Ladysmith is in the early stages of planning for an update to the Official Community Plan (OCP). The OCP will describe the long term vision for the community, that will guide decisions on municipal planning and land use management.

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone said he’s looking to strike a balance that fits the needs of the community, and the needs of development.

“It’s the business of balance… I have a passion for communities that will feel more connected, more healthy, more vibrant. I want to see a population base that will support local business, and an array of housing that will allow people of all ages, incomes, and abilities to live and be in our community,” he said.

But striking that balance is a tall task, and one that is quite nuanced. As Ladysmith goes through the OCP process, Stone is looking to build big picture thinking on community development into concrete policies.

Stone said that development is ‘not a bad thing’, but ‘not a good thing’ either.

“Predominantly speaking, it needs to be judged on the merits of what’s proposed, what the analysis shows that is needed in the community, and what you learned from the last time that it did or did not go the way we hoped,” he said.

Early on in the OCP process, much of the preliminary discussions have been around making sure that Ladysmith is sustainable financially into the future. This means being thoughtful with developments to make sure they do not become a burden on infrastructure decades down the line.

“This council seems to be very mindful and thoughtful about land use and community development from a community planning principles point of view,” Stone said.

Throughout the OCP, Stone said that the Town will work to address the largest issues facing the community like affordable housing, environmental issues, and economics.

As the Town moves forward with the OCP process, Stone said that residents with a passion for community planning and development should get involved.

“If you’re interested, and you have ideas and thoughts, try and track them somewhere — even if it’s just taking notes,” Stone said. “Try and look at what we have today… and test your own ideas against what’s already out there.

“For somebody who’s the average person, as the process starts to take place, make sure you’re signed up for our town newsletter so you’re in those formalized engagement processes. If you want to be involved in any of the committees, look for those opportunities that are coming out in the next few weeks. And look at the future that you would imagine for you, or your children, or your grandchildren. Think through that, and how does that impact then the things that go into an OCP.”