Contention brews over coffee shop at Ucluelet’s Amphitrite Point

Contention brews over coffee shop at Ucluelet’s Amphitrite Point

Cedar & Salt’s application beats out Wild Pacific Trail Society for lighthouse spot

A brewing controversy around a coffee shop moving into the former lighthouse keeper’s house at Amphitrite Point recently came to its conclusion after a fiery debate in council chambers.

After a lengthy discourse during their May 14 meeting, council voted 3-2 in favour of authorizing a two-year lease for Cedar & Salt to operate a coffee shop within the newly renovated building for roughly $2,000 a month.

The district first launched into transforming the former lightkeeper’s house in 2018, dubbing the project as a beacon of education and ocean-viewing for the community and signing a $1 million contract with Saltwater Building Co. in 2022 to complete the project.

The district’s director of community services Abby Fortune said the rebuilt site is expected to open this summer and the district sent out a request for proposals to operate a coffee shop at the rebuilt site with applicants also asked to provide supervision and facility oversight.

“Specifically, the District was looking for proponents to provide a dedicated retail, food service or other visitor orientated opportunity in addition to general oversight services of the venue during their proposed operational hours, support the maintenance of the washroom and general washroom facilities, and open and close the venue when required,” Fortune said.

The coffee shop plan was roasted by Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail Society during a January council meeting where the society’s vice-president Julian Ling said the noise and litter created by the coffee shop would be detrimental to the popular trail area.

“If we really think about the core issue here, trying to make it real rather than just arm waving, it’s the competing interest of two different activities in a single open-plan space that’s the issue,” Ling said during the Jan. 9 meeting. “The commercial cafe operation with an aim to maximize profit, but coming with the consequence of hustle and bustle contrasting that with active programming, which requires some quiet to be heard, to be effective and to be engaging with participants. Doing both at the same time is an escalating conflict of noise…This proposal is not compatible with active programming in that space.”

At the May 14 meeting, Fortune said the district received two applications from the request for proposals, one from Cedar & Salt and one from the Wild Pacific Trail Society, adding that the trail society’s application did not meet the minimum requirements to be considered.

While the society could not commit to providing oversight for the facility year-round, Fortune suggested the town’s recreation department would “work with non-profit organizations to ensure access is available for programming during the regular hours of operation.”

She said Cedar & Salt’s application checked all the boxes of the RFP.

“Their vision is to create a warm and inviting space where customers can enjoy delicious food and beverages in a cosy atmosphere overlooking the stunning landscape of the coast. Cedar & Salt has extensive experience in providing these types of meal operations,” she said.

She added that Cedar & Salt would prepare food offsite to be transported to the new space daily with offerings including specialty coffee and espresso-based drinks, fresh baked goods and light lunch fare, like soups and sandwiches.

She said the food would be primarily prepared “to go” though tables would be set up inside an adjacent public space.

“Cedar & Salt operations will be conducted in a manner that minimizes disruption to the regular programming within the public portion of the facility,” she said. “Cedar & Salt are committed to limiting noise for those enjoying the peaceful environment of the Wild Pacific Trail, on site programming and will work closely with the District to address any noise concerns promptly.”

She added Cedar and Salt would also be tasked with reducing waste, will seek out reusable and eco-friendly packaging when available and will also be responsible for opening and closing the facility as well as maintaining the washrooms and cleaning the venue and deck space.

The coffee shop’s hours of operations are set at 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. from June – September and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from October – May.

Mayor Marilyn McEwen said that she and Coun. Shawn Anderson had toured the new building a couple weeks prior and she was impressed by how well the facility is coming together.

“It’s very impressive. The wraparound deck is absolutely spectacular. I’m looking forward to this opening,” she said.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar questioned the public area being used for seating of coffee shop patrons.

Cedar & Salt owner Brandon Thompson was present at the meeting and explained seating would be required.

“For myself to run a proper food and beverage venue out of there, we need to have some inside seating, even if it’s six to eight tables. We’re going to have customers that are going to want to come down there that maybe don’t want to walk the trail in the winter, but do want to support the business and do want to support the building,” Thompson said. “To run a proper cafe, we have to have something. We can’t just be pushing people outside when it’s really wet and ugly out.”

Coun. Mark Maftei expressed vehement opposition to using the new facility as a cafe, suggesting he had thought the building would be used by local organizations for educational programming.

“The entire time that this project was conceived, the way that it was communicated and shared with the public is that this was going to be a public space, this was going to be an asset to the community, something for the people of Ucluelet and for visitors to Ucluelet, a shared resource. Now we’re basically looking at a restaurant,” Maftei said. “My impression is that it’s going to cause a degradation of the site. It’s not at all what I think is in the best interest of the community.”

He suggested the Wild Pacific Trail is one of the community’s “crown jewels” and that commercial activity would degrade the space, noting there are ample opportunities to purchase coffee and food in the downtown core.

“I think we’re going to see people crowding the space to use the commercial aspect of the space. We’re going to have littering issues, we’re going to have parking issues and more importantly, it’s going to turn one of our most spectacular natural areas into yet another extension of the commercialization that we see downtown,” he said. “We’re a tourist community. It’s great that we have restaurants and businesses downtown, but to start running a cafe at the Wild Pacific Trail seems completely backwards and it also seems completely against what the community was told for years, as this project proceeded, that Amphitrite House was going to be set aside for the community.”

He suggested anyone going into a restaurant will feel like they’re loitering if they don’t purchase food or beverages.

He noted the Wild Pacific Trail Society had voiced opposition to a coffee shop at the site back in January and said the coffee shop’s operations would be incompatible with any local organizations’ programming during operating hours.

McEwen suggested a public open house held to gauge feedback on the project roughly four years ago showed a high demand for a coffee shop from residents, according to sticky notes collected at the event.

“I don’t know if you were there or not there, but you probably didn’t put a sticky note that said that,” McEwen said to Maftei. “But, that’s what the public was wanting, so that’s how it was designed.”

She added the venue would provide space for the public as well as special events in the evenings.

Maftei asked if the cafe would shut down if the Wild Pacific Trail Society wanted to run special programming during the day.

Fortune responded ‘No,’ leading Maftei to reiterate his belief that the commercial aspect of the space would be incompatible with education programming.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar agreed with Maftei.

“I’ve had a number of people mention to me that they worry about the ability to use this space for any sort of educational purposes or anything with a cafe there,” Hoar said. “I know it says they’ve got plans to mitigate sound, but I’ve presented educational programs in all sorts of places and you cannot present in a space like that, I don’t think. It’s really detrimental and I think it removes the ability for the space to be used for any sort of educational stuff.”

Maftei suggested the space was meant to be a community resource, not a commercial property.

“This is a building that RMI money went into refurbishing for the use and benefit of the community. To basically give what is subsidized rent to a commercial operation, I think it’s disingenuous to even pretend like these two things are compatible,” he said.

“I remember the way that this project was pitched. I remember the way that this project was discussed and I do not at all agree that a coffee shop was the intention and RMI funds were allocated to basically have the municipality build a coffee shop for somebody else to operate…If we approve this, we’re committing to turning Amphitrite House, which was supposed to be a community space, into a municipal government subsidized commercial operation for a sole operator.”

Coun. Shawn Anderson suggested the issue has been brought up before and that the community had chosen a coffee shop.

“If the people of the community want it in that number, then that was the time to make that decision and move forward with it and it was built into the plan,” he said. “There was an open house for this situation and that’s where that decision was put in play.”

Maftei acknowledged he had not attended the open house, so did not see the sticky notes in question, but suggested “people who show up to an open house represent a fairly small minority.”

“I don’t think that’s how we should decide things in this community,” he said. “I think some people would like to see a coffee shop in here but, overall, it’s not in the best interest of the community, nor does it necessarily reflect the majority of the community.”

McEwen countered that the only other application the district received was from the Wild Pacific Trail Society, which did not meet the minimum criteria to provide oversight for the space year-round.

Fortune added a cafe has always been a part of the facility’s plans, “from day one.”

“The intent is to have some public space there as well, in which we can do some programming,’ Fortune said.

Anderson suggested allowing Cedar & Salt to move forward to see whether the coffee shop and community programming can co-exist in the space.

“I just think the wheels have been in motion for this and it seems like this is the direction that people have chosen. I would like to think that they’ll coexist,” he said.

Maftei reiterated the Wild Pacific Trail Society’s opposition and expressed concern with the district allocating RMI funding “to become a commercial landlord.”

“(The Wild Pacific Trail Society) told us, unequivocally, in no uncertain terms, that it’s their opinion that it was impossible for these two uses to be complementary or overlap,” he said, adding he would have liked to have seen the district work with the society and other community groups.

“I think the way the RFP was presented, I don’t want to say the process was rigged, but the requirements and expectations were really only compatible with a commercial use to begin with. That’s why the number one applicant was a commercial operator. But, I don’t think that that’s the intended use of this space.”

McEwen countered that a coffee shop “was always the intended use of the space” and added that a volunteer organization would be unable to operate a coffee shop.

Coun. Ian Kennington expressed concern over the tables for the coffee shop being in the public use portion of the building.

District CAO Duane Lawrence clarified that the intent of the public space is to be public, though there will be tables that could be used by patrons of the coffee shop.

Maftei, who also serves as the executive director of the Raincoast Education Society, suggested it would be impossible for him to take kids on a field school trip during the day if patrons are sitting in the public space.

Fortune said groups could schedule the space, but acknowledged she could not confirm whether those groups would be able to book the space during the coffee shop’s operating hours.

“That seems to me a pretty pressing question that we should be able to answer confidently before we vote on how we’re going to allocate this community space,” Maftei responded.

He expressed concern over the potential of local non-profit groups not being able to book the space during popular summer months due to the coffee shop being busy and added that all community groups are struggling to secure space for events.

“It seems frustrating to me that now, as a municipality, we’ve invested in a shared community resource that we set aside for community use, but we’ve decided actually what we’re going to operate out of it is a commercial enterprise and the community groups that we, sort of, sold on the idea are going to be relegated to second-tier,” he said.

McEwen and Maftei continued a back and forth around the definitions of community and commercial space, with neither able to convince the other of their view.

Hoar reiterated her concern around the noise disrupting any educational offerings.

“We all know how noisy an espresso machine is,” she said.

McEwen suggested the shop could go drip-coffee only during presentations, but Maftei doubted a business would be willing to impact its operations to that degree.

Coun. Kennington agreed with Maftei that the two uses would not be compatible, but expressed support for the coffee shop.

“I’m going to admit I would love to go have a coffee there, but I also agree that those two uses are not compatible. I don’t think calling it a mixed-use space is realistic. I think it’s a coffee shop. What we’re deciding on is if we want a coffee shop there,” he said.

Maftei quipped that he loves coffee too and takes his thermos mug en route to explore Amphitrite.

“It’s amazing because you can watch the ocean and have peace and quiet,” he said.

Anderson suggested the commercial and community aspects of the space could coexist and reiterated that the public said they wanted a coffee shop.

“Our job is to represent the community and, to me, it seems the community has spoken,” he said. “It’s interesting we spend more time on this than housing, but at the end of the day, whatever our personal feelings are and whether we like coffee or we don’t, the public has spoken and that’s why we’re here. We’re representing them.”

Kennington countered that while coffee might have been part of the initial intention, he thought it was more of a secondary use for the space with community groups being the prime users and that feeling had now flipped.

“It always seemed at the beginning that it played a supporting role in what the primary role was, which was a community space with the ability to grab a coffee and now it’s a coffee shop with the ability to host an event there,” he said. “The vibe has changed on it.”

McEwen pressed that the building will serve as community space.

“There will be visitors and locals going in there all the time whether they buy a coffee or don’t buy a coffee. It’s a spectacular space with a great view of the water and the lighthouse. The builders have done a fantastic job,” she said.

She said people will be able to use the space and bring their own coffee without shopping at the cafe and added that the coffee shop would close in the evenings leaving the space open for community groups.

Maftei said the prime hours for educational programming is during school hours, so evenings wouldn’t work for many groups.

The facility will have a maximum capacity of 50 people, which also raised concern around what would happen if the coffee shop is being heavily frequented, leaving no more capacity for the public.

McEwen, Anderson and Kennington voted in favour of entering into the lease with Cedar & Salt, outnumbering opposition votes from Maftei and Hoar.

CAO Lawrence clarified that council will have the option to revisit the lease in two years.

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