Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail Society roasts district’s coffee shop plan at Amphitrite Point

Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail Society roasts district’s coffee shop plan at Amphitrite Point

Ucluelet converting former lighthouse keeper’s house into educational and ocean-viewing haven

The District of Ucluelet received some light roasting last week from the Wild Pacific Trail Society over a proposed plan to open a coffee shop inside the former Amphitrite Point Lightkeeper’s House with concerns brewing around noise, waste and commercialization.

The district has been planning to convert the house into an educational and ocean-viewing haven since 2018 and agreed to a $1 million contract with Saltwater Building Co. in 2022 to reconstruct the building and lands.

Construction is well underway and Ucluelet’s director of parks and recreation Abby Fortune presented an update to council during Jan. 9’s regular meeting that included the recommendation to put a request for proposals out to anyone interested in operating the coffee shop.

She suggested public consultation prior to construction getting started led to an open space concept designed for indoor storm watching, community programming, rental opportunities, accessible washrooms, outdoor viewing deck and a coffee or tea bar.

“The goal for this project does include cost recovery, maximizing community programming and rental uses through effective use and planning of the space itself,” she said. “The main focus is to create a special place for community (members) and visitors alike to enjoy.”

She noted council approved the contract on Sept. 20, 2022, for the full design and floor plan that included space for a tea and coffee bar area.

She added that along with providing cost-recovery for the district, the coffee shop’s lessee would also be responsible for opening the facility and being present throughout the day.

“This is really key to having the space open. This allows for facility oversight and ability to keep the doors open on a consistent basis. It’s wonderful to have volunteers involved, but we’re looking for more regular opportunity to keep the doors open and it allows some level of cost recovery,” she said. “It allows the facility itself to stay open and it’s a nice place to enjoy a coffee or a tea.”

She added there would also be opportunities for morning and evening programming with the coffee shop’s primary hours expected to be around 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and added an indoor viewing space would provide perfect views of the stormy, frothy seas during the winter months as well as an outdoor deck.

The Wild Pacific Trail Society’s vice-president Julian Ling spoke to council during the Jan. 9 meeting voicing the society’s objection to the coffee shop idea and citing the two main concerns as noise and garbage.

He said noise from the coffee shop would disrupt any programming the society plans to offer and ran the risk of take-out containers littering the Lighthouse area and surrounding trail.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Ling also noted that the society had raised their concerns about the proposed coffee shop a few months prior during council’s Nov. 25 regular meeting and said he was disappointed not to see any mention of waste control in the Jan. 9 presentation.

He suggested if a coffee shop was needed, there should be stipulations around zero waste including no takeout containers, but questioned whether a coffee shop was the right fit for the area altogether.

“This feels like the start of commercialization on the trail, which the district and the society have thus far agreed to resist,” he said.

He added the society is grateful for council’s support and assured both sides would continue working closely together.

“We absolutely, definitely reiterate our commitment to keep collaborating with the district on this important community asset,” he said.

Fortune assured council that waste management would be a key aspect of the request for proposal process.

“If we did go to RFP for a coffee and tea bar, we would certainly look at the zero garbage. That would certainly be one of the key things we would focus on moving forward and we do understand how important the Wild Pacific Trail is to this whole project.”

Coun. Jennifer Hoar agreed with the trail society that noise would be an issue.

“Spending a fair amount of time in the tea bar locally, I know just how loud it can be to steam milk or make all sorts of things and that is really disruptive if you’re trying to program,” she said. “I 100 per cent agree that the noise level in an open space like that would be bad and I certainly would have an issue with the garbage thing to.”

Mayor Marilyn McEwen noted the importance of someone being at the facility providing oversight without the need for a district staff member to be present throughout the day.

Coun. Ian Kennington agreed with the idea of cost-recovery, but suggested a coffee shop would not be the best option.

“I would like to see some other options as far as what we can utilize that space (for) and how it’s divided up. It does make sense to have somebody there all the time so we don’t have dedicated staff there twiddling their thumbs,” he said. “Talking to one person in particular, I asked ‘What do you think about this, having a coffee shop?’ And they said, ‘Well, it’s ruined out there already so why not?’ That really struck me. How the trail is, there’s a lot of damage there.”

He cited a gift shop as a viable, less disruptive option, pointing to the Ucluelet Aquarium’s shop as an example of positive revenue generation.

“The nice thing about the aquarium gift shop is it’s actually a place to learn as well,” he said. “It’s a learning experience just shopping in there, so I think that’s more of a compatible use than slinging coffee.”

McEwen asked if concerns were raised at the public open house.

Fortune responded that one of the key components of the public input was the coffee bar in the space and added that a coffee bar has already been built into the project and she was unsure if it could be redesigned.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar suggested having the facilities in place for a coffee bar would help with events regardless of whether a coffee shop was put in the space.

“I know it’s being built with the kind of cafe space, I think that’s actually handy for the notion of things like fundraisers…Having a water source is not a bad thing,” she said.

“The cafe itself is where I get hung up on.”

She added cost recovery is important.

“Cost recovery is a good thing. We’re certainly not adverse to that. It’s the clashing between (uses). Finding ways to work together is what we want to do,” she said.

District CAO Duane Lawrence said the RFP process could call for different options other than coffee shops.

“You don’t have to have a full espresso style foam machine, which would definitely be disruptive. It could be very basic,” he said.

He added district staff could incorporate council’s concerns into the RFP process, including waste management and not disrupting educational programming.

“It would be difficult to change the layout of the design now because it’s already being constructed…The design is there,” he said.

“We could let that (RFP) out, see what comes in and then evaluate the proposals based on the submissions to see what we want to do with that space and take the one that is most amicable and beneficial to the community and the space.”

McEwen expressed support for that idea.

“I’d really like not to hold this up because I’d love this to be open in the spring,” she said.

Coun. Ian Anderson asked about the types of events that could be held in the facility, wondering whether weddings or similar functions would be on the menu.

Fortune responded a variety of events could be held like fundraisers and special events.

“One of the things to remember is that it’s not a significantly large space, so you’re limited a little bit by what you can do,” she said. “We are building out the main floor right now and right as it stands today we do have a coffee bar incorporated into the plan that is being built out that was originally approved.”

Kennington wondered about the ramifications of creating more competition in town.

“We’ve got several coffee shops and everybody’s doing their best to stay afloat here and now we’re going to come along and potentially open a coffee shop in a place that nobody else can compete with because it’s out at the lighthouse,” he said.

CAO Lawrence responded that the municipality does not typically get involved in competitions between businesses.

“We definitely support economic development within the community, so creating another opportunity for somebody to open up a business would not be in conflict with what would normally be ongoing for a municipality,” he said. “Many, many, municipalities have facilities that they lease out to organizations to provide food services and other support services.”

Coun. Shawn Anderson suggested he had heard support for the coffee shop idea.

“For what it’s worth, I have had a handful of people mention that they thought it was a good idea to have a cafe out there and they look forward to being able to get a drink and watch the lighthouse. I have heard both sides,” he said.

McEwen suggested if the RFP is clear enough about the noise and garbage concerns, applications that come in would follow that lead.

Council’s vote to move forward with the RFP process was unanimous.

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