It’s an Oilsands import most South Okanagan residents would have little difficulty supporting — but even it is proving to be complicated.
Members of the Osoyoos-area’s hospitality industry appeared before Town Council this morning, looking for support to bring a 49-bed camp structure to the community to house seasonal workers.
“The growth in the industry in terms of demand for staff housing has really increased year over year and unfortunately the supply of staff housing has diminished year over year, particularly with VRBO and AirBnB,” explained Watermark Beach Resort’s Glen Harris.
“That’s why we’re here; we’ve been working together to find a solution to our staff housing crisis.”
The Watermark, Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip, Osoyoos Hotel & Motel Association and Destination Osoyoos have partnered to form the Osoyoos Employee Housing Society, a registered not-for-profit, to represent tourism providers in a collective quest to provide housing for staff.
One temporary solution developed by the Society, explained Daniel Bibby, the executive director at Spirit Ridge, is a used Suncor exploration camp on the sale block.
“It’s a well-maintained camp. It was purchased for Suncor to be able to proceed with oil exploration,” said Mr. Bibby. “The downturn in their economy has provided us with a great opportunity to reuse the facility and bring it down to address the staff housing concerns here.”
The Watermark and Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip have each committed one-third of the $125,000 fund established to move the camp to Osoyoos, do some site-prep and landscaping and install electricity.
Other tourism providers would contribute to the costs by “renting” the available rooms for staff.
The camp would be placed on Osoyoos Indian Band property adjacent to Nk’Mip Corner and the Petro-Canada station, hidden amid orchard trees on the property. It includes washrooms, laundry facilities and a gathering area for residents.
The camp would be in place for between three and five years.
“OIB intends to develop those lands and would like to see retail and housing go on there, but at the moment . . . don’t have immediate plans to develop those properties,” explained Mr. Harris.
The project would likely be a done-deal except that the camp requires sewer and water hook-ups and the property is subject to a no-build agreement between the Town and the Indian Band inked when the OIB bought the property several years ago.
The Society asked the Town to resolve both hurdles — providing water and sewer hookups at little or no cost and resolving the no-build arrangement with the OIB, which it says is prepared to alter the agreement to provide for the structure.
Although Council expressed tentative support for the camp, Town staff noted complications that would slow the process — a substantial concern with the Society wanting to secure the camp before it is sold elsewhere and its desire to begin housing staff in late-May or early-June.
The biggest hurdle would be the existing no-build agreement, said Town CAO Barry Romanko.
“We still have to sit down with the Osoyoos Indian Band and develop some type of legal framework,” he said. “I need to legally explore if we need another agreement to service this particular development.”
Mr. Romanko also pointed to the role Council would be playing in supporting the project’s partners.
“The request for some type of subsidized service needs to be reviewed within the context of Council’s ability to support business,” he said, explaining that even though the tourism partners had established a not-for-profit society they would be the most to benefit.
Council voted to instruct staff to expedite measures necessary to facilitate the camp’s development and bring a report back to its May 7 meeting for further discussion.
After the presentation, Mr. Bibby said he would take the information back to the Housing Society’s board for further review.
“It’s a little bit earlier to say,” he said when asked if the Society had sufficient suporrt from Council to move forward. “I think we’re going to reconvene as a board and make sure vested investors are willing to make that decision together.”