A booming population has Tofino considering ways to limit growth as infrastructure demands skyrocket.
Census data released last week shows the town’s population has shot up by 27.7 per cent, rising from 1,736 in 2016 to 2,217 in 2021. Neighbouring Ucluelet saw a 20.3 percent increase from 1,613 in 2016 to 1,940 in 2021.
The two towns have experienced the second and third highest growth rates on Vancouver Island with Langford taking top honours at 31.8 per cent, increasing from 35,342 to 46,584.
“It speaks to the feeling that we all have on the West Coast that it’s a lot busier now here than it used to be and you can see that in our so called ‘traffic jams’ our lack of affordable housing and our parking issues…Those feelings that we have are actually reflected in the data,” Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers told the Westerly News.
“The interesting thing for us in planning is to compare our estimations of our population that we’ve made through our official Community Plan or the wastewater treatment plant project and see how well our projections tracked. We’ve been quite accurate in estimating our population.”
He added population growth increases demand on infrastructure, citing roadways, housing, and water as key areas being strained.
“It’s a free country. People get to move where they want. We all live in a pretty amazing place on the West Coast, so it tends to be a place where people want to come,” he said. “What we have to do is take this data, go back to the community, check with the values and try to plan for the growth that we want.”
He added Tofino’s OCP includes provisions around limiting growth and the district is hashing out strategies to avoid bursting at the seams.
“It will be interesting to see if we can bend that curve, if that’s what the community still wants to do, and slow down growth somewhat or at least focus it into more residential type of housing,” he said.
“There’s a number of different reasons for why we would want to limit growth. One is you don’t have the infrastructure to support further growth, obviously that’s a problem that Tofino’s had for a number of years. You might decide you want to limit growth because the community’s character is changing, or you might want to limit growth because businesses can’t operate because there’s nowhere for people to live.”
He suggested the district is targeting residential over commercial growth, adding that downzoning properties could be on the table.
“That’s a conversation that we haven’t had in Tofino for a number of years, but it’s always a possibility,” he said. “Earlier in our history, we pre-zoned for a lot of development and we’re still dealing with that today, which is why even today new resorts are coming onboard because the zones that allowed those were put in place in the 1980s.”
He added the proliferation of online accommodations and the evolution of high speed internet has added to the intensity of the town’s expansion.
“We understand that growth is going to come, we’re just trying to make sure that the growth we get is the type of growth that we want, so for us that’s primarily housing at this point,” he said. “Maybe there will be a time in the future where we have enough housing and everybody’s housed who wants to be here, but we need more commercial zoning and that’s the kind of thing we can look at then, but our focus definitely for the next five years is residential housing only.”
Rodgers has put forward a local population data project to Tofino’s current budget deliberations to better determine its year-round and seasonal populations.
“The census we only do every five years. Our hope is that we can develop, with a consulting partner, a project that uses anonymized cell-phone data to give us a sense of who’s in the community and for how long, creating a permanent resident population, a transient population and a visitor population,” he said.
READ MORE: Tofino calls for census review