Comox council approves third reading of Aspen-Murrelet project

Rezoning, development permit bylaws still need to be adopted at future meeting

Council for the Town of Comox is moving ahead on the next step for a controversial residential complex planned for 695 Aspen Rd.

At Wednesday’s regular meeting, all members of council supported motions to move the rezoning application and development permit applications to third reading. Council will still have to adopt the bylaws at an upcoming meeting.

After a large turnout at the public hearing for the proposal earlier this month, council moved the meeting from regular chambers to the adjacent d’Esterre Seniors Centre, to allow for up to 50 people while still being in adherence to current social distancing provisions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Prior to the meeting, some were upset the meeting was even going ahead. Fewer than 10 members of the public attended.

When the item came up for discussion, Coun. Stephanie McGowan was the first to speak in favour of the bylaws, saying the issue weighed heavily on her in recent weeks, but that the proposal would help create necessary housing for the community on Aspen Road near Murrelet Drive.

She touched on concerns about traffic, saying that the area is well-served by transit and modes of active transportation. She also referred to a recent housing needs assessment that showed renters in the community are seven times more likely to experience core housing issues, while businesses have also expressed a need for more housing and child care. The survey also showed that a quarter of respondents have considered moving away because of the housing shortage.

“Density is one of the only tools that we as a community have to combat this issue,” she said.

Other members of council acknowledged concerns cited by residents opposed, such as building height, the number of units, a potential increase in traffic or that the project would not fit in with the surrounding neighbour. All councillors underscored the need for housing options in the community and were confident the concerns would be addressed.

Coun. Maureen Swift said she was impressed during the public hearing at how civil the comments from people on both sides were. However, she supports the plan and addressed some questions such as traffic and parking, saying the roads can handle more traffic and there is more than required parking for this proposal, adding that some will be underground. She added that the complex is near services such as a grocery store and pharmacy, meaning people do not necessarily have to drive to shop. As well, she said the mixed-use nature will fit in with the surrounding area.

“Already, there is a mixed use in this neighbourhood, with patio homes, single-family homes, commercial and a three-storey condo development across the street,” she said.

Echoing the need for more housing, Coun. Nicole Minions, who, along with Coun. Alex Bissinger, was attending via Internet feed, said, “I ran on a platform of affordable housing.”

Bissinger expanded on the need for more places to live in light of the influx of new residents in the Comox Valley and supported the choice of location.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the Town of Comox and for the Comox Valley to increase our housing supply,” she said. “There’s people moving to the Valley left, right and centre, and I think we need to accommodate that.”

Highstreet Ventures, based out of Kelowna, is proposing three four-storey residential apartment buildings and one four-storey mixed-use residential/commercial building. The project includes 73 one-bedroom, one-bath units, 159 two-bedroom, two-bath units totaling 208 market rentals and 24 for-sale condos. The plan is for ground-floor commercial space of roughly 1,000 square feet. The developer is also offering $142,000 cash-in-lieu for Comox’s affordable housing reserve fund, six units in the condo building at below market rental cost and a portion of the ground-floor commercial space for a daycare.

RELATED STORY: Developer shocked at pushback during Comox public hearing

The proposal was the subject of a March 5 public hearing at the Comox Community Centre, which was attended by about 150 people expressing both support as well as opposition.

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