Neighbours kibosh affordable housing proposal in Courtenay

Courtenay councillors hope developer proposing to build small, affordable rental units can find a compromise with nearby residents.

Courtenay councillors hope the developer proposing to build small, affordable rental units on Cumberland Road will be able to find a compromise with nearby residents.

Council voted Monday to deny third reading of a bylaw that would rezone property at 702, 721 and 745 Cumberland Rd. to allow a three-storey multi-residential development with 33 bachelor-type rental units of 300 to 350 square feet.

Last week, council heard residents living near the proposed development speak against the project being proposed by Mathot Homes Ltd. and received a petition opposing the rezoning application from nearby residents.

“We’re not opposed to low-income housing per se; we all acknowledge there is a need for this,” said one resident. “We do want to see that if this is done, it’s done properly and it’s managed properly. Our neighbourhood has seen our fair share of low-income housing; we don’t want to go down that road again. Our neighbourhood right now is the best I’ve ever seen it.”

Concerns were raised about lack of parking in the area, the density of the development, how the building would be managed and how many variances were being requested.

Deb Facey suggested the development would be better for the neighbours if it were two storeys instead of three.

“It doesn’t fit into our neighbourhood,” she said. “Why not make it two storeys, make the places bigger?

“I think that will take a lot of the problems away. Put some families in there … My biggest concern is the height of the building not fitting into anything else in our neighbourhood.”

Dr. Ken Seaman, who runs Puntledge Veterinary Clinic on Lewis Avenue across from the proposed development, told council he’s been in this area for 10 year sand seen a “incredible” transformation and pride of ownership in the houses, as well as a “really wonderful sense of community.”

“I think what council needs to look at with his proposed development is a couple of different aspects: how the structure of this building fits in with the form and character of the neighbourhood, and I think it’s far too grandiose, too tall for that type of thing,” he said.

“I believe it’s a sensitive issue to start to debate the wisdom of subsidized low-income housing. I think there’s a need for it, but it needs to be tempered and not so high density as what is proposed here.”

Sarah Sullivan, chair of the Ad Hoc Emergency Resources Organization (AHERO) committee, and Roger Kishi of the Wachiay Friendship Centre, a member organization of AHERO, spoke in favour of the project, noting it is an ideal site because it is within walking distance of downtown and of many amenities.

“Our members unanimously support the development proposed by Mathot Homes Ltd.,” said Sullivan, who presented a letter from AHERO. “The vacancy rate for rental has declined once again to 2.2 per cent according to the spring 2011 report from the (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation). There has not been any new rental housing built in the last 20 years, so there is a growing and unmet need for this type of affordable housing.”

This week, councillors voted against third reading of the zoning amendment bylaw but expressed hope that the developer could come back to council with a revised proposal that might fit in better with the neighbourhood.

Coun. Manno Theos wanted to see the application taken off the table so the developer could speak to the neighbours and possibly lower the density.

“Rather than kill it, maybe we can see what they can do in tweaking it,” he said.

Coun. Jon Ambler noted that the social aspect of how a development fits with the existing neighbourhood is important.

“On a blank piece of paper, this may look great, but when we had the public hearing, people spoke at length about their concerns,” he said. “The public’s reaction was so negative that I couldn’t support it as currently planned.”

Coun. Doug Hillian described this as a situation where the worthwhile goals of providing affordable housing and of maintaining a livable community are clashing with one another.

“For me, I was struck by the fact that at the public hearing, we had people from virtually every walk of life commenting,” he said. “I was also struck that this is a neighbourhood that has rebuilt itself … a pride of place has developed in recent years. Based on those factors, I think we need to take seriously what the residents have said.”

Coun. Larry Jangula pointed out that the city often receives noise complaints about residences near businesses, and with this proposal being beside an auto body shop, the City was sure to get complaints.

“We have to look at the 60 people who signed the petition and all the people that spoke at the public hearing,” he said.