Residents citing a desire to preserve the single-family character of their neighbourhood voiced their objections to a proposed townhome development on Hirst Avenue West during a public hearing for a zoning amendment application in Parksville council chambers Wednesday.
The application, brought by Nigel Gray of Macdonald Gray Consultants, would change the RS-1 (single family residential) zoning a 451, 461 and 465 Hirst Ave. to RS-2 (medium-density residential).
The zoning change is requested to facilitate the building of a proposed 20-unit townhome complex on the 2.1-acre property that comprises the three adjacent lots.
“We are an area of nicely kept, single-family homes,” said Mary Nielsen, who lives on the 400 block of Hirst Ave. W. “If passed, other applications will probably follow. We’ll have more noise, disruption, more traffic and higher density.”
Nielsen was one of nine residents who live near the properties under consideration for rezoning who spoke on record, most of whom opposed or had questions about the project and its impact on the community.
Dr. Kathryn Gemmell lives on Cedar Street, which terminates at Hirst Avenue West directly in front of the proposed development. She told councillors she and Nielsen went door-to-door soliciting opinion, and over the Canada Day long weekend visited 90 homes.
“The consensus is, some people are neutral,” she said. “But I’d say over 80 or 90 per cent don’t want this project to go through.”
Concerns cited by those who spoke publicly last Wednesday included increased density, traffic and noise in the neighbourhood, loss of enjoyment during construction, decreased property values and even the fear that it would set a precedent that would lead to “development creep” in the neighbourhood of single-family dwellings.
The project first came before council on Dec. 5, 2016, when it was given first reading with a request to the applicant to supply the city with additional information and to hold an advertised public house.
Macdonald Gray consultants sent letters to residents living within 50 metres of the subject properties, and received 10 written responses from 13 residents who signed in at a Feb. 7, 2017 public open house at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre. Those responses largely approved of the proposed development but asked that a privacy hedge be placed between it and their homes.
Keeva Kehler, director of administrative services, said the city received seven pieces of written correspondence, all of which were opposed.
The initial project proposal was for 20 units situated around a central courtyard, with most single-storey homes of 1,250 to 1,450 square feet, along with some two-storey homes of up to 1,700 sq. ft.. But city planning director Blaine Russell, in his report to council last December, said the RS-2 zoning could facilitate the possibility of 25 units.
And, with bonus density provisions, including providing a minimum of 80 per cent of parking off-street, and providing affordable housing through an agreement with the city, “could theoretically” put the number of units to 42.
“I know that these developers can be very evasive about how they’re going to develop,” said Gemmell. “They’ve changed the plans, they’ve come and swayed people… they haven’t been straightforward with us, and I feel very strongly this is not the right location for our area.”
Applicant Nigel Gray was the final speaker, who took the microphone briefly to rebut the density concern.
“All of our correspondence has always said 25 (units), and that’s not because we’re trying to be sneaky,” said Gray. “It’s because that is what we’re applying for. We didn’t want to set a density restriction, because we didn’t want to presuppose council’s direction on that.
“Your OCP speaks to 20-to-40 units per hectacre, and we’re at the low end of that at 20. We’re more than happy to have a site-specific, lot-specific density restriction on that property.”