Despite heavy opposition from surrounding residents and businesses, another new apartment complex was approved by council last week.
The building, slated for the Old Island Highway near the intersection of Hilchey Road in Willow Point, will be a four-storey, 51-unit apartment building with office and retail space on the ground floor. Because the property in question didn’t need rezoning – it was already zoned C-2, which is the designation used for things like hotels – there was no public hearing for the proposal. There were, however, a few “minor variances” that needed to be okayed before the development could be approved, which is why it was before council, spurring numerous letters from the neighbourhood residents concerned about the impacts the building will have on their area.
Those variances included an increase in the number of small-car parking stalls and a decrease in the distances between retaining walls on the property.
Jim McKean, who lives on Dalton Road behind the now-approved development, says one of his major concerns is what he sees as a lack of public consultation.
Because of the variances needed, the developer was required to hold a neighbourhood public meeting, which McKean says he was not invited to despite his property being well within the required radius for an invitation. He says he did not know about the meeting until after it had taken place, nor did “a few other neighbours,” who he says actually received invitations to the meeting, but only after it had been held. Many neighbours were out of town when the meeting happened, and that, combined with residents not being informed, McKean says, led to attendance at the meeting being low, “so voices were unheard.”
Paul and Claudette Keller, also of Dalton Road, say their main concern is traffic-based.
Currently, there is a median in the middle of the highway in front of the lot in question, which restricts both entrance to and exit from the property to right turns only. That median, the Kellers say, will force residents in the new building to turn right onto the highway when exiting the complex, which will inevitably lead them to turn right again on Westgate Road, then right up Dalton Road to get to Hilchey, where they can finally begin to head north towards downtown after getting to the traffic lights.
Many other letters were sent to the city in opposition to the proposal with similar concerns. No letters were received in support of the project.
But the city says the traffic concerns can be addressed during the construction permit stage of the process and they will look into the methods and policies for community consultation going forward.
“The traffic issues are something that staff have already reviewed with our transportation staff, in particular the comments in regards to a left turn lane to ensure there’s adequate access,” says development services supervisor Kevin Brooks. Staff discussed that exact issue with the devloper when the proposal first came in, Brooks says, “and this will be addressed as part of the works and service requirement at time of building permit to ensure there’s adequate flow maintained along the Island Highway.”
Brooks also pointed out that the area in question is in the Official Community Plan as a “Village Centre,” node “and one of the major visions of the OCP is to promote greater development within these nodes to foster more pedestrianized environments.”
Coun. Charlie Cornfield questioned why there is seemingly no requirement that information about neighbourhood public meetings be received by neigbours a certain amount of time before the meeting actually takes place. The city currently only “requests” that developers notify those affected 10 days in advance of the meeting being held, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so.
In fact, because the residents were unaware of the discussions actually taking place, many of the opposition letters the city were sent were received just hours before the meeting at which the decision was to be made, forcing council to take a recess during the meeting to review them before continuing with the discussion.
“Maybe we should have a discussion at some point about looking at making this process a bit better so we don’t end up with 10 letters 15 minutes before we have to make some of these big decisions,” Coun. Babchuk says.
Mayor Andy Adams agreed, adding that they will also direct the city’s administrative to examine “how notification is handled better for the public.”
The development was approved with only Cornfield opposed.