Despite many neighbours speaking in opposition to the proposal, the rezoning application to allow a new 51-unit apartment complex for Birch Street near the hospital was approved by Campbell River City Council this week.
Because the proposed building will essentially be a typical four-storey apartment complex – which is allowed under the current zoning – but instead made up of mainly micro-suites, which are around 300 square feet in size, studio and bachelor suites, as well as some 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, many more units can fit in the same amount of space, so the Crown Pacific needed a zoning amendment to allow for the increased density, as it was previously zoned to allow for about 20.
Council was initially enthusiastic about the proposal when it was given first and second reading and sent to a public hearing, as the community is in desperate need of more rental housing and this approach could be part of the solution.
Coun. Charlie Cornfield’s concern was the number of parking stalls being proposed, but staff said they reduced the required number because the expectation is that the micro-units and bachelor suites would likely be occupied by single working professionals – many of whom would likely work at the hospital nearby – so having 62 parking spots for the 51 units seemed reasonable.
“I like the proposal and I like that it’s creating some diversity in the marketplace,” said Coun. Colleen Evans, whose initial concerns echoed Cornfield’s regarding parking.
Coun. Michele Babchuk agreed that the unique development “would certainly help us with some of our affordable housing pieces, except that it is going to be at market rates. What I would hate to see happen is people on the lower end of our socio-economic scale accessing these and putting a family of four, because there is no other option, into a 500 square foot micro apartment.”
Mayor Andy Adams said that he would reserve judgment until after the public hearing, “but I will say that we’ve heard for a number of years, housing affordability and affordable housing (needs to be a priority), and I’m very pleased to see a proposal come forward that provides some options for people to consider.”
But at the public hearing, many neighbours spoke to already dangerous traffic situations in the area, a loss of privacy and groundwater problems that they felt would intensify should the development go ahead.
Gordon McMann, who has lived on McCarthy Street – directly to the east of the proposed development – since 1973, says the apartments will look right into his backyard.
“We give up a certain amount of privacy when we buy a home, because you have neighbours on both sides, front and back, but when you’ve got 25 or 26 of them who can look out their window and onto your deck … I don’t know that we’re going to want to sit out there,” McMann told council.
He’s also concerned about the complex lowering the property values in the neighbourhood.
“I can’t imagine anybody coming into our house (looking to purchase it), looking up there, seeing all those windows and being excited about it,” he said. “And my neighbours are going to be affected just as much as me – the neighbours on Birch probably more than me.”
McMann and other concerned neighbours also spoke to groundwater concerns in the area that could cause problems should the development go ahead, but council was assured by both staff and the proponent that geotechnical experts would be addressing that issue during the development phase.
And some said that further increased density would inevitably cause accidents, and were especially concerned about the steady stream of school kids in the area, as well as those walking to and from a nearby daycare facility.
“The traffic on Birch Street between second and fourth has become a major speedway in the last couple of years,” said Mary Jensen, who has lived on Birch Street since 1965, “and there are already 100-plus units between second and third that drive out onto Birch on a daily basis.”
In the end, council decided that because the majority of the neighbours’ concerns could be mitigated through the design and development phases of the construction or would be no different should a four-storey apartment be built under its current zoning restriction without being allowed increased density, it should go ahead.