COLUMN: Bylaw falls victim to poor planning

It was hard to criticize the city’s new zoning bylaw when it was passed by city council in the summer of 2011.

At first glance, it was a document that would serve the community well by densifying residential areas by reducing required lot sizes upon which to build, increasing the tax base and reducing the pressure on infrastructure like roads, sewers, and water.

It could also be argued that it helped to spur a few jobs – or at least keep ones from leaving town – by providing incentive to builders who otherwise probably wouldn’t have built a home or two on a particular lot.

Prior to the new zoning bylaw, it was council’s decision to allow for legal suites in virtually every new single family home dwelling.

However, as this new zoning bylaw is beginning to take shape in a more tangible way, it is evident it has its flaws.

The first flaw is the apparent lack of any transportation plan to correlate with new housing densities. While I’ve had discussions about this concern with other residents, the issue hit close to home this fall when six lots that weren’t considered economically feasible to develop prior to the new zoning bylaw were quickly sold and developed.

Each house is being marketed as a single family home with a basement suite. By my calculations, once the houses are done and sold, there will likely be an average of three vehicles per unit. That’s 18 more vehicles travelling up and down our previously quiet, dead end street.

On a larger scale, already approved applications to build hundreds of new housing units near Stephenson Point off Hammond Bay Road is going to turn that stretch of road into commuter gridlock in the next 10 years.

As most drivers who frequent Hammond Bay will note, there is no room to widen that stretch from Departure Bay Road to Planta Road to accommodate hundreds more vehicles. There are also no sidewalks or bike lanes.

Yes, there is currently a Master Transportation Plan being undertaken by the city, but we’ve already learned the city’s infrastructure responsibilities are underfunded by a total of $19 million annually.

Another flaw in this plan to densify is a total lack of communication between the city, developers and current residents. As it stands now, developers simply cruise into existing neighbourhoods with their Bobcats, earth movers and pickup trucks and start cutting down trees and digging holes. With setbacks now as little as 1.5 metres, this activity can have a huge impact on the quality of life on people who have been living and paying taxes where they are for years.

Consultation between the developers and nearby house owners would go a long way in reducing poorly-placed windows and other privacy infringements that can help ease the stress of the homeowner being affected while making the new house more appealing to potential buyers.

I headed down to the city’s planning department on a few occasions more than a year prior to construction to try and get a sense of what development we could expect. Initial plans suggested there would be three homes, not four, and the initial application said no trees would be cut down. The plans changed several times, and no solid answers ever came forward from the city, even when house footings were poured five feet away from our property line.

I suspect the idea of the new zoning bylaw was to reduce urban sprawl. But when people suddenly find themselves surrounded by rapid, poorly-planned growth, places like Nanoose, Coombs, Lantzville and other rural areas become attractive, and the cycle of urban sprawl and further poor planning begins anew.

Infilling can work, but the city needs to create policy on how to inform homeowners how their neighbourhood is changing. Creating a communication link between the city, developers and homeowners would be a good place to start.


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