Neighbours, tennis club stuck at deuce on land-use issue

Supporters and opponents of an application by the Westwood Tennis Club traded volleys Monday night at city council.

Supporters and opponents of an application by the Westwood Tennis Club traded volleys Monday night at city council over a request by the club to phase out an out-of-date land-use contract.

By discharging the contract in favour of a more modern CC6 zoning classification, the club could potentially increase its business activity on site, a possibility not welcomed by some neighbours worried their quiet neighbourhood will be disrupted with increased traffic to the facility.

But co-owner and president Cheryl Miller, who has had a stake in the club since 1994, said the attempt to discharge the land use contract is being made because it restricts access to members and invited guests only to the club’s recently updated restaurant.

“The tennis club cannot exist without being open to the community … no changes are proposed to the nature of the business, we’re just asking that the status quo be legally permitted to continue,” said Miller.

Miller said that any removal of the land use would be coupled with a covenant with the city to ensure activities at the club remain consistent with the past as the CC6 zoning would permit other activities.

“We are a tennis club first and foremost and will continue to be,” she said.

Users and residents of the Bethlehem Retreat Centre next door, however, are concerned that increased activity at the club will result in disruptive situations that will interrupt peaceful contemplation at the retreat.

Sister Mary Ann Gisler, director the retreat that is owned by the Benedictines of Nanaimo, said she is concerned that discharging the land use contract will pave the way for conflicting activities between the neighbours.

“To this point in time these two businesses have been able to coexist as neighbours  in relative harmony in spite of their different goals,” she said. “One of the things people are most looking for and appreciate about the Bethlehem Retreat Centre is the quiet and reflective environment that they find when they come here. The quiet environment is an essential part of our operations.”

Gisler said the concern comes from an increased amount of people who will be at the restaurant consuming liquor, as well as an increase in events such as weddings.

The restaurant was recently expanded to allow for 50 patrons from 43 through a liquor licence acquired in June.

Robyn Winkler, a residential neighbour, said she has noticed increased and louder activity at the club recently with more people arriving and leaving later than in the past.

“The relationship between the neighbours and the club ownership has been fractured,” she said.

Tennis club advocates maintained their ground strokes, however, saying the clientele at the club are not the partying, noise making type.

“To be blunt, the majority of members are over the hill,” said Toula Spencer-Johnson, a club member. “We can hardly be described as the partying type.”

Andre Lemieux, who has been a member since 1979, said in order to survive in a tough economy and provide the services required by its members, the tennis club has had to progress.

“The new reality of club business — I happen to be involved in golf club management — requires … adaptation to things like drinking laws and liquor licences that change. You have to renew your business plan … and look at the new way of doing things for the club to survive.”

Andrew Tucker, director of planning and development for the city, said stripping the land use contract away leaves the underlying CC6 zoning, which allows for other activities on the property. By creating a covenant, those opportunities can be restricted to reflect the uses that have occurred on the property in the past.

Before granting the land use discharge, Coun. Bill Holdom said he wanted a guarantee that the club owners would not pursue other economic activities that may result in disturbing its neighbours.

“I would like to hold some people accountable for the statements they’re making,” said Holdom. “I would like a covenant in which the applicant actually declares and certifies exactly what she and her supporters said will be true. In other words, that they won’t make any changes that affects the harmonious relationship they’ve had with their neighbours. I want a covenant that restricts operations and hours of operations.”

Council held off on voting on the first two readings to eliminate the land use contract, opting instead to try to establish a compromise by getting stakeholders together for a discussion. Should two readings eventually be passed, the issue will go to a public forum.

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