Friends of Westwood Lake members, Robyn Winkler, left, Sharon Kofoed, Johanne Nicholson, Serena Graham, Kathleen Darby and Kelly Hudson hold signs protesting a proposed condo development alongside Westwood Lake. The group fears the development would ruin the charm of the area and shut down the Bethlehem Centre. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Westwood residents oppose proposed lakeside condos

Bethlehem Centre says three-storey condo buildings next door would lead to centre’s closure

Nanaimo residents are starting to come together in an effort to stop a potential condominium development near Westwood Lake.

Friends of Westwood Lake, a group of nearby residents, have started a petition opposing the Westwood Tennis Club’s proposal to build condos on its property. The group also plans to be be active around the lake and in the community, raising awareness about their concerns.

White Lion Developments – the company hired by tennis club co-owners – are looking to build two three-storey 55-plus condo buildings, resulting in 57 two-bedroom units, at 2367 Arbot Rd. White Lion’s application to have the property’s designation changed from commercial recreational centre to medium density residential has been received by the City of Nanaimo. The developer has already held an open house meeting to inform the community about the project.

It’s unclear when council will vote on the rezoning application.

RELATED: Condos pitched next to Westwood Lake in Nanaimo

Sharon Kofoed, spokeswoman for the Friends of Westwood Lake, said the group is completely against re-zoning because the condominium project would “destroy” the existing ambience of Westwood Lake Park.

“Westwood is the jewel in our crown. People come to see [Westwood Lake], they don’t come to see high-rise buildings. They come to appreciate nature. They come to appreciate super natural British Columbia and [Westwood] is it,” she said. “By putting condos here, that type of development will not only change the character of our area but the lake itself.”

Kofoed, who attended the open house meeting and felt there were mostly people opposed to the project, said that the form and character of the proposed buildings “doesn’t fit” with the rest of the neighbourhood. She said while the project is marketed for seniors, there aren’t amenities such as grocery stores or pharmacies in the immediate neighbourhood and that developer’s plans to upgrade pathways at Westwood Lake isn’t what the community really needs.

Kofoed also said if the project is approved it could open the door for high-rise development in the area and that there is nothing preventing the owners from selling the property once it is re-zoned.

“Someone else could come in and build something even worse,” she said.

Lawrence Winkler, who lives on the other side of the tennis club, said he isn’t pleased with the proposal, calling it obtrusive and intrusive.

“There will be more traffic, more noise, more population pressure in a place that is absolutely the pristine jewel of the city,” he said, adding that he wasn’t satisfied with the level of consultation done by White Lion and is worried about the future of the neighbourhood.

Another concern for the group is the future of the Bethlehem Centre, which has been around in some capacity since the 1970s.

Kathleen Darby, Bethlehem’s executive director, said if the condo project is approved it would ultimately result in the centre’s closure.

“This particular development, because of the time it would take to build it, would actually affect our core clients, which are the main reason that we are able to exist,” Darby said, adding that 25 part-time and casual people would lose their jobs if that happened.

The centre is already in a “fragile” position according to Darby, who said long-term construction would drive away clients and cause cancellation of bookings as far in advance as 2021.

“This little organization that is barely starting to survive would be put it into a situation where it would not be possible for us to survive,” Darby said. “Nanaimo has this beautiful place, the centre, it would be a shame to lose it.”

Three-storey condo buildings would have a negative impact on the centre according to Darby, who said it is the “rural” feel of the area that attracts clients from all over the world.

“We have people from China next week and one of the reasons they come here is because of this beautiful, natural environment and they can walk the lake,” she said. “We try to be as rural as we can be. We’ve been here for 30 years and all this development has grown around us.”

Darby explained that the centre is not anti-development and wants to see a solution that satisfies both the property owners and the centre. She said the centre could live with low-rise single-family homes next door, adding that she personally would rather see the city purchase the land and turn it into a park.

“This spot can be amazing and if we build a bunch of condos on it, it won’t be the same,” Darby said.

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Cheryl Miller, co-owner of the property, said she is aware of the concerns from Friends of Westwood Lake and has tried to address them. She said construction, if the re-zoning application is approved, could begin within two to four years and that the development will not impact the city’s portion of the trail around Westwood Lake.

“We are not touching the lake. Our development is actually set further back than the existing building on the property,” she said. 
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