Petitions fly over growth in Sidney

Sidney residents urge more people to speak up to stop what they call development proposals that don’t fit the neighbourhood.

Two groups of neighbours, on opposite ends of the Town of Sidney, are petitioning the municipality to stop a pair of development requests that would see more homes wedged onto land they feel is inappropriate.

In the last year, the Town of Sidney has seen a marked increase in the amount of development permit requests made to town hall. So much so, that the Town has authorized the hiring of a temporary planner to help meet the demand for project review and various rezoning requests. Mayor Steve Price, in late 2015, addressed the growth spurt in an article in the PNR as well as addressing the increase in complaints from residents in the wake of development pressure.

Now, the neighbours of two such projects are collecting names on petitions, seeking to stop requests for increased density.

Christine Kollofrath lives on Resthaven Drive next to a proposed housing development that would see 18 homes built on a treed lot that had originally been zoned for up to 11. In late 2015, she presented a petition of more than 240 names to Sidney council, asking they deny the request to allow the seven extra homes and stick with the existing zoning.

“This (rezoning request) is not appropriate for this area,” she said. “A cookie-cutter subdivision is not in character with the neighbourhood.”

Kollofrath said the current residents are perfectly willing to accept pre-existing zoning of the site that would still see up to 11 new homes built and many of the trees on the lot removed.

“We were prepared for development there, we’re not against it,” she continued. “But we were prepared for that under the land’s current zoning. This is too dense, too intense, too much in this neighbourhood.”

Kollofrath has been attending regular Sidney council meetings and their advisory planning commission sessions to follow the process. She said she feels her petition has thus far only been given cursory review and, in essence, has been pushed under the rug by a council and its commission that didn’t give it enough of a look.

“For us, it came across like it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair for a big project like this to get all of the attention. It’s a major change.”

Over on the south side of town, Ken and Sue Groom have been vocal opponents of a planned four story building next to their Fourth Street condo. A visit to their home, which is also in sight of a new four-storey building under construction at Bevan Avenue at Fifth Street, showed that the proposed structure would loom over their exterior deck.

Even so, the Grooms say they were prepared to accept the site’s existing zoning — that would allow a shorter building that still might block their views, but to a lesser extent. The proposal for four storeys and increased housing density on the lot, they echo, is simply not appropriate to the rest of the neighbourhood.

Ken has now started a petition of his own, to try to convince town councillors to deny the developer’s request for bonus density on the site.

He said he’s already facing an uphill battle, as council recently stated it saw merit in the developer’s proposed amenity contribution — a step to seeing the density increase approved through the municipality’s permitting process.

The Grooms say the proposed structure doesn’t fit in a mostly residential area, where buildings are supposed to gradually decrease in size the further they get away from the downtown core.

Both the Grooms and Kollofrath said they feel a little helpless as council moves each application forward, meeting after meeting. In both cases, individual councillors have expressed some of the same concerns as the residents. The Fourth Street building proposal was even sent back to the developer for revision and was re-introduced late last year. Even so, the Grooms say what changes were made didn’t change the larger size or footprint of the building.

The Grooms say they are left with talking to their neighbours, hoping to have enough people sign a petition — and have it taken seriously by the municipality.

“The only way to fight it,” Ken said, “is to have more voices.”

Kolofrath said she is not sure how the council will decide on the land proposal at Resthaven and Ardwell streets, but did note some of the politicians were asking questions and at least one councillor (Tim Chad) stated he was against it from the outset. Those comments and that from other councillors gives Kollofrath some hope for changes to the proposal.

“If developers think they can do what they want, I can speak up and say what I want, too,” she said. “Somebody’s got to speak up. We can’t say it’s a done deal. It’s not a done deal.”

Kollofrath said she expects the development proposal to come back to council on Feb. 9, with a public hearing expected in the days afterward. While she would like the project halted, she admitted she doesn’t think that’s likely. So, she’s hoping for increased public awareness of the issue, and for more people to have their say.

Ken Groom said he expects the Fourth Street condo project to go to public hearing on Feb. 9.

He’s encouraging people to show up and let council know a lot of people oppose the plan.