Approval of a controversial development proposal on what is touted as the last large piece of property in Sidney, came down to the mayor’s vote.
Steve Price cast the deciding vote on Monday to clear the way for a 15-lot, high-density subdivision on a site at the corner of Ardwell Avenue and Resthaven Drive that currently has only one house. The change has neigbours worried about its impact on their quality of life.
By the time Price cast his vote, a significant portion of the people who attended that evening’s public hearing had gotten up and left.
Residents, some of whom spoke against the proposed subdivision, left the meeting when a representative of the property owner presented a site plan to council. Their walkout stemmed from another public hearing on Feb. 9, where developers gave a presentation at the end of the hearing — something that some residents took issue with, under the incorrect understanding that no new information could be presented at the hearing (see editor’s note below).
Many people did remain after the hearing to witness council’s decision, some expressing exasperation with a split council decision to approve zoning and official community plan changes to accommodate the development plans.
“The OCP allows this,” said Price. “It does comply with the OCP. I know you can apply the OCP in many ways, and this is one way.”
Price said the property owner heard people’s concerns and changed the plan to save a Garry oak tree by turning one lot into a small park.
Councillor Cam McLennan, who also voted to support the project, said existing zoning would have allowed secondary suites, meaning more traffic in the area.
“The proposal before us now looks better in the end,” he said.
Coun. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, also a supporter, said he based his decision on how walkable, close to transit and schools and its proximity to recreation opportunities the property is. Much of his response to the public hearing was to address minor concerns about construction and traffic and to express frustration at the walkout.
Coun. Tim Chad stuck with his “more feet on the street to help local business” mantra to answer for his support of the project.
Councillors opposed to it, and in the minority, were Erin Bremner, Barbara Fallot and Peter Wainwright. They said that existing zoning on the property would meet the needs of the developer, and the community, when it comes to density and affordable housing options.
“There are no perfect answers,” Fallot said, adding what could go on the site was no different than what already exists elsewhere in Sidney.
Bremner added she felt existing zoning would give the site the variety of homes residents would be more likely to accept.
Wainwright noted that no matter if the developer chose existing zoning, or received council’s assent to change it this week, they stood to benefit.
He said the proponent did make “compromises” in changing the plan to reduce lot coverage, among others. Yet even so, he said he didn’t feel there was a compelling enough reason to allow the changes.
“There’s no … need to change the zoning,”Wainwright said, “and I’m hearing a lot of opposition to it.”
Resident Christine Kolliforth led the resident opposition to the plan and had presented a 500-name petition against it to council.
“Who benefits from these amendments?” she asked. “Not the neighbourhood.”
Resident Bard Edwards, opposed, felt this would mean a loss of small town charm in the area. She also pointed out the proposal didn’t meet the existing OCP, and that was why the developer was seeking the OCP amendment.
“I fear a domino effect,” she said. “More property owners may try to sell or subdivide for more gains.”
Residents raised issues such as loss of wildlife habitat and increased traffic but more often the loss of a “unique neighbourhood” came up.
Property owner Murray Inkster addressed the hearing, saying he worked with the Town for five years on the site and felt the concessions made in his current plan “meet all the people’s concerns.”
“It’s the best solution for the land,” he said. “It’s hard to hear the opposition … yet the land is dear to my heart.”
Other supporters suggested the higher-density subdivision would provide more homes appropriate for families.
Monday’s 4-3 vote changes the site’s zoning and OCP designation to allow 15 lots (up from 11).
The owner has indicated the plan is to prepare the lots for sale only, with individual houses to be built in separate agreements with new property owners.
Editor’s note: The print edition of this story contained incorrect information regarding new information being presented at public hearings. New information can, in fact, be presented at public hearings. Council cannot, following a public hearing, receive new information on a particular proposal prior to their decision. If new information is accepted by the municipality, the public hearing process would have to re-start.