In a quest for more housing and more housing choices a few bylaw and traffic feathers have to be ruffled as the building lots become increasingly difficult to accommodate projects.
When considering variances for a vacant parcel of land located in the Gyro neighbourhood at 41 Douglas Road — designated multi-unit in the Official Community Plan — city council was divided on what could and should be allowed to happen in the name of development.
City director of Development Services Sebastien Arcand told city council Tuesday night during its regular meeting at City Hall that the triangle-shaped property in question had a relatively flat building site approximately six metres below Douglas Road.
As a result, it was difficult to formulate a plan that could work for the site to accommodate development. Arcand said Development Services staff had been working with the landowner for a number of years to develop the property for its highest use.
“This choice was the best one and … has the least impact,” he told council.
The variances involved reducing the front building lot line setback from 4.5 metres to zero, and to reduce the number of parking stalls per lot from four to two stalls.
The changes did not sit well with several on council, however, and some councillors felt the increase in traffic and situating parking on a “bridge” was not acceptable.
But the bigger picture was not about parking, said Coun. Rik Logtenberg, and felt the city should be trying to mode shift away from cars to other forms of transportation.
“I think (parking) is always going to be an issue with any development and that the balance we are trying to strike here is between how do we create a liveable more dense community” and affordability, he said.
“Because affordability, for many, if not for the community itself, is one of our biggest issues. One of the only ways we are going to get to a more economically diversified community is through multi-unit dwellings like this.
“My concern is, if we don’t approve this variance, what is the alternative?”
The project provides housing for four families, Logtenberg pointed out, housing that goes away because of parking minimums and other challenges.
“And I think that (loss) is three families that would be contributing to this community that wouldn’t have a place to live, and I think these are the compromises we would have to make going forward to create the community that has a broad representation of people of all economic backgrounds.”
Arcand said when city staff looked at variances there were a few things they looked at, including what the OCP wanted and keeping more housing and more housing choices, as well as the highest and best use of land.
“Council gets asked to agree on these technicalities, but we look at the bigger picture,” he pointed out. “And that’s why, in working with the proponent, we really felt it looked like it matched the intent of the OCP and therefore that’s why we brought this recommendation to council.”
City council had passed an OCP that directed staff to create opportunities for more density and create more opportunities for housing, said Mayor John Dooley.
“And when we get to properties such as this one, it simply won’t be developed unless it’s economies of scale because (the lots) are just too steep and too tough to work with and, going forward, we all know we are land poor in Nelson and the bulk of the inventory we have left … is mostly steep and tough to build on,” he said. “They have to be built based on a return on investment otherwise it won’t be developed.”
The variances narrowly passed, four votes to three.