Exercising caution, council approves variance permit

Minding safety risks, public testimony and the setting of precedents, Vanderhoof council cautiously approves variance permit application

Town council approved a development variance permit application with conditions on Tuesday, Oct. 9, minding safety risks and the setting of precedents.

At least five homeowners attended the council meeting to lobby against the application, a Vanderhoof-based construction company’s proposal to build five homes on five compact lots at the corner of Fifth and Riley Streets in Vanderhoof.

If constructed, the five dwellings would appear crowded and unsightly in comparison with the rest of the neighborhood, which largely consists of single-family homes built on larger lots, the homeowners said.

“Does that come into your way of thinking?” Janet Smith, a homeowner who lives near the lots, asked council.

“I think all levels of thought come into our way of thinking about just how something is going to fit into the neighbourhood,” said Councillor Ken Young, then acting in the place of Mayor Gerry Thiessen.

Thiessen, a real estate agent, sold the five lots to the developer and could not be present during discussions about the agenda item.

Later in the evening, the homeowners said they weren’t lobbying against development, but rather the aesthetics and suitability of the proposed project.

“There’s nothing wrong with putting a house on an empty lot. That’s a plus for the area, but when you’re wedging them in like that, it’s not going to be a pretty sight,” said John Mainer, a homeowner who also lives near the lots.

“This isn’t a Vancouver suburb,” he said.

Discord also stems from the fact that, under grandfather clauses, the five lots owned by the developer are exempt from existing bylaws that other builders had to abide by in the past.

“All the setbacks we’ve had to comply with are being thrown out the window completely so that this developer can squeeze five houses onto five little lots,” said Smith.

According to internal documents released by council, district planner Kerry Pateman reported having mixed thoughts over what to do with the developer’s proposal, initially encouraging that the lots be consolidated into larger properties, but also backing higher density development in accordance with the infill policies of the Official Community Plan.

“It’s about using services where they already are instead of extending outwards beyond the serviced area,” said Pateman, who also stressed the importance of providing different types of housing choices in the community.

Although Pateman supported aspects of the proposal, she identified safety risks related to the lot adjacent to Riley Street and Evelyn Dickson Elementary School. Development on this lot would likely impede a driver’s awareness of oncoming traffic and pedestrians on the sidewalk, she explained.

Homeowners expressed similar concerns about safety issues.

Taking into consideration recommendations made by Pateman and testimony from the homeowners, council approved the application with restrictive covenant, allowing the three easternmost lots to be developed with the variance. Council didn’t approve the variances for the two lots immediately adjacent to Riley Street.