Victoria city council voted unanimously to decline a development in the Gonzales neighbourhood that would have destroyed 11 Garry oak trees.
Twelve members of the public, many neighbours in close proximity to the property, spoke at a public hearing Thursday in opposition of the development permit with variances at 515 Foul Bay Rd., which borders Abkhazi Gardens. Two people, including one adjacent neighbour, spoke in favour of the application. The Alpha Developments project proposed to build three two-storey homes next to the existing early 1900s mansion, which was previously converted into five rental units.
The loss of Garry oak trees, the proposal’s incompatibility with the Gonzales neighbourhood plan, and loss of privacy for neighbours were the most common reasons given for lack of support for the development.
Mary Callaghan, said she could hardly believe the proposal had made it this far because it does not comply with Gonzales plan, which was damaging the City’s relationship with the neighbourhood.
“Trust has been eroded between when this plan was implemented and approved, and what’s going on now,” she said. “If you don’t have trust, then you don’t have much left when you’re coming to work with people.”
Janet Simpson said she could not understand why the city’s planning staff and council would spend time on a proposal that did not enhance the neighbourhood.
“This proposal is an insult to all the neighbours who bought their large, beautiful tree-covered properties in good faith that the zoning and neighbourhood plan would be respected,” she said. “It’s an insult to the city’s commitment to protecting and preserving native ecosystems and adapting to climate change.”
Mayor Lisa Helps moved to decline the application rather than send it back for revisions.
“We do need more housing, and if we’re not going to build it in neighbourhoods, and if we’re going to protect the Garry oaks – which I think this council is very committed to – then we are going to need to have more density on corridors and in village centres in the downtown,” she said. “Hopefully the applicant will work with the neighbourhood to find something that can go here because I think that something can.”
Coun. Pamela Madoff said Victoria is an attractive place to live, but for a particular reason.
“If we keep densifying in this way, nobody’s going to want to live in Victoria, because we’re destroying the very thing people want to experience,” she said to applause in the chambers. “What you need on a site like this is an architectural response that, when you look at it you say, this is the only place these buildings could be or should be.”