Walking through the canopied streets of Rockland, lined with historic estates tucked behind stone gates, one could be forgiven for mistaking it as the Oak Bay of Victoria.
Certainly, its heritage and grandeur make it a gem within the city, reinforced by the four walking brochures and 20-odd daily tour buses showcasing its streets.
While Oak Bay is known for high-priced houses, Rockland’s average single-family home is valued at more than $800,000. Both communities also have a reputation for resisting change.
While most neighbourhood associations are pushing for updates to their decades-old neighbourhood plans, Rockland’s governing body likes its 1987 plan just fine.
“We’re happy with it,” said Rockland president Janet Simpson.
The problem is the city planning department doesn’t recognize it, she said, adding character homes are frequently lost to redevelopment.
The neighbourhood association has gone as far as seeking a lawyer to enforce the plan’s land-use principles, such as preserving historic homes, mature trees and gate posts.
Simpson points to Despard Avenue as an example of a neighbourhood eye sore, where redevelopment hasn’t respected the character of the neighbourhood. Other examples of conflict include the redevelopment of the proposed Caroline Macklin estate and the recovery centre on Fort Street.
The city’s garden suite pilot project also rankles.
At the last annual general meeting of the association, director Bill Brooks strung up a big blue tarp, the size of an allowable garden suite, to illustrate exactly how much green space could be lost to the rental unit.
But lest one likens these objections to the anti-secondary-suite vehemence dominating Oak Bay, Rockland is not a neighbourhood fearful of renters.
“We’re not a bunch of rich people that are living in big houses,” said Brooks, insisting it’s not about NIMBYism. Most of the big homes are subdivided into many suites, he explained, adding 70 per cent of the neighbourhood’s residents are tenants.
“I’m amazed at how well owner residents and rental residents get along,” said Brooks. The 20-somethings add so much energy to the neighbourhood, he added.
Reaching out to them, however, has proven to be problematic. That’s because the association can’t drop flyers or newsletters into mailboxes of apartment buildings.
“Rental people are welcome … and they have the same voice at city council,” added former director Lois John.
These days, the association is trying to draw more members. Their idea is to introduce more social events, instead of mainly dealing with land-use issues which leaves volunteers feeling burnt-out and ineffectual.
For instance, residents were encouraged to bring a friend to a $10 wine-and-cheese party at Government House. The cost also covered the association’s annual membership fee, explained John.
“What a deal, heh?”
Starting in 2005, average single-family homes rose sharply from about $618,000 to $825,000 by 2009. Since then, values have stagnated while most other neighbourhoods continue to climb.
Despite its proximity to downtown, Rockland has kept the commercial-creep at bay. The neighbourhood has fewer than a dozen retail outlets and residents insist on keeping it that way.