North Cowichan council approved a development permit for a 39-foot high three-storey building that will be adjacent to the popular Secret Garden in Chemainus and its businesses, despite concerns raised by the local business community.
A proponent of the project, Michael Moody from MJM Architecture Inc., told council the plans are to remove the single-family dwelling currently occupying the lot at 9744 Willow St. and replace it with a mixed-use building covering the entirety of the lot that will have eight apartments on the two upper floors and two commercial units with a parking area on the ground floor.
But Ward Yeager, owner of Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Co. which is located in the Secret Garden, and other nearby businesses spoke to council at its meeting on Feb. 2 and said he was speaking on behalf of 34 businesses and property owners in the area who are against the project.
He said there are a number of issues that concern him and the others, including the fact that they were only informed of the project just before it was coming to council for consideration.
Yeager said that while 21 on-site parking stalls are required in order to meet the zoning bylaw for the building, only nine will be provided as the applicant has agreed to pay the municipality $96,000 to be placed in a reserve fund for new public off-street parking spaces within Chemainus instead of building the rest of the parking stalls.
“That means 12 residents of that property will have no place to park, except on Willow Street, and that will have a tremendous effect on the viability of the businesses on that street,” he said.
Yeager also pointed out that at 39 feet high, the new building will be nine feet taller that the Chemainus Theatre.
“That would kill the Secret Garden,” he said.
“The sun shadow that the building will create means plants and businesses in the Secret Garden won’t survive. Council should hold off on this application until they meet with the businesses in downtown Chemainus.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said it’s always difficult to make a decision on such projects when representatives of the business community come to speak to council against it, but the type of project proposed is in line with what the Chemainus Revitalization Plan envisioned for the area.
As for the height of the building, Coun. Rob Douglas said that it’s not something that council has any control over as North Cowichan’s zoning bylaw allows a developer to build that high there.
“We have our current official community plan, our new draft OCP and the Chemainus Revitalization Plan all putting emphasis on densifying in our existing commercial cores and getting ground-oriented commercial space with residential on top rather than spreading out our development to other areas,” Douglas said.
“But at the same time, Mr. Yeager’s concerns do resonate with me. [The project] sounds great on paper, but this business owner is just a stone’s throw away and will have this much larger building overlooking him, potentially impacting his business. I can definitely understand his concerns and of the other business owners in the area, but how do we find balance in creating density without impacting business owners?”
Director of development Rob Conway said that it sometimes happens that when North Cowichan tries to infill and integrate new developments into existing areas, friction occurs with those already there.
“That’s part of the challenge of doing this and is one of the reasons why communities across North America are more spread out because it’s easier to develop greenfield sites on a community’s perimeter than in its core,” Conway said.
Conway said the best time and place for members of the public to have their say on how their communities develop is when the municipality is seeking input as it prepares such documents as the Chemainus Revitalization Plan and establishing its development-permit guidelines.
“That’s when property owners can provide input into what the [development] ground rules will be,” he said.
Council voted unanimously to give the project a development permit.