The first steps toward rezoning a significant residential development of up to 298 units on Chilliwack Mountain were taken by council Tuesday.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz was the lone voice opposed to the proposed rezoning and OCP amendments.
Average slopes of 45 degrees at the site on Lickman Road are much steeper than the recommended upper limit of 30 degrees, as stipulated in the fairly new Hillside Guidelines, she pointed out.
“I take this very seriously,” she said. “I think we’re at a crucial moment in our development here in Chilliwack, where we need to say ‘we created those guidelines for a reason.’”
She expressed concern about the deep “cuts and fills” necessary to build on sharper slopes over the project site that covers 56.3 ha or 140 acres.
A majority of council approved the zoning and OCP changes however, with a 6-1 vote. Council went with the staff recommendation to hold the matter at third reading, pending resolution of geotechnical, environmental and sewer servicing questions from the applicant.
Councillor Chuck Stam qualified his support as “tepidly in favour” while Coun. Jason Lum admitted it was a “difficult” file for council.
A suggestion by the project engineer that the project “meets the intent” of the new hillside guidelines rankled the mayor.
“It certainly does not,” she said crisply. “And that is what has been flagged by staff.”
The staff report cited sewer capacity issues, as well as difficult terrain on the site with steep slopes and environmental concerns. It also notes the challenges of high retaining walls or “green” walls in this case, despite the applicant’s plan to cluster some of the units in flatter areas, and retain treed areas for better views.
Several area residents, who are also members of the Chilliwack Mountain Ratepayers, turned out at the public hearing to voice opposition to the plan, citing concerns about steep slopes, as well as increased traffic woes, and impact on habitats of endangered species.
A letter written by resident Brian Jackson called on the city to reject the application and others that don’t follow the hillside guidelines, and warned council not to repeat the mistakes of the former “pro-development” council.
Resident Ron Angell read out Jackson’s letter, and later commented that Chilliwack Mountain was a “visual jewel for all to see” which warrants strict compliance with the guidelines.
“We must be very careful how it’s developed, because mistakes have been made,” he said, adding it was important to “get it right the first time.”
Resident Steve Anderson described the abundant wildlife on the hill from bobcats and cougars to deer, eagles, hawks and even the endangered mountain beaver.
“We who live on the hill have a feel for these animals. We don’t want to come off as elitist. We know development has to come. But what we’re adamant about is that it be done with due process and thought behind it.”
Angell actually brought a stuffed beaver to the meeting as a prop to underline the concern for habitat, and Anderson described how a mountain beaver once dropped out of some deadfall he was removing onto his foot, like a “furry slipper.”
The project applicant, represented in part at the hearing by engineer Kevin Healy from CREUS Engineering, said they would using creative design measures to minimize the impacts of viewscapes from the valley floor.
“This development will in time fit into the hillside,” and said people won’t be able to see it.
The firm has been contracted for projects from across the Fraser Valley, to Pemberton.
“We’ve seen a lot of good and bad as to what can go on a hillside.”
The housing proposal has been in the works for several years and was amended. The number of units was actually ratcheted down from the initial 400 single homes, to the current proposal of 298 units of multi-family, duplex and single-family homes.
“I think we’ve addressed some of the concerns,” Healy said, adding that they’d been diligently working with city staff, and had met with ratepayers twice.
Although the traffic volume issue came up more than once, city director of Engineering David Blain said this development “would not trigger an upgrade” such as the twinning of the overpass to cut volumes.
The applicant is offering a 10-metre buffer, common amenity areas and public amenities in the form of a park and trails with almost 40 hectares of woodlands, to be deeded to the city as a park or conservation area. They foresee bands of trees separating the vegetated areas, and the vision for the development is a long-term, multi-year buildout.
“We recognize that a lot of people view this as their park, but it’s private land.”
Joel McLean president of the Pan-Canadian Mortgage Group said the original owner went into receivership, and they became involved in November 2007.
“I was appointed receiver by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in July of 2012,” he said.
There’s ample pressure to “get it right,” he said.
“If we don’t get it right on phase A we won’t get to phase B,” McLean said.
But if the proposal with its sharp slopes, “falls short” of the hillside guidelines, “Can you explain how that ‘gets it right’ the first time?” Mayor Gaetz asked.
“It’s our goal to have a site that works long-term,” McLean responded. “So cutting trees and waiting 30 years for them to grow back doesn’t make sense.”
They’re planning “green” retaining walls, and restricting areas that are thinned and cut, retaining as much treed area as possible.
The bylaws were to rezone three properties on Lickman Road, from an HR (Hillside Residential) Zone to a newly created Comprehensive Development (CD-23) Zone, to facilitate residential development of up to 298 dwelling units.
Because the bylaws are being held at third reading, the applicant is required to provide more technical details about geotechnical issues, servicing and more.
There is only sewer capacity for 50 units, so the question of capacity to service the other 248 units remains, said staff.
City officials are actually being asked to “constrain” the development over the multi-year build-out, which could take between 10 and 25 years, McLean told The Progress the day after the meeting.
“We likened it to applying belts and suspenders, as we’re limiting the number of units and the size of the cleared areas and managed areas.
“It gives the city certainty to know what it can expect on the site over time.”