Lois Maurer, 93, at the property next to Birchwood Retirement Residences on May 21, 2019 where a developer asked for variances to put up a five-storey, 32-unit apartment building. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Chilliwack city council sides with seniors against five-storey apartment project

Developer sent back to the drawing board over concerns about sun-blocking building downtown

A developer’s proposal to shoehorn a five-storey apartment building on a narrow downtown lot was rejected by city council on Tuesday after a busload of retired folks showed up express their opposition.

9194 Edward Street

The application from Precision Building Design Associates to rezone the property on Edward Street from residential to high-density multi-family residential was approved by council, but a long list of variances required to build the 32-unit building was rejected in a vote of five to one.

The contentious issue with the “orphan” property is its narrow size and its adjacency to the Birchwood Retirement Residences.

Some of the residents of the Birchwood who range in age from 80 to over 100, many of whom are housebound, have south-facing windows and patios that overlook the lot currently occupied by a single-family heritage home.

To fit a five-storey, 32-unit apartment building on the property, the developer asked for a variance to reduce the minimum lot width from 30 metres to 19.8 metres, the maximum lot coverage from 50 per cent to 76.3 per cent, and lot line setbacks to shrink from as much as from 7.5 metres to 1.6 metres.

“They are burying us in a 50-foot-well where we will never see the sun or the sky,” 93-year-old Lois Maurer told The Progress outside the property next on Tuesday before the meeting.

“You won’t be able to see the sky if you look straight up. They are burying us alive.”

More than 20 seniors filled council chambers for the 7 p.m. public hearing on May 21 who came on a Chartwell bus. A number of children of folks living at the retirement residence spoke against the building as being detrimental to the health of their parents.

Taryn Dixon said her parents aged 91 and 88 recently moved into the Birchwood in a unit facing the lot in question.

“The people that came out tonight, it took them great effort for them to let you know that this is not going to work for them,” Dixon told council. “My parents have been here for 80 years. They helped build Chilliwack.”

The Birchwood’s general manager Marci Rozsa also spoke against the project on behalf of residents in the building.

“The application is poised to severely and negatively affect the quality of life for our residents,” Rozsa said, adding that when the developer came to tell them in March about the project there was no mention made of the drastic variances required, something she said had to be in the works and constituted them being “dishonest by omission.”

John Vander Hoek answered a number of questions on behalf of the developer and explained the history of the development. He said the project would create safe and affordable housing for seniors with a “beautiful contemporary design.”

While the rezoning was approved by council, four out of the five councillors present expressed discomfort with what was being asked for variances.

Coun. Harv Westeringh was the only one in favour of the variances.

“Anything that is going to be built on that lot down the road is going to need variance,” he said. “This proposal has my support.”

Before him, Couns. Chris Kloot, Jason Lum, Jeff Shields and Bud Mercer expressed their opposition. (Coun. Sue Knott was absent.) Mayor Ken Popove also voted to deny the variance permit.

“I am uncomfortable with the amount of variances that are required,” Coun Kloot said.

“It’s the right project on the wrong property,” Coun. Lum said.

“We shouldn’t have to put neighbours at that much of a detriment if new building is going in,” Coun. Shields said.

During the public hearing, Coun. Mercer suggested to Vander Hoek that the reason his design did not include patios or windows on the north side of the building was because those patios would be as little as 12 feet away from the Birchwood.

“The reason you are not putting balconies on the north side of the building is because it would be a terrible place for a balcony, which is now what you are expecting [Birchwood residents] to live with,” Mercer said.

Vander Hoek responded that they were “doing the best we can with a fairly restrictive property.”

In the end, the seniors left happy they had “won” the day, and the developer will have to come back with a drastically different building proposal for the property.

• RELATED: Developer will consider creative alternatives to demolishing historic home

• RELATED: Litany of neighbourhood concerns heard at Ruth & Naomi’s rezoning – 2017


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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The back of the Birchwood Retirement Residences at left as seen from the property rezoned for high-density multi-family residential on May 21, 2019. Seniors at the home came to city council to oppose variances to allow the developer to build an apartment building almost right up to the lot line. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

9194 Edward Street

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