Despite ardent opposition from local residents, city council approved in principle an application to rezone a workshop on Little Mountain to a coach house. The application will go to third reading, after city staff have been assured that the owner has addressed lingering concerns.
Owners Pleun Jan and Sara Jacoba De Koning applied to rezone a secondary building on their 47531 Swallow Crescent property from R1-A (one family residential) to R1-C (one family residential with accessory). This would convert the existing workshop into a coach house, and allow the owners to rent it out.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she couldn’t remember the last time there was so much angst over a coach house. In addition to the dozen or so letters of opposition sent to council, a half dozen of De Konings’ neighbours stood at the city council meeting Tuesday night to argue that the owner circumvented city policy by building the coach house in 2009 under the label of a workshop, and is now seeking proper zoning after the fact. A coach house in the neighbourhood would upset the area’s charm by inviting potentially unsavoury renters, the residents argued.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and Mr. de Koning has done things the wrong way. He has shown little regard for our community and city’s bylaws,” said neighbour Robert Reimer.
De Koning acknowledged that he always planned to convert the three-story secondary building into a coach house, but only after his children moved out.
“I built my shop about three years ago because I needed parking for my car, and space for my tools,” he said. “I needed the shop. I didn’t need a coach house at the time. I built with the foresight that one day I would like to rezone. That was four years ago. Now my kids have moved out.”
Using before and after satellite images retrieved from the city’s website, neighbour Susan Pafford said that de Koning removed trees on public parkland that adjoins the property, which has dramatically altered neighbours’ privacy, and worsened the peacefulness of the park.
Other photos showed brown water runoff from the property leaks into the park.
Council agreed to hold a final decision on the application until city staff investigate the source of the runoff, and ensure that all trees removed from public land have been replaced.
De Koning also agreed to consider frosted glass, relocating windows, or planting hedges to restore neighbours’ sense of privacy.
Another issue is that the building is 40 centimetres above the maximum height for its current R1-A zoning, although well below the maximum height for R1-C zoning. This is a common occurrence, said council, because of the difficulty in predicting land level at the time of construction.
“This is something that could have easily happened. It isn’t a deliberate error on the city’s part,” said Getz.
Neighbours fear that a coach house, and the alleged privacy and drainage issues, has decreased their property values.
Looking at existing constructions in the area, builder de Koning believes it is not possible for Little Mountain to become overrun by coach houses, nor that his has negatively affected property values.
The City of Chilliwack has been trying to increase population density in residential neighbourhoods. City council agreed that coach houses, done right, should be encouraged.
Speaking to de Koning, Gaetz said: “Your property is perfect in my view for a coach house. If we are trying to densify, every neighbourhood should take their share of density.”
Councillor Ken Huttema said that de Koning has not violated city bylaws, and that anyone constructing a workshop has the right to apply for rezoning.
“No bylaws have been broken in this process. It’s a process anyone can undertake to do,” he said. “The beauty of this bylaw is that the landowner has to stay on the property…The landowner has the right to ensure good tenants.”