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)

OPINION: The very least seniors deserve is a little dignity

City council made the right decision to stop five-storey apartment next to retirement residence

I met Lois Maurer on Tuesday as I parked on Edward Street to visit a property up for rezoning.

She slowly approached on the sidewalk, gingerly pushing her walker with a recently broken arm.

Little yellow and black birds flitted around a bird feeder on a patio of a unit in the Birchwood Retirement Residences. American goldfinches, I think. Lois said she sees them often.

Then, darting along the top of the fence, tail bouncing, something else.

“Oh look, a squirrel,” the 93-year-old said mid-conversation while we discussed a proposed five-storey apartment building on a tiny lot, surrounded by apartment buildings.

Articulate yet angry, Maurer and many of her fellow residents at Birchwood Retirement Residence were upset to find out at the last minute about a public hearing for a development variance to allow for the building whose north-facing w all will be just metres away from patios and windows.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack city council sides with seniors against five-storey apartment project

City council stories about development proposals with buildings that are out-of-character for a neighbourhood, or that require variances to allow for reduced setbacks are nothing new.

We may, however, see growing conflict between neighbours as easily developable land becomes scarcer, hemmed in as we are by rivers, mountains and the ALR.

But this is not the typical city hall NIMBY (not in my back yard) story, even if the complaints from the Birchwood folks in their 80s, 90s and 100s were precisely that.

“A five-storey apartment building in my back yard? No!”

I just think it’s important that a narrative does not emerge from a story like this, often over-simplified in the little space that we have, that one “side” in this story think developers and development is “bad.” And the other is crying NIMBYism.

All too often discourse reverts to black and white oversimplification of otherwise nuanced issues in these pages, and even moreso online.

At the public hearing the adult children of some of these residents, many of whom are shut-ins, expressed how terrible it would be to lose what contact with nature exists if a five-storey structure is built so close to their homes. No one suggested development wasn’t expected or inevitable on this orphan property.

And the developer in this case should not be painted as greedy, trying to squeeze every dollar out of the land. As he put it, Chilliwack needs places for people to live and 32 small units on this property could prove to be something affordable and needed in our current housing crisis. He said he was just trying to do his best with an unusual piece of land.

The cynic might suggest that of course he’d say that. But it is simply true: we need housing and this is an odd property.

Meeting Ms. Maurer on Tuesday was lucky for me. I briefly met a few other residents of the Birchwood at the public hearing. Seeing and hearing from them reminded me that the elders in our midst built this country, they helped shape our society, and they should, frankly, be revered.

If this was anything but a retirement residence north of the property in question, I suspect the backlash would have fallen on deaf ears.

But our precious elders don’t always end their days the way they entirely desire, that much was made clear.

As our parents and grandparents go slowly into their last days, they may no longer flit about as free birds or dance across lawns like squirrels.

And it isn’t just a nicety for them to see a little nature in their final days, I believe it’s essential for mental health.

A little space, a little sunlight, just a little dignity is the least these folks deserve.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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