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View Royal tenants fear paradise lost as site owner applies for rezoning

Seniors Barb and Jim Cowling were married in the woods at Christie Point 20 years ago.
Jim and Barb Cowling outside their home at Christie Point. "We don't want to have to move," Barb said.

Seniors Barb and Jim Cowling were married in the woods at Christie Point 20 years ago. They expected to live out their lives in their rented apartment on the narrow peninsula poking into Portage Inlet, home to mature Douglas firs, arbutus trees and Garry oaks.

But the Cowlings are now living in uncertainty, along with others in the 161-unit Christie Point complex. Site owner Realstar Management, of Toronto, has applied for a rezoning on the nearly 16-acre View Royal property, hoping to replace two-storey 1960s-era buildings with new structures.

“I know these buildings are getting older,” Barb said Friday.

But the couple is low-income and fears newly built units will be out of their price range. They currently pay $1,165, including heat.

“We don’t want to have to move away,” Barb said.

Tenants say they socialize and look out for each other. Many have pets, some have family connections as well. The Cowlings babysit grandchildren who also live there. They value the peace and quiet of the area, part of a designated bird sanctuary.

Realstar bought the site in 2014. It is proposing a $200-million project with buildings ranging from four to six storeys, holding a total of 473 units, to be built in phases.

It is another recent example of purchasers launching rental unit renovation plans, to the chagrin of residents. Tenants of a 32-unit Cook Street building who recently received eviction notices are worried about what the future holds in a region with a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate.

In the case of Christie Point, the proposal has yet to be vetted by View Royal council. Mayor David Screech said municipal departments are examining the plan and might report by mid-February.

Realstar said it would give tenants at least six months notice, more than the two months required under provincial rules.

Existing tenants would have the first right to lease units in the new project, it said. New rates have not been set, although the company expects they will be higher.

Melanie Molloy, who lives in a townhouse on the site, said concerns raised by residents living on and near Christie Point include how the development will fit into the community’s official plan, building height, added traffic, population increase, environmental pollution and higher rents.

“We want to stay and we want it to be affordable,” Molloy said. Perhaps existing tenants could remain if rent increases were minimal and staged, she said.

Christie Point is the largest rental complex in View Royal. If tenants want to stay in the municipality, Molloy asked, “where could they go?” Josh Grout, who has lived with his wife at Christie Point for four and a half years, expects new rents will be higher than the nearly $1,200 they pay for a two-bedroom apartment.

“I’m going back to Ontario,” he said, adding that he has found acreage and a 10-year-old house for $350,000.

Looking out over the still waters of the inlet, where a variety of bird life lives, Grout said: “It’s quiet.” Swans nest next to the water, he said.

Tenant Jennifer McGladrey works close by and her sons Alexander, 11, and Bryce, nine, love their local schools. Children play together at Christie Point and attend school together.

“My main concern is just not being able to afford to live here anymore,” McGladrey said, adding that she could barely afford the current rent.

An open house will be held for Christie Point residents on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Christie Point’s social room.

A public open house takes place Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Songhees Wellness Centre, 1100 Admirals Rd.

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