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Comment: Higher density means losing trees, gardens and more

I’m no lawyer, but our premier is definitely no urban planner.
Putting six homes on a plot of land once occupied by just one home will spark a host of problems, retired architect Carl Peterson says. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a retired registered architect in Victoria who has designed civic, institutional, commercial and residential projects throughout Greater Victoria.

Implementation of the new provincial legislation on housing, which eliminates single family zones, will have many unintended, or at least not yet realized nor disclosed, consequences.

I’ll use my home as an example to highlight what I see will become significant issues.

I am a retired architect and live in a six-year-old, two-storey duplex that I designed. It sits on what was a single-family corner lot. The building conforms to all current single-family zoning requirements.

Under the new legislation, six units can be built on this lot.

However, consider that my small duplex unit (and the other unit) has only a 600 square foot main floor, a 600 square foot ­second floor and a small single-car garage.

The total building area allowed on our lot is 40 per cent. That would yield six units at 475 square feet each unless maximum building size is increased or eliminated.

Another constraint is the total amount of the lot that can be covered by building, which is 25 per cent on our lot. If the total allowable building size was increased you could now build six units that are still less than 600 square feet each.

In order to have units that would be 600 square feet or greater, the allowable footprint of the building would also have to be increased above current zoning limits. Now remember that many, many single family lots are significantly smaller than ours.

The six-unit project on our lot would have to cover more ground and perhaps be taller and most certainly have no parking. The impact would be reduction of green space, reduced distance to neighbours, less control of storm water runoff and the loss of a large mature tree.

Furthermore, the very small sixplex units would have far less relationship to any outdoor space, reduced access to sunlight and, assuming an average of only one vehicle per unit, six cars on the street where there is now space for only four or five.

If this type of development becomes really popular and my neighbours sell their houses (perhaps to escape increased property taxes due to increased assessments now based on a potential four- or six-unit property) to become multiplexes we now have a street lined with potentially government designed units situated with as little surrounding space as the developer wants to accommodate the size of units he thinks will provide the most profit.

Furthermore, if the developer is using plans pre-approved by the provincial government, the municipality (read the taxpaying residents) has no say at all.

I’ll make a short digression here on pre-approved designs. What reasoning thinks that a single four or six unit design is suitable to both a south facing lot on a busy street across from a commercial development in Surrey and a west facing lot on a quiet tree-lined street in James Bay?

What if one site has any significant changes in grade or mature foliage? What if there are views to be maximized or diminished?

Back to my street: If developed under the new legislation, the streetscape is completely changed, trees have disappeared, gardens are reduced, and until cars disappear from our lives, residents would fight for parking on an already narrow, crowded street.

Then there are the infrastructure problems created by this type of legislated development.

As the former mayor of North Saanich so eloquently pointed out in her Dec. 16 commentary, this race to indiscriminate densification ignores access to water, upgraded sewage disposal, increased hydro supply, increased school population, etc. These costs now become the burden of the municipalities (the taxpaying residents).

The real travesty with this ill-conceived legislation is the trampling of the Local Government Act, in which the authority to create zones and define restrictions within those zones is given to municipalities. Authority to create Official Community Plans is also given to municipalities along with the requirement of public hearings before adoption.

I don’t think requiring municipalities to remake their Official Community Plans to conform with the new provincial housing edict meets the sniff test for the rule of law or democracy. It would seem that the Local Government Act must first be altered before the new legislation can be legally enforced.

I’m no lawyer, but our premier is definitely no urban planner.

Change is inevitable, but blanket densification everywhere is not the answer. Community plans are created and modified over time with input from professional planners and residents alike.

It’s a key part of the democracy in which we live.