Saanich divided over green-homes ‘showcase’ that goes against grain

Developer proposes a ‘model neighbourhood’ of solar-powered houses in Cordova Bay, but municipal staff say it clashes with community plan

Saanich residents are divided over a proposal that would build five solar-powered, two-storey homes on a cul-de-sac in Cordova Bay.

Supporters say the energy-efficient Passive House project represents the way of the future, while others say the density is too great for the area.

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“We are going to be a showcase model neighbourhood, not just for Saanich, but the entire Capital Regional District,” said Nino Barbon, who bought the property for $1.8 million and calls his proposal Beespot 1.0. It would replace a 1950s-style single-family dwelling that occupies a one-acre lot at 5197 Del Monte Ave., off Walema Avenue.

Passive House buildings consume up to 90 per cent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings. Barbon said the proposed homes aim for 70 per cent. Plans call for “Step 5” energy efficiency, which means they are net-zero, producing at least as much energy — in this case using solar panels — as they consume.

Many speakers at a public hearing last week endorsed the idea as precedent-setting. Some said it would serve as an ideal transition for area residents aging out of their large homes.

Resident Frank Bourree said since raising his seven children, his 4,000-square-foot home feels like a hotel.

“I totally support this development because I’d like to see some diversity in our housing in this community,” Bourree said. He and his wife want to stay in the neighbourhood, but will soon have to start thinking of downsizing.

“It is the kind of place we’d like to live,” he said. “We need options.”

Those opposed to the project said it’s too many homes in the wrong location, an area with narrow roads and a lack of bus transit and bike lanes.

Resident Natasha LaRoche, who works for Clean Energy Canada, a think-tank based out of Simon Fraser University, said she endorses clean energy, but thinks this project’s density isn’t appropriate for the location. She believes “it will lead to an increase in emissions rather than a decrease.”

Covenants call for an electric car share in the development, but LaRoche said one electric car will not mitigate the emissions of a potential 15 to 20 cars that will come into the neighbourhood.

Saanich staff have recommended the application not be approved, saying the requested rezoning — from rural to single-family residential — is significant and the plan goes against the Official Community Plan.

An amendment on square footage is needed to fit five homes onto the lot.

“Planning does not support the application as it does not comply with the Cordova Bay Local Area Plan,” reads a June 6 planning report.

As well, while the developer has provided computer images that show the general design character, “the houses have not yet been designed and the applicant is not willing to commit to provide design guidelines or conceptual house designs.”

City staff also recommend that a request for a waiver of development cost charges and a five-year tax exemption for each of the five lots not be supported.

Since then Barbon has developed five covenants to ensure the homes are accessible and of the highest energy efficiency.

Saanich council will debate on Sept. 17 whether to approve an application to rezone and subdivide the property.

Mayor Richard Atwell said there are many angles from which to view the project. He noted the large turnout at the public hearing — 54 opinions expressed over three hours following a 30-minute address from the developer.

“It’s clear this project is very important to this community and it’s important that we get it right and that council makes a good decision,” he said.

The area of the project, Cordova Bay Ridge, is largely built up with only a handful of properties that have been kept by a family through generations.

When they are sold and rezoning is requested, the community wants any development to fit in with the character of the community, Atwell said, while staff make recommendations based on policy and local area plans.

“Council has to decide on the merits of the project,” he said.

Barbon intends to build at least three of the homes with his own capital and sell the rest to be built according to the covenants in place.

There are other passive houses in the region but not a similar enclave with covenants securing future design and net-zero emissions requirements, he said.

“We need to create housing that is zero greenhouse-gas emissions and more affordable with the inclusion of secondary suites for mortgage helpers,” Barbon said, adding that his vision fits with goals set by the district and the province.

Earlier bids from the property’s former owners in 2013 and 2016 to create three single-family lots in addition to a 1952 home on the lot were rejected.

Council at that time suggested a total of three dwellings might be acceptable.

If approval is granted in September, final reading would be withheld pending the registration of a covenant, which on average takes about one month.

About the proposal

Each Beespot 1.0 home is designed with a flat roof to accommodate solar panels. The condo-like houses will have accessible living areas — with no steps between the garage and the main-floor living area, for instance — and are 290 square metres in size, or about 3,100 square feet.

Because Passive Houses are more expensive to build, each house comes with the option of a secondary suite. The developer’s idea is that a mortgage-helper will make them more affordable.

There will be three parking spaces per house and 10 guest parking spaces in the cul-de-sac.

The developer says the dwellings will come with edible landscaping such as fruit-bearing trees and berry and herb bushes and a tree covenant for the retention of some trees. Rainwater will be captured and stored to water the garden and grey water will be captured to flush toilets.

The developer has also voluntarily offered five covenants that ensure the houses:

• Are designed, constructed and certified to Passive House standards or Step 5 of the B.C. Energy Step Code.

• Use solar panels to generate 100 per cent clean renewable energy to achieve net-zero living, with the watts generated at least equal to the watts consumed annually.

• Provide one strata car-share electric vehicle with a parking spot and recharging station

• Restrict use of fossil fuels or wood for furnaces, fireplaces or water heaters, with no propane, no home heating oil, no natural gas for furnaces, fireplaces or water heaters.

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