Willow Cove property owners will have to redesign their retirement home after having their requested variances denied unanimously by city council.
Council’s decision to deny the variances for Dan and Elaine Sewell’s property – lot 1 in the Willow Cove subdivision – followed an hour and 20 minutes of public statements, and about a half-hour of subsequent deliberation.
Council was not amenable to the variance reducing the rear parcel setback from six to 3.5 metres, as a variance had already been approved for the property in 2006 (for a former owner), for a front parcel line setback from six to three metres.
The variance that caused the most consternation, particularly for adjacent neighbours outside of the subdivision, was a variance to increase the maximum two-metre combined height for a retaining wall and fence in a rear residential zone to 7.6 metres (a 4.6 metre wall and a two-metre fence).
The rear-yard setback and the wall were to accommodate a raised grade on the steep property for the construction of the home, with a rear deck and backyard.
While other Willow Cove property owners, represented in part by their strata council, spoke in favour of the variances, other neighbouring property owners, including Leah Shaw and Steve Genn and Chris and Tina Letham, protested the retaining wall and the negative impact it would have on their properties.
“Imagine what it would be like to have a gigantic building with this concrete wall and a further wall ahead of that as part of their permanent place to live,” commented Shaw. “And I’m not saying everybody shouldn’t have a nice place to live and I feel sorry for the Sewells, but they have an unfortunate piece of land to build in, and it’s unfortunate because they’re trying to make it beautiful by making adaptations that are going to be repulsive to us.”
Chris Letham said he’d received notice of the proposed variances only 12 days prior to Monday’s public hearing. Subsequently, he challenged a city staff report which, along with a recommendation to council to accept the variances, notes staff had received a letter from the applicants stating they have “discussed the building plans and variance requests with the neighbouring property to the west and they do not object to the proposal.”
“In our discussions in May, the only thing that was suggested to us was there would be an application for a deck.”
Letham also expressed his dismay with how the proposed retaining wall and raised property would impact their privacy.
This impact was key to Coun. Alan Harrison’s decision on the variances.
“We certainly hear from the people who live in Willow Cove and they are feeling that it’s not going to affect them,” said Harrison. “I believe that’s true for them… but the only people who really know how it’s going to affect people like the Lethams are the Lethams… I think we need to listen to them.”
Coun. Kevin Flynn suggested more compromise was needed on the part of the applicants.
“I just think you want a full front yard or driveway, and you want a full backyard on a lot that probably can’t accommodate that, and I think that was proven by the original variance that was applied for… to me that was a compromise that allowed the building site potentially to move away from the nearest neighbours who are going to be the most impacted…” said Flynn.
Only Mayor Nancy Cooper spoke in favour of all the variances, based on the argument she had gone through a similar experience and has since come to value her neighbours over privacy.
“I will support council, but I’m disappointed because… I see a lot of similarities between my house and what’s going on here, and I can tell you I truly appreciate my neighbours… and I was sitting where you were and trying to protect my property as well.”