Feature Story Friday September 21, 2012
Down But Not Out
Chilliwack Mountain Hillside development proposal not rock solid
Ron Angel, President of the Chilliwack Mountain Ratepayers Association speaks out against proposed development last Tuesday.
evelopers of a proposed 298-unit "clustered" strata housing project on Chilliwack Mountain are in damage control after Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz brought the hammer down hard during a public hearing Tuesday at City Hall, saying building on 40 per cent slopes and high retaining walls didn't conform to the City's Hillside Development Guidelines.
However, all six councillors in attendance gave developers a reprieve and one more chance to "get it right" after Coun. Chuck Stam put forward a motion to hold the Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment and rezoning application for the land above Lickman Rd. at third reading, putting the development in limbo until amendments can be made to address geotechnical and traffic concerns.
Almost a dozen residents spoke out against the project, citing traffic, geotechnical and environmental hurdles. Two or three said they were "okay" with the project but only "to a degree".
The problem is that the development plan encompasses an area that is in what the City calls a "geotechnical red zone" which may put homes built there at risk.
Plans include construction of the homes on slopes with a 40 per cent grade. The Hillside Plan calls for no construction of homes on a grade of no more than 30 per cent.
Columbia National Investments Ltd. has included in the plan, 95 acres of parkland and a network of trails leading up toward and around the Woodward sister's property. They will also add open arch culverts to assist animals and fences to keep them off the roadways. The planner also removed approximately100 units from the design to preserve any beaver habitat that may be in the area. Once the project is complete, about 68 acres in total will remain in it's "natural state".
The Chilliwack Mountain Ratepayers Association recently held a meeting at local hotel where approximately 40 people showed up to discuss issues like the wildlife that will be displaced if the project gets the go-ahead.
Steve Anderson, Local school teacher, told those in council chambers that wildlife is abundant on the mountain.
"We watched one day as a deer had twins on our lawn, and once had a bobcat fall asleep on my porch" he said adding that he had an encounter with a beaver as well.
According to Anderson, there are bear, cougar, red tail hawks, eagles, falcons and possibly even nesting owls in the area.
Ron Angel, President of the Association, told council that the "terrain is questionable" and read a letter from resident Brian Jackson to council.
"Reject this application and others that do not meet our Hillside Development Guidelines and doing so will help this council move forward from it's unsavoury legacy of the so-called 'pro-development culture,'" said Angel citing the Marble Hill 'fiasco' as an example.
Angel brought a stuffed beaver on loan from the Great Blue Heron Reserve into council chambers to underscore the impact the development will have on local wildlife.
"That's our mascot, the mountain beaver" said Angel pointing to the stuffed beaver.
"Chilliwack Mountain is a significant feature in the city's landscape. We believe the mountain is a visual jewel for all to see," explained Angel. "We must be very careful on how it's developed. Mistakes have been made and we must stick to the Hillside Development Guidelines."
Angel said that geotechnical studies have been done.
"There are areas that have been identified that if developed, would be contrary to the Hillside Development Guidelines."
Angel said that they need to listen to city staff concerns and implored council not to bend to developer's wills and stick to the Guidelines.
"We have to hold any developers feet to the fire in strict compliance," he said.
He said the Ratepayers Association members felt that any development should be in the form of single-family large lots.
According to Angel, there are a few streams in the property that "need to be protected" and that some old mountain beaver sites have been discovered and he wants access restricted there.
Angel said he met with the developers on two separate occasions and that their development plans seemed fair, but more research and comprehensive planning needs to be completed for Chilliwack Mountain.
Brian Janzens, who runs a business on Lickman Rd., told council he was in favour of the project, but wants to see the current roadway redesigned and widened with room to accommodate a sidewalk. He said he also has concerns about runoff in the area and onto his property.
Resident Kimberly Francis said she had issues with the volumes of cars expected on that run down section of road, calling the corner "precarious" for cyclists and she also asked council if there were any plans for a "Legacy" in the project and wants the community to get a share of the profits.
Gaetz responded that city council is constrained about what they can ask for under the community charter.
Chris Vyra, who also lives in the area, said he was not totally opposed to plan, but paraphrased ex-Councillor Pat Clark saying "ugly is forever" and that he wants to see a public consultation if any changes are made to the OCP. Vyra also shared concerns about traffic.
Brian Wallace, a traffic consultant hired to produce a study, said that the current one covers a 5-year period where all 298 homes are built in that timeframe.
Wallace insisted that the 298 units will only be constructed at the rate of about 20-25 per year and at that pace the road would take over 10-years to reach maximum capacity traffic flow and by that time there will more than likely be other development in the area and the roads will be designed in the future to handle more traffic – just not all at once.
Councillor Chuck Stam thanked staff for the report on what he said was a fairly "complicated piece of land" but called the development "piecemeal".
"I am tepidly in favour of the file moving ahead, being held to third reading. There is complications as raised by the community, and I think it needs that extra level of engineering study, environmental, geotechnical," he said.
"When we chose to go into the hillsides and develop them, and stay off of agricultural land, this is what we expected and its not easy to see a hillside like this being disturbed, but I think the 'light footprint' proposal that we have before us, I speak in favour of that.
Gaetz weighed in with her opinion after speakers before councillors voted on the amendments. Gaetz said she would be speaking against the proposal.
"I'm sorry to do so because I know there's been a whole lot of work and a whole lot of effort by the developers to do this. It's been a long process for them," she said.
"I love the amenity part, I love the parks and I love the part that is being saved, but whenever I hear 'cut and fill' is necessary, I always have to stop and think, what does that actually mean in our community when there's cut and fill.
Gaetz said the project is asking for high retaining walls.
"Our guidelines don't call for 7 metres, albeit, they say they're friendly and they're green, but they're still retaining walls, make no doubt about that," said Gaetz.
"That is what is being flagged by our staff over and over again throughout the entire report."
"They tell us they are going to clear 10 hectares of land," continued Gaetz. "They will be building on slopes, the average slope is 45 degrees."
It’s going to be difficult for whoever builds on that property, but I think it sends out a message to our community that we don't care about our Hillside Guidelines when we approved this.
Gaetz said they had meetings with residents about the retention of trees and hillsides because they knew very well that the next developer who comes in will hold this up as an example of what they can do in the community which "flies in the face" of the City's Hillside Guidelines
I take that very seriously, I think we're at a crucial moment in our development here in Chilliwack," said Gaetz. "We're at a crucial time where we need to say 'we created those guidelines for a reason, and the reason is when people look at the hills issue will be pleased with what they see. There should not be risks because of the stability and we want to learn from things we've done in the past."
Gaetz said she wished she could support it, and thanked developers for trying, saying that they need to come back with something different for council's consideration.
A burgeoning metropolis is a mere 75 miles from Chilliwack. Inevitably, local planners are going to have to be creative in the future to accommodate more and more people and it will be challenging to stay off of agricultural land. Like most projects of this magnitude, a balance needs to be struck between the City, community and developers.
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