Botched zoning on Black Diamond Drive needs a re-think

Laurie Charlton
By Laurie Charlton
February 29th, 2012

Council recently considered rezoning applications that exposed some of the flaws in the zoning bylaw and the process used to consider those applications. 

One application sought to amend the zoning of a property on Black Diamond Drive from R-1 (Residential Single Detached) to R-1I (Detached Infill Residential).   The only permitted use in the R-1I zone that isn’t allowed in any other zone is the “multiple conversion dwelling” which allows an existing house on a small lot to be converted into as many as three dwellings.

The published notice about the rezoning indicated that it would allow for a second residence on the site.  However, once the new zoning is in place, the property can be used for any of the permitted uses in that zone. The notice did not provide an adequate description of what could potentially happen on a property zoned R-1I.  The notice did not state that if the property was rezoned and subdivided, a residence and a detached secondary suite could be built on the newly created lot and the existing building could be converted into a triplex – a total of five dwellings where there is now one.

Some might say that it wouldn’t be possible to convert the existing house into three units because there wouldn’t be enough room for parking and the lot coverage would be exceeded.  That illustrates one of the many flaws in the zoning bylaw.  The definition of lot coverage does not include parking areas that are permeable or semi-permeable so cars could be parked anywhere on the lot as long as those spots aren’t paved.

Another flaw in the zoning bylaw comes about because the R-1I zone is the only zone that would allow such a subdivision.  Council, in their infinite wisdom, abolished the R-1S (Residential Single Family Small Lot) zone which could have been used in this case.  Now anyone who wants to subdivide a large lot on the periphery of town can only use R-1I spot zoning, which is a misuse of the R-1I zone.  The R-1I zone was intended to cover only the central portion of the City where higher densities, in close proximity to downtown services and bus routes, are more appropriate.

A home is probably the single most important investment most people make.  Homeowners want to protect that investment.  The primary purpose of a zoning bylaw is to protect property values.  Zoning bylaws do that by regulating what a property can be used for to ensure that only development, which is compatible with neighbouring properties and which maintains the form and character of the neighbourhood, is constructed.  Incompatible development can result in decreasing property values which could have a significant impact on the financial well-being of the owners, particularly if they are relying on home-equity lines of credit.

The general character of the neighbourhood in question is one of single family homes on large, heavily-treed lots.  The R-1I zoning will permit multi-family development on small lots from which the majority, if not all, trees are removed.  Removal of many trees from a large group expose the remaining trees to greater potential for blowdowns which could result in damage to neighbouring properties.

A bare majority of council voted in favour of this rezoning.  Councillors Thatcher and Moore voted in favour of the rezoning but both should have declared conflicts of interest.  Councillor Thatcher lives across the street from the property in question and Councillor Moore about a block away.  In the past, council members living, or owning property, within a block of a rezoning proposal have declared conflicts of interest, just as Councillor Fisher did  at the same meeting for a rezoning application on Queen Street.

It doesn’t matter if a council member is in favour of, or opposed to, a resolution.  If there is a direct or indirect pecuniary interest or the potential for the perception of bias, a conflict of interest should be declared.  In the cases of Councillors Thatcher and Moore, both are owners of large lots which could be subdivided.  Given that possibility, having the precedent of a similar subdivision in the neighbourhood could potentially be to their benefit.  They should have declared a conflict of interest.

Councillor Fisher voted for the rezoning based on staff’s recommendation for approval.  Staff recommended the bylaw be adopted before the public hearing for the rezoning.  How could such a recommendation be made without hearing about any concerns neighbours might have?  The staff report also cherry-picked the OCP policies which supported the application.  No mention was made of OCP policies which discourage re-zonings such as this one.  For example, OCP policies suggest that higher density development should be directed to the downtown core and the mid-town transition area; and the character and scale of adjacent uses, proximity to transit routes, public facilities and commercial nodes and traffic and parking impacts should also be considered.

This rezoning should not have been approved.  Given the issues surrounding the rezoning and the close vote that allowed it to proceed, Mayor Granstrom should use his prerogative to call for a reconsideration of the matter.

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