Contentious development

It’s difficult to know how a new residential development on 20th Street will ultimately affect an existing neighbourhood and its residents. Residents living around the development, don't want to find out, they don't want the project to go ahead. 

A rezoning request currently before Vernon City Council proposes to build a 24 unit residential structure on a ½ acre property situated on the 4600 block of 20th Street. If approved, the property zoning would change from R5 to RH1, making the jump from low to medium density.

With 20th Street being a busy thoroughfare and close to a well-used BMX event park as well as Harwood Elementary School, parking and traffic have become huge concerns for many area residents. Some feel that the addition of 24 units on such a small piece of land will only make matters worse.

City Councillor Mary-Jo O’Keefe describes Vernon as a community in transition, and acknowledges that the transition is going to take time. “Change isn’t always easy for residents, but growth needs to happen.”

The developers, Stefan and Pearl Marten, say that they spent a lot of time thinking about how to best utilize the space, and how to align with Vernon’s Official Community Plan. “People are looking for affordable, centrally located, safe housing. Projects like ours with smaller homes are more attainable and are a short walk to nearby amenities.”      

The lot is currently zoned for R5, which would allow for seven units to a maximum of 10 metres high and a minimum side yard setback of 2.5 metres. The switch to RH1 allows for a height of up to16.5 metres with a minimum side yard setback of 4.5 metres. The Martens say that they understand the concerns of the neighbourhood, and that they made a conscious effort to be reasonable.

To build seven larger townhome style residences on the lot, the Martens feel, would not be the best use of the space. The goal of the 24-unit complex is to provide an efficient use of the space. That means smaller more affordable units intended for one to three family members, fewer vehicles, and realistic housing options for individuals with limited mobility, seniors, and small starter families. 

Unfortunately, the Martens’ good intentions may be of little comfort to 20th Street residents, who worry about the potential impact of another 24 residences on the block. In addition to concerns about traffic and parking, it is unclear how property values in the neighbourhood might be affected.

Long time resident, Pat Seymour, owns the property directly adjacent to the proposed development. 

“There are already significant issues with parking. We’ve got issues with service vehicles and moving vans. Trying to get safely in and out of my driveway on a daily basis is a struggle.”  

Seymour and his wife Tracey also believe they stand to lose up to 30 per cent of the value of their structure and lands. Their home has many south facing windows, which would be potentially blocked by the development, and with the three metre side yard setback, the Seymours feel they will be losing privacy and enjoyment of their family home.

“We have lived and worked here for 22 years, raised a family here, paid taxes here, and we had planned to retire here,” Seymour explains. “We stand to take a huge hit financially. For us, it will be devastating.”

The City of Vernon’s planning department maintains that the transition from low to medium density residential is not a new concept in the 20th Street area. Director of Community Development, Kim Flick, points to the Official Community Plan (OCP), which was developed in 2008 following an extensive community consultation process.

“Communities grow and evolve. We are seeing an increased need in this community for attainable housing.”  According to the OCP, the proposed development falls within an area that has been designated for medium density.  

Lawyer for the Seymours, David Schaefer, holds that an OCP is not the only basis on which to make municipal planning decisions. Schaefer notes that the City has additional responsibilities under its Zoning Bylaw to preserve the nature and character of existing neighbourhoods, prevent overcrowding of lands, and to conserve property values.

The next public hearing in consideration of the rezoning application at 4602 20th Street is scheduled for April 8th. All area residents are encouraged to attend. For more information, please visit the City of Vernon website.

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