AGM 2019 REPORT



We know and welcome the fact that change and densification are coming to Gordon Head. But we fear that unrestricted change will bludgeon the rights of current residents.

That was the message heard loud and clear at the Annual General Meeting of the Gordon head Residents’ Association in late April. The GHRA board invited residents to come and voice their hopes and concerns for Gordon Head in the coming years. Some 40 people did just that, taking part in a lively and sometimes often conversation about the present and the future. Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes and councillors Rebecca Mersereau and Zac de Vries were also present and fielded resident concerns.


WORDS FROM THE CHAIR


Board chair Chris Poirier-Skelton kicked off proceedings by reviewing the priorities of the association: to further the interests of those who live in the area, to review and comment on all proposals for land development and land use, to ensure that the District of Saanich engages in meaningful and effective consultation with Gordon Head residents on matters affecting the community, and to foster co-operative and co-ordinated public services to meet community needs.

Poirier-Skelton noted that Gordon Head is changing, and that the role of the board is to deal with change in such a way that the community retains the qualities that have brought people here to live and work. She noted that work on updating the Local Area Plan has been repeatedly delayed, but that we hope it will begin in late 2020.


WORDS FROM THE PANEL


The evening’s program continued with a panel presentation on issues that affect Gordon Head. Board member Don Gunn discussed Saanich’s proposal for garden suites and the regulations that would govern such suites. The GHRA board has identified concerns about the size and height of the suites; the possible problems of density and parking, and the need for effective enforcement of whatever regulations are put in place. Open houses where comment was invited were held in early May. https://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/community-planning/policy-initiatives/garden-suite-study.html

Gunn also addressed the suggestion from council members that the current limit of four unrelated persons living in a dwelling be changed, stressing that, while most students—presumably the cohort that would take advantage of such a change--are good citizens, some do not respect the neighborhood and problems can arise with parking, congestion and garbage, as well as noise issues. The board and residents are concerned that a change would result in a number of dormitory houses with absentee landlords. The GHRA will be responding to Saanich on the issue.

Board member Rosemary Neering, standing in for director/traffic Barbara Tabata, noted that a high percentage of concerns brought to the board’s attention revolve around traffic themes, including excessive speed, congestion and parking. Some residents report that they feel major roads in the area are reaching a saturation point and local roads are losing their neighbourhood nature, and that enforcement of speed limits and parking issues is spotty at best. She suggested that some fear that as densification occurs, problems will multiply. For example, changes to Shelbourne Street will spill excessive amounts of traffic onto roads such as Cedar Hill, Ash and Gordon Head.

These concerns have been heightened by the tragic accidents to pedestrians on Ash Road and at Kenmore and Tyndall. The GHRA board supports Fix Ash Road Now and a 40 km/hour speed limit on Ash.

Board member Paul de Greef presented a map showing traffic figures on major roads in Gordon Head.

De Greef, standing in for director/development Peter Ostergaard, noted that Gordon Head has 24,000 people in some 8,000 dwelling units, a majority of them single-family houses. Developments in the area are guided by the Official Community Plan, the Gordon Head LAP, and zoning and subdivision bylaws.

Some of the policies in these plans and bylaws are hard to reconcile with development approvals. While the LAP stresses that Gordon Head is a region of predominantly single-family dwellings and that this character should be respected, and the OCP notes that neighbourhood character is of primary importance when considering new developments, inconsistencies emerge when development is approved. Uneven and sometimes non-existent bylaw enforcement of such issues as noise, parking, secondary suites, and nuisance properties leads some to question Saanich's priorities and credibility.

Some 1600 new residential units, including 600 on the UVic campus, have been proposed for Gordon Head. De Greef noted that it is possible that not all of these will be built, and that a lifting of the limit of unrelated persons living in a dwelling might well result in investment dollars being redirected from new development to the conversion of existing units into dormitory houses.

Saanich invites the GHRA to comment on most rezoning and subdivision applications in the area. Board members may meet with developers and/or consultants to seek information, and may suggest such action as a neighborhood canvas or open houses to solicit feedback on plans. If large developments are planned, the GHRA may organize a feedback meeting for residents, something that is planned if new University Heights redevelopment plans are submitted.

DeGreef noted that many issues are associated with development and densification, including parking, building setbacks, views, shadowing, tree preservation, public infrastructure, traffic, traffic calming, sidewalks, transit, the use of variances and bylaw enforcement. All of these are taken into consideration when the GHRA adds its comments to development submissions.

The GHRA stresses that it wants to hear from residents about all these development issues in order to confirm whether we are on the right track, or whether we are missing things that are important to Gordon Head residents.


WORDS FROM THE FLOOR


And then it was the residents’ turn.


On University Heights: concerns over traffic, access, affordability, rentals, commercial space and more:

Response: the development has been put on hold as developers look at issues of affordability and timing. Residents were concerned about issues of parking, access, traffic and other issues. The GHRA will respond to the new plans once they are available


On the Local Area Plan:

Where can I access the plan, when was it last revised and what is the process for revising it?

Response: The plan is about 20 years old, with a minor revision about eight years ago. It can be viewed on the Saanich website at https://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/community-planning/local-area-plans/gordon-head.html

When the plan comes up for revision, scheduled for 2020, residents will be given an opportunity to comment, a draft plan will be developed, residents will have a second opportunity to comment, and the reviewed and amended plan will go to council for a decision.


On increased traffic to be expected on Cedar Hill Road and other connector streets:

How are concerns about increased traffic on this street from the University Heights redevelopment and the Shelbourne Valley changes to Shelbourne Street being addressed?

Response: The GHRA is equally concerned and would like to know how these impacts will be mitigated. Mayor Haynes agrees that Saanich does not want increased traffic on Cedar Hill, and that district staff are considering the issue of traffic diversion onto neighbourhood streets. He hopes that the Active Transportation plan https://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/getting-around/active-transportation-plan.html will encourage more biking, walking and transit. He suggested that increased traffic on Tyndall Road will indeed result in short-term pain. Saanich is aware the province is looking at road classification with respect to speed limits, and a report is expected in 18 months.


On the issue of bylaw enforcement:

A number of residents voiced strong concerns about neighbourhood issues where Saanich did not respond to numerous complaints. They cited instances where multiple tenants, often more than the four allowed by bylaw, in houses not occupied by the owner failed to respect the neighbourhood. Among other disruptions were large parties continuing well into the night; noise; thoughtless parking by students, commercial vehicles and taxis that leaves only a single lane of the street free for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Complaints to the bylaw enforcement division of Saanich brought no improvement; if enforcement was attempted, it was ineffective. GHRA board members suggested that bylaw officers are more likely to act if more than one neighbour complains, but residents responded that that had been tried and had not worked. For example, an eight-page letter of complaint sent both to Saanich and the GHRA elicited no response. Mayor Haynes commented that the current budget allows for more bylaw enforcement, and suggested the problem is not the number of people in a house but the behaviour of those tenants. This may indeed be the problem, said the residents, but what is the solution? And why, asked a resident, does a neighbourhood complaint require two complainants, but one complaint is sufficient to see Saanich investigate if a fence is four inches higher than permitted?


And more:

One resident questioned why support was being cut to Recreation Integration Victoria, a program to help those with disabilities. Another asked why major changes to road use, such as introduction of cycle lanes and reduction of traffic lanes, could not be done n a trial basis with concrete barriers to measure the impact of proposed changes before they are finalized. If 6,000 to 9,000 more cars would be spilled onto neighbourhood streets, then too much road space would be dedicated to too few users such as cyclists; Saanich should be prepared to listen more to the needs of residents and less to cyclists. Another questioner wanted to see the GHRA board requesting more community amenities in return for development permissions, especially in the case of larger developments.


The conclusions:

Poirier-Skelton responded to the issues voiced by saying that the GHRA would compile the complaints and comments for the Saanich News and for the GHRA website, and would use this compilation in their submissions to Saanich mayor, council and bylaw officers, as well as to the University of Victoria. All of the information presented will help guide the association’s comments when the Local Area Plan comes up for revision.