Re: 1646 Kenmore: SUB00841, DVP00423, Application to Create One Additional Lot Under Existing RS-6 Zone

This is the Gordon Head Residents’ Association (GHRA) Board’s response to Saanich Planning’s referral of October 30, 2019 for an application to create an additional lot at 1646 Kenmore Road under the existing RS-6 zone.

In considering this and similar referrals, the GHRA is guided by two key policies enshrined by Saanich bylaws.

1.The Gordon Head Local Area Plan (LAP) has as its sole Housing Goal “A predominantly single family dwelling neighbourhood with limited opportunities for infill housing, where it respects the neighbourhood character, natural environment, and the scale of surrounding houses.” Several LAP Plan housing policies articulate this goal, while also setting strict criteria for consideration of other housing types,

2. Regarding neighbourhoods and multi-family housing, the Official Community Plan (OCP) Policy requires Saanich to focus new multi-family development in “Centres” and “Villages”. In Gordon Head, these are Shelbourne/McKenzie and Shelbourne/Feltham respectively. The OCP emphasizes that outside these Centres and Villages, residential infill will continue on a limited scale. “Successful infill developments must take into consideration the capacity of transportation and underground services to accommodate change and the existing character of neighbourhoods. Maintenance of neighbourhood character is of paramount importance when considering new developments within established areas.” (OCP 4.2.4)

The GHRA Board’s position on referrals has conformed with these and related goals and policies. We have enthusiastically supported the University of Victoria’s new residences, and conditionally supported additional units at Mount Douglas Court, despite opposition by many living nearby. For many others, we have provided reasonable conditions and suggestions that are entirely consistent with review and approval criteria as outlined in the LAP and OCP.

Unfortunately, many of our residents are increasingly of the view that densification is not being accompanied by the infrastructure and amenity improvements needed to mitigate that densification. These improvements would normally be funded by the municipality (indirectly through new property taxes on the new assessments), directly by the development (where allowed by legislation or as a voluntary contribution), or both. For example, rising vehicular traffic volumes and congestion is occurring on streets inadequately engineered to accommodate these volumes or served by transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes. Some asphalt paths are crumbling and sidewalks are still non-existent on some collector streets. Some parks and greenways remain inaccessible or inadequately maintained.  On-street parking on narrow streets—often associated with non-conforming secondary suites lacking off-street stalls—creates hazards for pedestrians, cyclists, and emergency vehicles.

These and other concerns are amplified by residents’ frustrations over what is seen as an unwillingness or inability to enforce some bylaws. Many see Saanich’s emphasis on adding housing as unnecessarily superseding other important considerations set out in its adopted plans, and minimizing the public procedures designed to adjudicate them.

The proposal for an additional lot at 1646 Kenmore Road would use a development variance permit to circumvent the minimum lot width requirement of 16 m. for an RS-6 zone. The plans for the two proposed lots indicate the two new buildings will have principal dwellings on the main floor and secondary suites on the upper floor. 

The GHRA Board does not support the application for reasons that were also outlined in our response of September 16, 2017 to two referrals for very similar applications at 1642 and 1643 Kenmore Road. 1642 Kenmore is immediately west of the subject application and 1643 Kenmore is across the street.  These two applications were subsequently approved and construction is nearing completion. The applicants of the 1643 Kenmore proposal indicated to the GHRA Board they would accept a “no garden suites” covenant to ensure that a fifth and sixth dwelling unit (in addition to two principal dwellings and two legal secondary suites) could not be built in the rear yards of what was a 1275m2 lot with one dwelling unit. In our referral response, the GHRA stated it can accept these two applications as long as “covenants or similar legal instruments be applied at the time of subdivision that would prohibit accessory buildings, or at least limit their square footage to a size that would make garden suites impractical….Without these restrictions, the GHRA does not support these applications.”   

Saanich chose not to accept this recommendation, despite requiring a covenant that would prohibit the construction of accessory buildings within the root zones of two protected trees at 1642 Kenmore. There are now two garden suites nearing completion in the rear yards of 1643 Kenmore. So we now have six dwelling units on what was one RS-6 zoned parcel, which would be a contravention of the anticipated Saanich policy enabling a legal secondary suite or a detached garden suite, but not both, in single family zones.

In our September 2017 response, the GHRA also asked that future similar applications to split existing lots that do not meet the intent of the lot width or area minimums specified in the zoning bylaw be required to apply for a rezoning, rather than using variances to maintain the current zoning district. The zoning bylaw is explicit: no land shall be subdivided into lots having a width of less than 16 meters for RS-6 zones. The proposed lot widths for the current 1646 Kenmore application are 14.5 meters. We suggest the more appropriate regulatory process is a rezoning application from RS-6 to RS-4, which specifies a minimum lot width of 14 meters. The liberal use of variances circumvents the intent of the zoning bylaw, enables the construction of buildings that are often disproportionately larger than adjacent houses, and limits the ability of adjacent residents to comment on the proposals.

The GHRA Board would be prepared to reconsider its position on this proposal as long as a covenant prohibiting garden suites is a condition of approval, and as long as it is reviewed using the rezoning application process, not the development variance permit application process. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. 

Chris Poirier-Skelton, Chair

Gordon Head Residents’ Association