From a meeting held Feb. 20, 2020

Have you really considered this proposal carefully?

That was the challenge posed to Saanich mayor and council by a group of Gordon Head home owners who have met several times over the past month to discuss the proposed increase in the allowed number of unrelated residents living in a house. The home owners, who range in age from their 30s to their 70s, some long-term neighbours and some new to the area, have crafted a list of questions that they think should be answered before council approves an increase from four to six.

To approve the change before any regulatory framework is put in place would, they suggest, put the cart before the horse, and open the door to landlords who would subdivide their houses and then plead that they had been following council’s lead.

The group stresses that they are not opposed to some densification in Gordon Head, and that they empathize with students and others who need a place to live, but that their concerns extend to possible tenants.

The group asks whether landlords of what would in effect be rooming houses would require licences and inspections to ensure that safety concerns such as wiring, smoke alarms, and connections to services are met, and whether any subdivision of such houses would have to be approved by building inspectors.  Who would be responsible if fire broke out in uninspected houses? Would landlords of rooming houses, who are in effect running for-profit businesses,  face commercial-rate property taxes?

They cited existing examples of houses where pony walls divided what were then called rooms, or carports were rented as rooms. They understand that the already overworked bylaw division of Saanich would be hard put to police such concerns if the number of rooming houses increased, and were unhappy about a system that required neighbours to complain before any actions could be taken, thereby pitting neighbour against neighbour.

Would there be any limits, they asked, to the number of rooming houses allowed on any street or on one of the many cul de sacs in Gordon Head, which were designed for single family houses.  Would there be any regulatory framework to address such things as parking, suggesting the increase in car traffic could render pedestrians—especially children--unsafe on the many streets in Gordon Head that do not have sidewalks?

How would an unrestricted number of rooming houses in the area affect the concept of neighbourhood and community, and impact programs such as BlockWatch? And would any respect be shown to home owners who pay their taxes, maintain their property and their boulevards, and try to engender a sense of belonging and community?

And how, the home owners asked, does the proposed move align with Saanich’s

promise to keep densification to such areas as the Shelbourne corridor and McKenzie Avenue? Is the suggested move at best premature, as the University of Victoria adds on-campus housing and applications are approved for the building of multi-family projects and rental apartment buildings such as those at University Heights?

They note that more than 350 people have signed an online petition opposing the proposal, and asked that council and mayor seriously think about the effects that changing the limit would have on what was designed as a single-family neighbourhood.