Townhouse plan for Blueberry Street not met positively by neighbours

A pair of developers are planning a Blueberry Street townhouse complex which would be designed to be more affordable.

There were jeers, there was sarcastic laughter, there was the definite murmur of an unhappy neighbourhood coming from the gallery at the August 25 Committee of the Whole meeting.

It’s not entirely typical to have such a vocal echo when council meets, especially not for the usually pedestrian committee of the whole gatherings, but an affordable home plan eyeing the lot at 4 Blueberry has riled the local homeowners.

To ask the proponents to the proposed Blueberry Gardens, Paolo and John Rigoni, they say that there will always be that contingent of “not in my backyard” who opposed projects that may interfere with their living even if it’s for the greater good. But residents in the area have a number of concerns, including the fact that, unlike other proposed high-density developments in Kitimat, this lot on Blueberry has never been zoned to allow housing as proposed.

The proposal is for 14 total townhouse constructions, all built with an attached secondary suite.

The affordability factor comes in with the units at the east end of the lot being sold for market value — estimated at $458,000 — and the seven units on the west side will be given a 20 per cent discount, leaving a cost to homeowners of about $366,400.

The inclusion of secondary suites in the buildings mean homeowners can rent out those units to subsidize their mortgages too.

They say that could equate to $1,700 a month for five to seven years during the construction of the LNG Canada proposal, if that goes ahead.

Paolo Rigoni told council that their development would be contingent of major works beginning on that project. If no investment decisions are made, then Blueberry Gardens is dead in the water, he said.

“Consider our rezoning proposal and give us an opportunity to continue this dialogue to work out a solution that works for everyone,” said Paolo Rigoni to council. “There’s many developments proposed for Kitimat right now and they all have objectors. All their objections come from their immediate neighbours and generally this is a ‘not in my backyard syndrome.’ People know there’s a need for affordable housing in Kitimat but they don’t want it near them because they want it somewhere else.”

They spoke to walls or fences as ways to minimize privacy problems.

Councillor Rob Goffinet had issues with their proposed affordability claims, asking how a bank could ever be assured that there would always be a $1,700 rent waiting for the homeowner, also noting that if a renter is lost that bumps $1,700 in to the homeowner’s budget, in a home that’s supposed to be geared for low income.

As for the application itself, council faced two possible actions from staff — either prepare a draft bylaw for the proposal or to reject the application — but councillors instead voted to defer the matter until staff could provide council on input on the possibility of using nearby District of Kitimat owned land for this purpose, and to send the matter for comment from the Advisory Planning Commission.

If the bylaw eventually proceeds as proposed, it would up to 14 townhouses the currently zoned for two total units for the site, and would reduce the minimum frontage from 40 metres to just two metres.

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The proposed plan for townhouse units at 4 Blueberry ignited fury in local homeowners who came out to view the presentation to council before speaking to media later.

Lisa Medynski, who lives in the area of the proposal, said she spoke with 95 per cent of the people who live on nearby Cranberry Street and the overwhelming position is opposed to the project.

Among the chief concerns of residents is the fact that the land is nowhere near zoned to the purpose of the proposal.

Another nearby resident, Manuel Leite, says that unlike other townhouse proposals — near Liard Street and Kingfisher Street — this land is only designed for single units. The other developments are proposed for land that already allow some high-density development.

Leite says council’s decision to discuss options with District owned land is just wasting time, and that they shouldn’t be able to simply change the rules of zoning for the neighbourhood.

Kimberly Wasyleski said people she canvassed on Blueberry Street all replied with “a resounding hell no,” to the plan.

Her own property would share a boundary with the developments.

“Walk my home, look…30 feet up to a wall of windows to make me feel like I’m in a fishbowl,” she said about how it would be if the townhouses get built.

Medynski said the proposal would entirely erase their purpose for living there.

“We wanted country living in town. Country living does not consist of multi-unit housing,” she said.

She also took personal exception to comments from proponent Paolo Rigoni who said they chose that lot, close to Quatsino Boulevard and nearby apartments, because that area does not has as many high-end custom homes.

“So does that mean what I paid for my property and my home isn’t worth what everyone else [did]?”

There was no official presentation from homeowners on the proposed project at the August 25 committee of the whole meeting.