Neighbors unhappy with housing proposal in residential Port Alberni

Neighbors are not too happy with an apartment complex that has been proposed for a residential area in Port Alberni.

More than a dozen neighbors turned out for a public hearing in council chambers on Monday August 8 to voice their opposition to an apartment building project on Athol Street.

The applicant, Kim Rai, is requesting an amendment to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and city zoning by-laws to facilitate the development of a three-story apartment building comprising six units, consisting of one bedroom apartments , two and three bedrooms. The proposed development is for a small lot on Athol Street, and neighbors argue that the lot is too small. The land is approximately 443 square meters and the proposed building will cover more than half of the land.

The new complex, a neighbor said, will “completely overshadow” the house next door.

Neighbors have expressed concern that the development will change the character of the neighborhood, with several people saying they bought their homes specifically because of the area’s zoning. Others expressed concern about rentals leading to an increase in property crime, while others said the property could pose a fire hazard due to its proximity to houses next door.

A major concern was parking. The proposal includes six parking spaces, but many people have noted that most families have more than one car. This could lead to increased on-street parking and congestion in the area.

A neighbor pointed out that the city’s current zoning bylaw states that the property in question is too small to consider an accessory suite. He added that it seems strange to consider this request while the city’s OCP is still under consideration.

“It feels like putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

The proposed frontage for the lot (12 meters) is less than half the minimum size for high-density multi-family areas (30 meters). Rai included plans for a rooftop balcony for tenants, but many neighbors were concerned about noise and shadows.

The city’s planning department is supporting the application, given the need for rental housing in Port Alberni.

Development planner Brian McLoughlin said Aug. 8 that the lot is “ideally located” on the outskirts of the city’s commercial core and two parks are located within walking distance. Although many homes in the neighborhood are single-family homes, the four-story King George apartments are located just across a lane.

The development will also provide six purpose-built housing units, which were identified as a need in the city’s housing needs report.

Rai is asking to change the zoning of the property to a Comprehensive Development (CD) zone, which will allow for the creation of multi-family rental units where it would otherwise not be permitted due to the dimensions of the lot.

McLoughlin explained that high-density infill properties like this are “very common” in major urban centers.

“It’s something that Port Alberni hasn’t experienced yet, but it’s very common in other cities,” he added.

But on August 8, neighbors also criticized the city for its lack of notice throughout the process. There have been some delays and misunderstandings since the project was announced. A public meeting scheduled by the plaintiff in December had no attendees, but neighbors say this was due to snowy weather at the time and a lack of communication. The city’s public hearing was originally scheduled for July, but had to be rescheduled to August after the city discovered signage was missing at the property site.

“It was very difficult for us to follow the process,” said one resident.

A total of 90 letters were mailed to owners and occupants within 75 meters of the property, and 15 responses were received. McLoughlin said one of those responses was in favor of the candidacy, while the others were against.

The Council proceeded to the first and second readings of the amendments. Comments from the public hearing will be presented at the next regular council meeting (September 6) before a final vote is taken.

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