How high is too high, and where?

Pam Agnew:  September 2, 2011, intro by Ron Bolin

On September 8 there will be a Public Hearing dealing with a number of issues, many relating to changes in the recently passed new zoning bylaw.  One of these deals with the heights of buildings in residential neighbourhoods.   This issue finds developers organizing to keep the 9m height which was brought in with the new bylaw, and others, primarily current home owners, on the side of an amendment recently passed unanimously by Council , which would take height back to the 8.25m where it has been for some decades.

The letter below is from Pam Agnew, a current homeowner to Council.


Dear Mayor and Council,

I write to you as a Nanaimo property owner to express my support for a height restriction of 8.25 metres for single family residences in established neighbourhoods in Nanaimo.  While I completely accept and expect zoning bylaws to change over time, these should always focus on being designed and applied in a manner that best serves both existing and future residents, on a no-harm basis. That is what sound development principles are all about; what is fair to all; and, what positively contributes to strong and healthy communities.

It may be one thing to say that an increased height restriction of 9 m is possible in new neighbourhoods that have no impact on established neighbourhoods, but it is another to impose a standard of 9 m for all land including properties and new subdivisions within established neighbourhoods. If a 9 m height restriction was allowed on all land in the City of Nanaimo, it would be possible for developers to erect higher homes in front of, behind, and next to, lower homes (adhering to 8.25 m height restrictions), with numerous negative consequences, including but not limited to light deprivation, increased shadow, negative privacy consequences, decreased livability, negative impacts on quality of life as well as negative impacts on property prices. No reasonable person could deem this fair.

As the City’s own economic development office puts it in the 2010 community profile report on page 18: “There is a wide range of housing choices in Nanaimo, from waterfront estates to condos. Because of the mountainous terrain, many properties offer spectacular views …” I would argue it is in no small part due to these beautiful views that many choose to purchase particular view properties, paying premium realty prices for them and the city appropriately benefiting from the resultant sustainable higher property tax base. To impede these views we market to prospective residents as one of Nanaimo’s unique qualities when compared to similar-sized BC cities, is counter-intuitive.

But I think the most critical issue for current and future residents is the issue of fairness. Allowing one property to negatively impact another is wrong. Unfair treatment is also contrary to urban planning principles and design aesthetics which seek to embrace and protect the character and integrity of existing neighbourhoods, principles that promote and protect harmonious communities.

I believe there are always workable solutions. To better balance the needs of the present and the future, a bylaw could allow for future 9 m heights where these do not impact established neighbourhoods or individual properties within established neighbourhoods. In addition, any person wishing to apply for a variance would still be able to do so, with each application being considered on its individual merits along with input from all impacted residents within a site view of the said property. This would be fair to all.

When a city treats people fairly, we all win. Please let good sense prevail.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this matter again.

Pam Agnew