What a beautiful summer we’re having. Just the right mix of warmth and sunshine, with some refreshing rain tossed in. Usually by now we’re breathing smoky air from forest fires near and far, so the clean air is a blessing.
And what a summer for gardening. All the gardeners I speak to are boasting of bumper vegetable crops and luscious floral displays. It’s one of those growing seasons when I think I can literally watch my corn grow, while dreaming of those sweet buttery cobs just weeks away.
This summer has also brought a bumper crop of public events. ArtWalk’s two opening nights were wonderful, with an expanded cultural harvest. The two MarketFests and the Wednesday markets are popular and lively. Cyswog ‘n’ Fun brought active fun-seekers to town, as did the Ultimate Frisbee tournament. And the airport open house brought pilots and plane-lovers together.
And of course, many private events are also happening. Congratulations go out to our city manager Kevin Cormack who’ll be tying the knot this week-end with Allison Alder at beautiful Gyro Park.
Amidst all this fun, celebration and recreation, the work of the City goes on. I must say that, for council, it’s been an unusually quiet summer. I’m loving the fact my to-do list only has three items on it!
However, at our last council meeting we did tackle two challenging requests for variance permits (those are needed when sizes or setbacks don’t meet the terms of the zoning bylaw). I’m sure council’s decision to not approve those requests was very disappointing for the proponents, puzzling for some neighbours and a huge relief for others.
One request was to build a two-storey addition on top of an existing garage behind a home on Hoover Street. It was a lovely design and the overall plan had many “green” features, such as on-site stormwater management, energy efficient design, etc.
Laneway housing is a growing trend in cities, as it allows for creation of small residential units that can help address the affordable housing issue. In Nelson, our planning staff is currently developing guidelines for height, square footage, parking, etc.
In the absence of those guidelines, the applications coming to council are test cases as we discern what makes sense in Nelson. In the case above, the variance would have resulted in a very tall building (10 metres) that encroached very close to the neighbouring property.
Council considered the merits of the proposal, along with neighbours’ concerns, and decided it was just not a good fit, because the visual, privacy and shading impacts on neighbours would be too great. The proposal, despite all its good points, did not achieve the “gentle or hidden” density that laneway housing should provide.
The other variance request was for a property on Front Street, behind 7-Eleven. To block the lights and noise of the store, the new owners of this home wanted to construct a 6.6-metre-high building across the front of their property, only a metre from the lot line and on top of the existing metre-high retaining wall.
Again, the proposal had many merits and the proposed building was beautifully designed. However, one factor council considers for any such variance is how it complements the streetscape. The homes along that block are set back, to overlook the lake, and have large front gardens and landscaping. Situating an accessory building close to the front property line would create a barrier that does not complement the streetscape.
I believe we want our neighbourhoods to be safe and welcoming, with a feeling of community. We don’t want homes surrounded by tall walls and fences, or other barriers.
If you buy a home across from a store you should expect some impacts, but the homeowners have some legitimate concerns. The city successfully dealt with similar issues years ago, and it’s clearly time to review those agreements with 7-Eleven.
And now, I have some corn to watch.
Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this space with her colleagues around the table