Laneway development in Cumberland heritage neighbourhood raises concerns

Character of Camp Road at risk, say neighbours

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By Norman Galimski

A new laneway development  has raised concerns from neighbours and has challenged what the future of the historic Camp Road neighbourhood in Cumberland might look like.

Neighbours and some members of the village council for this Vancouver Island community are concerned about the impact the laneway, and possible future laneway homes, will have on privacy, the availability of street parking and the heritage value of the neighbourhood.

Their concerns prompted the village council to call for a public neighbourhood meeting on March 2.

The property owner for 2522 Dunsmuir Ave. has applied for and has met all of the development permit guidelines and zoning bylaw requirements for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), better known as a laneway home. However, Meleane Searle, a planner for the village, said at the Feb. 8 village council meeting that she received comments from neighbours requesting the village not waive the public meeting. Normally, a public hearing is waived for this type of development.

The laneway home will be built into a slope at the rear of the property which will result in the building towering over the existing home on the property. Because of the laneway home’s height, some neighbours are concerned about it looking down into their backyards and affecting their privacy.

The laneway building plan shows how the house will tower over the existing home on the property. (Image/Village of Cumberland Feb. 8, 2021, agenda package page 69. )

Cumberland is a village of over 3,600 residents tucked in between publicly and privately owned forests with little room for outward growth in housing infrastructure. The village is located on Vancouver Island in the Comox Valley about a 10-minute drive east of Courtney and 215 kilometers north of Victoria.

“This is the first application for an ADU on the street,” said Coun. Vickey Brown, also a resident of the Camp Road neighbourhood, in the Feb. 8 village council meeting.

“I do have concerns because this could mean an ADU on almost every property on this street — which I’m not sure is what we want,” said Coun. Brown.

Senior planner Karin Albert told the Voice that village records show that two laneway homes have been built in the Camp Road neighbourhood since 2016 when accessory dwelling units were first permitted. At the time of the council meeting, Coun. Brown was not aware of this.

Since 1999, six secondary suites have also been added to the neighbourhood, increasing Camp Road’s population density.

A neighbourhood with a history

Michelle Waite, who rents the property, said that because the neighbourhood was built so long ago it wasn’t designed to hold many vehicles and that most homes are built along the street without parking spaces on their properties.

“The challenge is that has increased car traffic and [the] car spaces required,” said Waite.

Rosslyn Shipp, executive director at the Cumberland Museum and Archives, said that when the Cumberland mines closed in the 1960s, the economic downturn that followed served to preserve a large number of homes in what is now Camp Road. She said now that the town’s economic fortunes have turned the other way, and with large amounts of new people moving into town, maintaining heritage property can become a challenge.

Camp Road in the days of the booming mining industry. Photo courtesy ©Cumberland Museum and Archives. This photograph is part of the collection of Cumberland Museum and Archives.

The Camp Road neighbourhood has been given a statement of significance, a record of the heritage and historical values that the community associates with a place, adding complexity to the normally straightforward development process.

“The village recognizes the unique character of Camp Road and that new buildings and additions to existing homes all have an impact,” said Albert. However, the applicant meets residential infill development permit guidelines, meaning the council cannot deny a permit, she said.

“We made these rules for the ADUs and they’re for everyone. So, while I empathize with the statement of significance … we’d be putting rules onto people – that aren’t our rules – by just not allowing them to go forward,” said Coun. Sean Sullivan in the Feb. 8 council meeting.

Waite, who rents the whole property including the area where the laneway home will be built, said that the owner last mentioned to her over a year ago about plans for a change to the property. The owner has not approached her about the laneway home since applying for the permit, she said.

“It isn’t a good feeling,” she said.

“Areas that we enjoy will be removed,” said Waite, after looking at the laneway home plans.

“[It’s] hard to describe the community unless you lived in it for a while.”  She said that if the village continues pursuing density development, the street will lose its character.

“It’s a societal question about what do we want in our communities,” Waite said.

The Voice reached out to the property owner, Genevieve Burdett, for comment, but she declined.

Councillor Brown weighs in on the potential impact

 

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