More than a dozen people pleaded with Abbotsford city council on Monday to preserve their modest neighbourhood and prevent the building of larger homes.
During a nearly two-hour public hearing, multiple residents voiced their concerns about an application that would allow a property owner to tear down a modular home and build a new house with a secondary suite.
While some voiced support for the application, most who spoke were opposed. Many said they are worried that approval of the proposal will lead to larger houses in a neighbourhood they say is one of the last areas in Abbotsford where people of modest means can afford to buy a house.
The neighbourhood is squeezed between Highway 1 to the north and Marshall Road to the south, with industrial lands immediately to the east.
Developed in the early 1970s, around 150 modular and mobile homes sit on small plots along Oakridge Crescent and several intersecting roads.
At issue are land-use contracts that govern how residents can use their land and which require modular homes to be sited on the properties. The province has ordered municipalities to dispose of all such contracts by 2024.
But at Monday’s meeting, many residents of the Oakridge neighbourhood told council that disposing the contracts without changing the underlying zoning would result in crucial affordable housing stock being torn down and larger, pricier homes being built in their place.
They also worry removing the contracts would drive up property values and tax bills as the area becomes more appealing to developers. Few homes in the neighbourhood have assessments exceeding $300,000, with many assessed below $200,000, according to Assessment BC.
“This neighbourhood, the way it is right now, is a very affordable neighbourhood, is a very unique neighbourhood,” Bryan Seebach told council. “I would hate to see something like this to come into the neighbourhood and change the state of it, change the scope of it.”
Multiple people told council that they live in the neighbourhood because the homes were the only ones cheap enough to buy.
“It was the only place I could afford to have a backyard,” resident Karen McKnight said. “Not everybody is cut out for condos and townhouses, where … you’re not allowed to have an animal, you’re not allowed to do this, you’re not allowed to do that.
“There should be some place left in our city where people who aren’t making $100,000 a year can afford to own a piece of ground they can afford to call their backyard.”
She and others said that permitting larger homes to replace the modular houses would be contrary to Abbotsford’s affordable-housing strategy.
But others said the land-use contracts hamstring residents and make it impossible to replace shabby homes.
Joseph Plouffe said he supported the application.
“The change in the land-use contract doesn’t force me to sell, doesn’t force anyone to sell … I like the neighbourhood the way it is,” he said. “I just want the ability to do renovations to my own land.”
Gary Bola, who owns the house next door to the one up for discussion, said he supports the applications. He noted that Indo-Canadians prefer living with their extended families and said he hoped to follow his neighbour’s lead.
“I plan on building a house for myself where I can support my parents,” he told council.
Jagjeet Gill, the applicant, said he only hoped to build a home for his family where his parents could live in an attached suite.
“I’m a good neighbour,” he said. “I also like trees, I also like flowers, I also like grass … I’m not asking anybody else to sell.”
At the meeting that followed the hearing, council deferred making a decision on the application. Several residents had asked for a deferral until council can re-evaluate the zoning in the area that governs land use once the contracts are disposed of.