A proposed two-lot subdivision in South Abbotsford has raised questions about the city’s obligations to people who get incorrect information from staff about what they can build.
More than two years ago, a resident came to the city with questions about a lot on Highview Street, south of Highway 1. The man, whose first name is Harpreet (The News isn’t publishing his last name due to unique security issues, had lived in the area for more than 20 years, and was raising his kids in a home on a nearby busy street. He wasn’t a developer, but he saw the Highview property as a way to be able to build the house he wanted on a quieter road.
“We decided we were going to save up every penny to move … and buy this property so my kids can play outside,” said Harpreet.
So he asked the city about the possibility of subdividing the lot in question. In an official development inquiry meeting, staff told him he could, and that each house could be built with a coach house and secondary suite.
Subdividing the property and selling the neighbouring lot would help finance the construction of a new house. So, two years ago, Harpreet bought the property for $850,000 and submitted his plans for the site.
Then things changed. The city told him that if the property was subdivided, it wanted a 3.5-metre-wide slice of the lot in order to add a short pedestrian walkway linking Highview and Kirk Avenue.
That walkway, the city says, would create a new and important walking route in the area, particularly if and when two pieces of Kirk Avenue are eventually linked. The city says the move would give people a walkable route to access transit on McCallum Road.
But the city’s demand upended Harpreet’s plans.
Harpreet said that handing over the slice would leave him unable to build the size of home he wants for his family and significantly depreciate the value of the neighbouring lot. He would also be responsible for paying the cost of the walkway, which he said would cost around $20,000.
Harpreet was also told that coach houses couldn’t be built on either property, and at a council meeting on Monday, he heard that only one of the properties now qualifies for a secondary suite.
“I’m taking hits from the right and the left,” he said.
Even without the economic factors at play, Harpreet said he would still be against the walkway, citing security and safety concerns.
And he is upset that the city changed what was possible on the lot after he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I just wish they’d make this process more transparent,” he said. “If they had given me this information, I would have walked away from [the property].”
On Monday, council had an extended discussion about whether to remove the walkway requirement.
Several councilllors said the city should stand by what it originally told Harpreet and let him subdivide the property without handing over land for the walkway.
Coun. Bruce Banman said the issue was a failure of customer service.
“We should really know what we’re talking about when someone comes in to see us,” he said. “It’s a significant thing when we’re asking someone to give up a portion of their land.”
But others said that the walkway would be a vital piece of the neighbourhood’s pedestrian network and that the property was the only chance the city would get to create it as planned.
“I feel for the gentleman,” Mayor Henry Braun said, before adding: “This is going to be here a long time and when we look at the greater good of our community, this makes sense.”
A motion to remove the walkway requirement from the rezoning failed, but the issue is likely to resurface soon when the proposal goes to a public hearing and then council for a final decision.
Banman and Couns. Kelly Chahal, Ross Siemens and Les Barkman voted to remove the requirement, while Braun and Couns. Sandy Blue, Brenda Falk, Dave Loewen and Patricia Ross voted to keep it in place.
Ross, though, said the communication issue and the walkway demand was significant. She suggested she would vote to leave the requirement in so that the neighbourhood could weigh in on it at the upcoming hearing. Banman had said he had heard that local residents did not support the walkway.
Braun predicted another extensive discussion would take place following the public hearing.