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Amid housing crunch, Vernon rejects variances for controversial apartment complex

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Amid housing crunch, Vernon rejects variances for controversial apartment building
WATCH: With a vacancy rate around one per cent, rental units in Vernon are badly needed. But this week city council voted to effectively send a proposed rental housing complex back to the drawing board, after neighbouring residents raised a host of concerns. – Nov 12, 2021

With a vacancy rate of around one percent, rental units in Vernon, B.C. are badly needed.

However, this week city council voted to effectively send a proposed rental housing complex back to the drawing board, after neighbouring residents raised a host of concerns.

The city’s mayor said some of the allowances the developer was asking the city to make for the project were too extreme.

“We are currently sitting at 0.9 vacancy rate. There is a healthy balance we have to find to adding to rental stock and addressing the concerns of the community,” said city councillor Kari Gares.

A developer was proposing to build a 29-unit rental apartment building next to an existing 60-unit rental complex on 34A Street, a residential street in the city’s Alexis Park neighbourhood.

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To go ahead, the project needed city council’s permission to build the complex closer to the property line and with fewer parking stalls than would normally be permitted.

Area residents had a host of concerns about the project, including the impact of on-street parking and privacy for neighbours.

Brian Kowalski has lived across the street for 50 years and is among dozens of residents who opposed the development proposal.

Kowalski is concerned the proposed building would block his view and cast a shadow on his house.

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“I feel it is not the appropriate place,” Kowalski said.

“Our whole property right to the back alley will be in shade.”

Councillor Gares felt the need for housing outweighed many of the concerns and voted to support two of the three variance requests.

“The reality is we don’t have a lot of purpose-built rentals within the community so it serves a very significant purpose,” Gares said.

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Ultimately, the majority of city council rejected the variance requests, by a vote of four to two, which effectively sent the proposed development back to the drawing board.

The city’s mayor says some of what the developer was asking for was too drastic including a request to build to within a meter of the property line.

“Council is quite flexible, we have been flexible on parking and we have been flexible on side and rear yard setbacks, but this was a bit extreme and that was beyond the limits,” Mayor Victor Cumming said.

Cumming said there’s no question more rental housing is needed but it has to meet minimum requirements.

“There [are] lots of sites in Vernon that will accept apartment buildings and there [are] other proposals in front of us for sites in other places,” said Cumming.
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“Yes, we are keen to see a slight increase in densification in the city and providing more housing, but you can’t do it at the expense of the neighbour beside you.”

Back on 34A Street, the development company says it’s not giving up on the project.

It hasn’t decided yet how it will proceed, but it can either redesign the build or wait six months to apply to council again with the same project.

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