It’s not just lawn signs now. Legal measures to prevent any increased density are starting to take hold in half a dozen mature neighbourhoods. Most residents of Westbrook have already signed a restrictive covenant to prevent lot-splitting or duplexes in perpetuity and several other neighbourhoods are organizing. “There’s a tremendous number of people upset with this,” said Victoria Archer, a lawyer and resident of Capilano, which scheduled a set of community meetings on restrictive covenants starting next week. “People here are furious with city council, absolutely furious.”
In April 2015, council amended the zoning bylaw to allow anyone to subdivide a residential property at least 50 feet (15.24 metres) wide. They saw it as a fair way to permit a gradual increase in density across the city. But although the deliberations were covered in the media and council held a public hearing, many people didn’t find out until a subdivision happened in their neighbourhood.
Westbrook was the first to rally after a $950,000, 96-foot (29.2 metre) property on Fairway Drive was subdivided. But protests signs are now spreading. Lansdowne, Aspen Gardens, Rio Terrace, Capilano – all have vocal residents realizing the only way to prevent neighbours from splitting their lot and building two homes in place of one is by signing a legally-binding agreement among neighbours. They expect to have 80 per cent of Westbrook homeowners signed on by June. Once that’s done, no one who buys one of those properties can ever subdivide it or build a duplex again. If they try, other signatories can take them to court. The only way to take the caveat off again is by getting every single signatory to agree.
Westbrook resident Darren Jacknisky said the issue is preserving the look and feel of the neighbourhood he bought into. “When you buy into a certain area, you anticipate that area being a certain way. Everyone has their ideal,” Jacknisky said. “I bought here because I wanted to have a good backyard and large side setbacks, so I can have privacy.”
Subdivision isn’t creating more affordable housing, added Archer. What Capilano and its sister neighbourhoods of Greater Hardisty need is more seniors housing, which would free up their former homes for new families, she said.A renovated home is much more affordable than a new home, even if it’s built on half a lot, she said, pointing to new skinny homes going for $500,000 and up.
Councillor Michael Oshry said he sympathizes with residents who say lot-splitting will change the character of a neighbourhood but said they need to recognize this is a gradual process. One or two subdivisions are expected each year in neighbourhoods of 500 to 1,000 houses. “It’s going to be a very, very slow process,” he said. As for residents warning this issue will blow up come next election, Oshry didn’t seem worried. “It’s some people in some neighbourhoods. It will be an issue but is will be one of many issues.”
Neighbourhoods upset over lot splitting:Westbrook – Organizers in Westbrook expect to have 80 per cent of the homes legally committed to never subdivide or build more than a single-family home on their lot by June, said Darren Jacknisky.
Aspen Gardens – Volunteers are going door-to-door to get commitments of interest from the 510 single-family homes. Organizer Al McCully said they’ve reached a third of the doors so far and are finding strong support.
Lansdowne – One subdivision in the Lansdowne neighbourhood prompted a flurry of protest signs but most residents are still undecided about a restrictive covenant, said organizer Jason Chin.
Greater Hardisty – The neighbourhoods of Capilano, Fulton Place and Gold Bar are tackling this together with meetings scheduled for May 31 and June 6. Some pockets already have overwhelming support for a restrictive covenant, said organizer Victoria Archer. It’s likely blocks of houses will sign on rather than entire neighbourhoods.
Rio Terrace – Several residents organized an information meeting on restrictive covenants last weekend with a lawyer Chris Bowie and several dozen homeowners signed up. Now the community is organizing street captains to go door to door to built support in the rest of the neighbourhood.
Valleyview – Organizers in this subsection of Parkview focused their efforts on the few blocks around the first lot splitting to hit their neighbourhood. “People really don’t get it until it’s across the street from you,” said organizer Lisa Miller. They’ve got many protest signs but are still trying to judge if there will be enough support for a restrictive covenant.