Virgina Errick stands under a canopy of a Garry oak trees, and wonders whether the next generation will be able to enjoy this urban forest in the Gonzales neighbourhood.
A development permit with variances at 515 Foul Bay Rd., which borders Abkhazi Gardens, will come before council for public hearing this Thursday (Nov. 23). The Alpha Developments project would separate the panhandle lot into a bare land strata subdivision with four parcels, building three two-storey homes next to the existing early 1900s mansion, which was previously converted into five rental units.
While the neighbours aren’t particularly happy about the contemporary “box” design of the homes, losing 11 Garry oak trees is their greatest concern.
“These trees aren’t coming back,” Errick said, who lives on an adjacent property.
Garry oaks are very slow-growing, and these neighbourhood trees could be hundreds of years old, she said. Errick enjoys the woodlands on her property because it makes it feel like being in the country. Cutting the trees down would destroy the canopy and damage the ecosystem, she added.
“It’s not good for our environment, and it’s not good for the animals that live here. We have eagles and hawks and owls and deer. We need that space for animals to live here, as well as people.”
The developers propose removing 19 trees, including 11 Garry oaks and one arbutus. To account for the loss of greenery, the developer proposes replacing the 12 mature, bylaw-protected trees with 24 young trees.
In addition to those at 515 Foul Bay Rd., up to 14 trees on neighbouring properties (four bylaw-protected) could also be damaged or destroyed through the construction process.
“It’s one thing to affect trees on your property, it’s quite another thing to be impacting trees on neighbours’ properties,” said Karen Ayres, who lives on a bordering lot.
She is also concerned about the environment, the beauty, and the impact on the community. Ayres said the proposal violates the old Gonzales neighbourhood plan, as well as the new one currently being drafted.
While the developers say intended buyers would be families, Ayres doesn’t believe young families would be able to afford the homes, which could go from anywhere between $1 million to $6 million.
Another of the adjacent properties at Chadwick Place was recently developed in a similar manner, but according to Errick and Ayres, the residents are couples from out of province, not families.
“If you want to develop all of this, and housing is the number one priority at the expense of the trees, the canopy, the green space and the environment, then let’s…decide what is the best use of these large tracts of land. It’s really about the trade-off, that you’re destroying all of that to house [a few] people,” Ayres said.
“Our cityscape, and our neighbourhoods, are going to look totally different without our trees.”
Both women said they are not opposed to development, even suggesting they would be fine if smaller houses were built on the lot, if more trees were protected.
But Fred Rohani of Alpha Developments said the plan protects many existing trees.
“This type of precedent where we’re saving an urban forest part of this property, where we’re saving numerous trees, and we’re planting numerous new trees, will add beauty to this property,” he said. “If you come in 10 years to this property when the new trees are all matured, this will look like an urban forest.”
The proposal includes a covenant for tree protection to retain the trees in the area behind the large mansion and other parts of the property, a way Rohani said would achieve growth in these areas.
“Unfortunately, the neighbours, they don’t want to see growth, they just want to maintain status quo,” he said.
Even so, Errick and Ayers said they will be disappointed if the development goes through, and they’re concerned it would set an undesirable precedent for further development in the area.
“It’s not like I want to control the future, but we have to leave something for younger people, to say, this is Garry oak woodland. This is what it’s like. It’s not just in the park, it’s not just in Oak Bay, it’s in Victoria too,” Errick said.