A decision from the B.C.’s highest court later this month could impact a proposed hilltop home near Gonzales Hill Park that’s spurred community opposition since construction began.
The Gonzales Hill Preservation Society wants rock blasting at a property adjoining Gonzales Hill Park to stop until the B.C. Supreme Court rules on their case against Victoria’s board of variance.
The society’s case centres around the 1980 Fairfield Place property. It alleges the board of variance – a body that’s independent from the city – granted a variance to the owners in a way that’s contrary to the Local Government Act (LGA) and wants the decision to be reconsidered.
The property is currently fenced off as blasting work has been going on for the past couple weeks.
The society is worried about the potential impacts to the park’s wildlife, rare wildflowers and endangered Garry oak trees and hilltop views being obstructed. Their petition to the Supreme Court says these impacts could be the result if the variance allows the home to be built closer to the hill’s peak.
The society says the owners have a right to build on their property, but want them to do so within the area’s existing zoning regulations.
The board accepted that the area’s existing zoning bylaws would cause the homeowners undue hardship – which lets applicants secure variances under B.C. law. In December, the owners were granted an extension on their variance from 2018, which expired last July because substantial construction hadn’t started within two years.
Under the LGA, variances must not result in inappropriate development, adverse affects to the natural environment or substantially affect the use and enjoyment of adjacent lands.
Mary Doody Jones, a local environment-focused activist, said that if the variance allows the house to move higher up near the park’s northeastern hill, habitats in the park could be impacted and the construction could disrupt the nesting period of eagles and other birds that call the park home.
“By putting that house there, it will change the ambiance of the park,” Doody Jones said. “The environment and habitat is crucial.”
She also joins in the preservation society’s fears about how development that close to the park could impact its Garry oak ecosystem.
“If a Garry oak can’t be safe in a Garry reserve, well, where can it be?” Doody Jones asked. “What we want is for the board of variance to follow the legislation.”
An online petition with more than 1,300 signatures as of Wednesday is also calling for blasting to be halted on the property until the Supreme Court case is resolved.
The case is scheduled to be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 27.