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  • Arrested development

    Are we hurting ourselves when we oppose mixed housing?



    HERE IN THE SLEEPY VILLAGE OF CORDOVA BAY, we amiable residents have recently been stirring quite the commodious cauldron of consternation. We hasten to explain that it’s not our usual style. It’s just that, well, we like the sleepy aspect of our village, and want to keep it that way. It’s in our bones and our history, stretching all the way back to when we were just a country vacation destination.

    In the days when the Great Northern Railway rolled up from Victoria on what is now Lochside Drive to bring campers and cottagers to our remote sandy shores, eating, drinking, basking in the sun, and dancing in the moonlight on the famous McMorran’s maple sprung floor is what we did. (Although there was one tense day in 1942 when an RCAF bomber accidentally rained five unarmed missiles on our idyllic little burg, one of which found its bull’s-eye on a resident’s roof and came to “within a tea towel of taking her out at the kitchen sink.”)

    We even had a landmark to epitomize our idyll: The Fable Cottage, which for years drew busloads of curious tourists from everywhere. In 1993, the storybook structure was pulled off its foundation, sawn into three pieces, and barged to Denman Island. Turns out that was our bellwether sailing away.

    In its wake, we got Fable Beach Estates, featuring 25 luxury townhouses. Then the old waterfront cottages began falling like dominoes to make way for mega-houses, which triggered further development around town.

    Luxury homes and condos sprouted up behind Mattick’s Farm, and a nearby soccer field became a high-end townhouse development. Over the last decade, Sayward Hill has grown 200 “luxury waterfront golf course condos” (as well as the golf course itself). Its eight-storey final and most luxurious phase is pending. And the old Trio Ready-Mix site on the other half of the hill is being prepped for the construction of more than 300 new homes.

    Property subdivision and in-filling is common. In my neighbourhood, a developer is currently squeezing in six huge homes. The first just sold for $1.6 million.

    Residents have mostly been chill with all of this.

    Until now, it would seem. In the village centre stands our old plaza (think “tired and outdated” rather than “charming and vintage”). For the last two decades, it has endured empty stores, fuel-contaminated soil, and protracted legal battles. Then a developer came along with a revitalization plan and, long story short, all finally seemed ready to make way for new retail space and up to 88 modest-sized condos, all kept to a maximum of four storeys.

    A stone’s throw away, on Doumac Avenue, another developer firmed up plans for a four-storey, 25-condo building on two lots that currently each feature a dilapidated home.

    Cordova Bayers grew perturbed. We’re losing our charm, our atmosphere, we protested. The projects are too high, too modern, too dense, too paved. The influx of new residents will be too great, too sudden, too changing, too busy. Once a certain crescendo was reached—and that doesn’t necessarily take a lot of voices—Saanich began weighing in as well, councillors extolling our charm and character as if we all still lived in little cottages, as if we hadn’t all been building expansive housing for the last 20 years.

    The protests worked: The Doumac project has now been mothballed, and the plaza, well, let’s wait and see.

    I wonder what we’re protecting with our resistance. If it’s green space, the plaza overhaul would be a clear winner over the soccer-field townhouses. But if it’s our views and property values, well, motives become more personal. Who wants their investment compromised by mixed housing, especially if it also obstructs views (even though it might be a prospective young family’s only chance at a toe in the door)?

    Do we Boomers, who’ve had a relatively easy ride through our little segment of history, really know what we’re doing? By closing the gate firmly behind ourselves, are we depriving our community of diversity and a sustainable future? Do we inadvertently risk turning our own overpriced and oversized homes into exorbitant albatrosses down the road (or do we all hope for offshore buyers)? And when we do finally downsize, will we then be forced to move out of the community, having rejected the very housing that could have accommodated us? I just don’t see the charm in that.

    Years ago, Trudy watched several homes go up across the street on Water Board property after being assured the land would never be developed.

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