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Athenry development OK'd for now

Thirty months after a public hearing, Athenry Developments' proposal for houses, offices, shops and an Irish Cultural Centre has been approved by Langley Township council.

But as the ink is drying on the rezoning bylaw and development permit, residents are preparing a court challenge.

"As unfortunate as the outcome was after a long and protracted debate, we are not surprised, given the previous conduct and bias that council has shown the proponent at the expense of residents," Hank Der said moments after council's meeting ended on Monday.

"As per Jonathan Baker's presentation and comments, legal action will now commence."

Baker, an acknowledged expert in municipal law, told council much the same thing. Retained by an association of residents most impacted by the four-acre development, Baker said the proposal needs to go back to the drawing board.

"If you won't do it, a judge will," he warned.

Athenry's development covers four acres on the northeast corner of 83 Avenue and 208 Street. Sitting on the corner of the intersection is Willoughby Community Hall, which Athenry will relocate and restore at a cost of $500,000.

Other components of the development are general housing, homes for seniors, retail, commercial, and an Irish Cultural Centre.

The planned development has upset a dozen neighbours, Der among them, who say that three elements impact the quality of their lives and reduce the value of their homes. They say the buildings are too tall and too close to their homes thus blocking out the sun, and that the landscaping proposed provides an insufficient barrier from the buildings.

On the council agenda was the fourth and final reading of the rezoning bylaw, and approval of the development permit application. Municipal law prohibits council from hearing comments on the rezoning application after a public hearing has taken place, but the development permit stage gives the public the chance to comment, but remarks must be limited to form, character and siting of a development.

Baker said that homeowners are not opposed to the development "and would happily see it finished." But they do not want to face a wall of development twice the height of their homes a few metres away, he added.

This was a concern of Mike Gardner, who told council he spent $12,000 on a deck and outdoor bar. He feared the devaluation of homes by "monstrous structures," and the inability of residents to enjoy their backyards.

Of contention is how storeys and setbacks are calculated.

Claiming that an apartment building does not meet the Yorkson Community Plan because it is taller than three storeys, Linda Duncan told council: "You have yet to convince me how above-ground parking does not count as a level (storey)."

Bob Duncan said that changes Athenry has made "are superficial at best." He said that a shadow study shows that his house will be in shadow for four months of the year.

"The whole south side of my house is glass and yesterday (Jan. 31) it was brilliant sunshine coming into my house. If this development goes ahead I will never see out of my windows again, one, because I will be overshadowed by five stories, and two, because my blinds will be closed to afford myself and my family some privacy from the prying eyes of the people in the new apartments and on their balconies well above me."

Residents have also argued that a setback, i.e. the distance between the property line and the building closest to them, is not the exterior wall but the edge of the balconies.

"Setbacks are pathetic as they do not occur until past the top of my roof line, which invalidates them to me," Duncan said.

Another resident, John Cameron, applauded the plan which he said has a broad base of support. A friend of Tony and Gwen McCamley who own Athenry, Cameron said that the setbacks are three times wider than required.

Brenda Lightbody, speaking for Athenry, advised council of the same thing, adding that a trail along the property line has been eliminated, and landscaping has been improved.

The McCamleys plan to make their home there, Lightbody said. "So their interest is in community as a whole, not profit.

"They have made concessions, and have made all the concessions they are prepared to make."

Building design creates questions

As part of the Yorkson Neighbourhood Plan review process, which began in 2006 and was completed in 2008, the designation of the Athenry property at 208 Street and 83 Avenue was amended to allow a maximum building height of four storeys along 83 Avenue and 208 Street.

However, buildings immediately adjacent to the single family homes to the north were limited to three storeys.

But what is a storey? Does one above-ground level of parking constitute a storey? Does the top of a storey extend to the top of a peaked roof?

As Councillor Bob Long remarked, the Athenry project “is a complicated one.”

“I don’t think we’ve heard the end of it,” Long added as council debated Councillor Kim Richter’s motion to delay final reading of the development permit and all the rezoning bylaws pertaining to the four-acre parcel.

Richter noted that although the proponent has removed a pub from the application, the option still exists for one to be included in the future. She claimed inconsistencies between the rezoning bylaw and the development permit, and urged council to reconsider.

“There is a lack of clarity in the bylaw,” Richter said.

“Let’s tighten up the bylaw.”

Mayor Rick Green agreed with Richter. “There are questions enough to move them to deferral,” he said.

Only Green and Richter supported deferral. And after the motion was defeated, a resident from the gallery called out “shit bastards.”

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