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James Bussey’s model for the proposed townhouses will sit on the empty lot behind the Nichol mansion.

Shaughnessy residents give up fight against townhouse plans

Shaughnessy residents have given up their fight to stop the building of new townhouses on the outskirts of the neighbourhood….

By Yvonne Robertson , in Featured , on October 29, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

James Bussey's model for the proposed townhouses will sit on the empty lot behind the Nichol mansion.
James Bussey's model for the proposed townhouses will sit on the empty lot behind the Nichol mansion.

Shaughnessy residents have given up their fight to stop the building of new townhouses on the outskirts of the neighbourhood.

They caved in after three years of opposing a development they fear will open the way for more high-rise buildings throughout the wealthy neighbourhood.

The area has traditionally been made up of individual homes, rather than buildings with multiple homes.

“It’s a slap in the face of what people think Shaughnessy is,” said David Cuan, resident and secretary of the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association. “The development will assault your senses. It’s a good design but it’s inappropriate for the area, like wearing a gown to a picnic.”

The City of Vancouver approved the development in a final public hearing on Sept. 22 and the residents have decided not to appeal the decision.

A long battle

The 16 townhouses will sit on heritage property behind the Nichol mansion at the corner of West 16th Avenue and Granville Street. Three years ago, developer, Brian Bell, bought the land and agreed to save the heritage house.

“The driving issue is compensation, which is legally mandated in any heritage issue,” said Richard Keate, part of the Vancouver Heritage Commission, in an email. “He should be congratulated for this heritage salvation.”

The Nichol mansion and it's front gardens have been preserved while development will occur behind it.
The Nichol mansion and it's front gardens have been preserved while development will occur behind it.

The city allowed Bell to increase the density of his development inside the lot following his decision to save the Nichol mansion. Townhouses maximize the number of homes that can be built within the area available.

The decision sparked an outcry from residents, who organized petitions and sent letters to the mayor and planning departments. These are available on the Shaughnessy homeowners’ website.

Residents’ concerns

Residents fear the developments encourage future townhouses and high-rise buildings, threatening the character of historic Shaughnessy.

“It will affect how the street will develop, becoming a precursor,” said Cuan. “It’s the wrong precursor for First Shaughnessy.  The city said it won’t be a precedent but they also defined precedent quite literally: Sure, this exact incident won’t happen again. We need to look at the impact of today and how that will predict the future.”

They also worry that these developments and future ones like it may affect quality of life in the area.

“This will increase noise, traffic and stress levels. It would be wonderful if the land could be used as a sanctuary where air can be filtrated,” said resident and registered shiatsu therapist, Vanessa Wiebel.

Asthma and other respiratory diseases trouble her patients at the Holistic Therapy Centre. Wiebel expects an increase of rates in respiratory diseases as more land is developed.

Townhouses and other buildings with multiple dwellings don’t fit with the current image of Shaughnessy, according to residents.

“They think it’s not a big issue because it’s on the edge of the neighbourhood and the corner of a busy street,” said Cuan. “But if they keep letting these edges bleed out, each neighbourhood in the city will blend and lose their distinct characters.”

Looking towards the future

The empty lot behind the Nichol mansion will be paved for the townhouses early in 2010.
The empty lot behind the Nichol mansion will be paved for the townhouses early in 2010.

Development begins in 2010 to remove the wild trees growing erratically and to clear the litter that peppers the uneven ground. The land has been left unkempt and abandoned.

The townhouses have been designed by architect, James Bussey of Formwerks Architectural Incorporated. He said they will be in a style that suits the surrounding houses and the overall character of the Shaughnessy neighbourhood.

They represent the future, according to Bussey, where families dwell closer to places where they live and work, eliminating commuter traffic into the city.

This is part of an environmentally conscious trend in Vancouver known as EcoDensity, where density increases to minimize the ecological footprint.

“If you take 16 families and displace them, you’ve got this commuter traffic, contributing to green house gases,” said Bussey. “This is EcoDensity, it’s putting people where they want to live so they don’t have to spend days and hours commuting. It’s a save the world kind of thing.”

A shift towards townhouse developments and other multiple occupancy buildings is attracting growing interest in Vancouver. Approvals for adding secondary suites and basement apartments to existing buildings have increased this year.