A fire that destroyed a Port Coquitlam family home two years ago and had erupted into a burning neighbourhood dispute was finally snuffed out in a city council meeting Tuesday.
Currently an empty lot surrounded by trees, the home at 1997 Fraserview St. was the scene of a three alarm blaze on Jan. 21, 2019 that was so large it drew a swarm of firefighters to the Citadel Heights neighbourhood, the smoke creating a visual disturbance for drivers on the Mary Hill Bypass.
It also left a mom and her four daughters without a home and nothing saved, not even baby pictures, according to Adeola Adeyemi, who owns the property.
Located on a sloping hill in a well-established subdivision off of Pitt River Road, the lot has been vacant for two years.
In January, 2020, Adeyemi applied to the city for a development permit for a coach house with a rental suite as part of a rebuild of her single family home on the property, something the city allows in its zoning for the area.
The city of Port Coquitlam defines coach houses as self-contained small homes at the rear of residential lots no larger than 753 square feet, something other jurisdictions label laneway houses or carriage homes.
But as revealed at the Tuesday, Dec. 15, virtual public input opportunity, the project is strongly opposed by neighbours immediately west of the property who are worried the two-storey building will overshadow their property and make their lives miserable.
“We’re really upset, we just can’t fathom why someone would want to do this to us,” said Yvonne Didusch, a 20-year resident, who lives with her aging parents next door at 1187 Fraserview.
Citing concerns about privacy, shadows darkening her back yard, parking concerns and declining property values, Didusch said she was worried about the impact of the coach house on her family, telling council: “My mother had to flee in the beginning of her life as a child and had to leave everything behind. We did have some sympathy for our neighbours … but it doesn’t look like we’re getting any sympathy.”
Many of her concerns stem from that day of the fire, when firefighters attacked the blaze from all sides, including her property, and roof shingles suffered water damage. As well, there were concerns about the placement of a construction fence, which was moved, and the breaking of a window, which was later repaired.
For Adeyemi, the fire that day was very much at the forefront of her memory, too, as she recalled the trauma of the event.
FAMILY LOST 'EVERYTHING'
“We lost everything but what we were wearing on that day in 2019 — everything, everything was lost on that day,” said the mother, who had owned the home since 2009.
Adeyemi told council a rental suite planned on the top floor of the coach house is a key part of financing her rebuild because although she has insurance, it’s not enough to cover all the debt.
She recounted to council efforts to address her neighbour’s concerns, including making sure there are no windows looking onto the property, putting in landscaping to create privacy and lowering the height of the building, “everything just to make sure the neighbour is happy as possible with the design of the home.”
Other than Didusch, all the other neighbours who spoke at the virtual meeting expressed support for the coach house project.
One neighbour, who lives behind the property, said he hoped construction would take place as soon as possible because for two years the property has been an “eyesore.” The neighbour also praised the Port Coquitlam firefighters for putting out the fire before it had could spread to neighbouring homes, noting that the fiery inferno was tilting towards the home where Didusch lives.
A few said they sympathized with Adeyemi’s plight, as she’d been without her home for two years, including during the pandemic, which neighbours speculated must have caused a lot of turmoil for the single mom and her four daughters.
Isabel Marraffa, who has lived in the neighbourhood since 1987, said she didn’t think parking would be a problem because the driveway will be large. She also asked council to approve the project so Adeyemi could get back to “restarting her life.”
CITY STAFF SUPPORT
A city staff report also recommended the project, noting that the coach house meets all the zoning, design and development permit requirements and the lot can accommodate a conforming coach house and a new house with a combined floor area of up to 4,122.6 square feet.
And while Didusch expressed concern about shadows falling on her property, a requested shadow analysis found little impact on her home and yard, according to the report.
Still, while councillors acknowledged Didusch’s concerns, they also said they hoped, once built, the project would be acceptable.
“Sometimes, once things are there, you look back and wonder what was the issue in the first place,” said Coun. Nancy McCurrach.
“It is really unfortunate that these two families aren’t able to find some common ground. I feel neighbourhood disputes are beyond our scope to effectively deal with. My heart goes out to the family who lost their home in the fire. I support the development and I hope the neighbours can find some peace going forward,” said Coun. Laura Dupont.
Mayor Brad West pointed out the decision was not about whether coach houses should be allowed, but rather, whether this one conforms to city laws.
“The only question in front of council: does the form and character and design meet our guidelines? And yes, it does,” said West, noting that the applicant has also gone to “some length” to make changes.
Acknowledging the neighbourhood of long-time residents is “tight knit,” Coun. Steve Darling said: “This is a time for this neighbourhood to try and heal now.”
With council’s unanimous vote — just shy of two years since that devastating fire — the development permit was approved.
22 COACH HOUSES
Port Coquitlam’s Official Community Plan and Zoning bylaw were amended April 2017 to permit coach houses following the City’s “Let’s Talk Housing” public consultation process which looked at ways to help address the increasing demand for housing while retaining the character of single family neighbourhoods.
Since that time, the city has approved development permits for 13 coach houses and has another nine under review.