Property rights vs. village integrity in Belcarra

A battle is brewing in Belcarra over the rights of property owners and the wish of municipal council to preserve the village character.

A battle is brewing in Belcarra over the rights of property owners and the wish of municipal council to preserve the village character.

On one side is a vocal group of homeowners who say the proposed zoning bylaw — set to go to public hearing tomorrow night (Wednesday) — would limit them and subsequently decrease their equity if they ever had to rebuild.

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On the other side are the elected officials, who are trying to keep a handle on the official community plan (OCP) with land use caps.

The issue came to a head late last year when Mayor Ralph Drew said real estate agents were advertising Belcarra properties to potential developers with the ability to build homes up to 20,000 sq. ft. or more.

As well, a numbered company with an offshore reference had bought several lots and "bragged" about building a monster home, he said.

"These sorts of issues aren't new to the Lower Mainland," Drew said, referring to the foreign buyers investing in the Vancouver area market.

In response, council in January hired a consulting firm to look at floor area ratio (FAR) maximums. CitySpaces Consulting also surveyed similar municipalities with sloped geography — including Port Moody and Coquitlam — to compare policies on density issues such as lot coverage, setbacks and roof heights.

Their recommendations were incorporated into Bylaw 502 and given unanimous first reading by the village council this past June.

But those proposed guidelines were criticized by many residents as being too strict and, as a result, were loosened by council.

The bylaw was revised, given second reading — also unanimously — by council earlier this month and, now, awaits adoption on Nov. 1.

Still, the topic continues to split the community.

Longtime resident Des Wilson said some homeowners feel the numbers remain too high and don't follow the OCP. With bigger homes, the village is failing to protect the environment and to keep greenhouse gas emissions low, he said.

But there are others like resident Kim Alfreds — who has a 7,500-sq. ft. home on half an acre — who complain that village council is rushing the bylaw through for no reason. It is putting gross floor area ratio restrictions on property owners without considering the economic effects, he said.

"The word 'greed' is prominent in the air," Wilson countered. "They're trying to make Belcarra an exclusive area but we are unique."

Drew said he expects council will strike an advisory committee to delve deeper into the matter after Bylaw 502 passes next week. The committee will be given a six- to nine-month window to review the new bylaw and it will submit its report to council before next summer, when building gets underway.

Drew said although Belcarra has had a bumper year for building permit bids — many of which have been shelved until Bylaw 502 passes — he doesn't believe the new zoning rules will harm future development.

"All it means is that they have to adhere to the new floor-area ratios," he said, "but a 10,000-sq. ft. house on a one-acre lot is hardly a hardship."

The mayor added: "It's clear from the last OCP [review] that people don't want to see monster homes. We're not getting any push-back from 10,000 sq. ft. other than [some people] saying, 'That's too generous.'"

Drew also argued it's necessary to pass the policy before the committee starts its study. "If we do nothing — if we just leave the status quo — we leave ourselves open and vulnerable to someone walking in the door with an application for [a] 20,000 sq. ft. [home] and there's not a thing we can do about it," he said. "In other words, doing nothing is not an option."

As for new growth — a requirement under Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy — Drew said Belcarra will meet its target of 1,000 residents by encouraging owners to build coach houses and include secondary suites.



The revised table for Belcarra zoning bylaw 502

LOT AREA                                 FAR                         MAX. FLOOR AREA (GROSS)

Less than 10,893 sq. ft.                 -                           7,000 sq. ft.

10,893 to 21,350 sq. ft                 0.66                       8,000 sq. ft.

21,351 to 43,560 sq. ft.                0.4                         9,000 sq. ft.

43,561 to 87,120 sq. ft.                0.2                        10,000 sq. ft.

Greater than 87,120 sq. ft.             -                          12,002 sq. ft.

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