Council public hearing/special meeting

Coach house talk dominates final public hearing ahead of proposed bylaw changes

The Town of Ladysmith has held its final public hearing ahead of proposed bylaw changes, with talk of coach houses dominating the proceedings last Monday night.

A crowd of approximately 150 packed into the Ladysmith Seniors’ Centre on a warm evening in town to voice their concerns and gather more information from town council and staff.

But despite the large turnout, less than a quarter of the people in the room took to the microphone.

One person that did was Pam Fraser.

“Your proposal is to legalize two-storey accessory buildings (coach houses) which will be constructed in the back yard or on the first floor, above the garage,” she said. “These can also be built within five feet of the next building. This negatively impacts privacy and light issues and puts neighbours against neighbours. Bylaws should reduce conflict, not increase it.”

Those statements were greeted by cheers from some in attendance.

“At present, council considers objections from neighbours which gives neighbours power,” said Fraser. “Who wants to live next to a hostile neighbour? There should be a clear and limited criteria for the granting of variances.”

Mayor Rob Hutchins explained that the look of these coach houses will be predominantly up to the property owner.

“The form and character of accessory buildings is not an issue for the town to explore, it’s up to the property owners,” said the mayor who also said that council can only take the feedback it gets, amidst the lack of speakers on the night. “One skill I do not have is mind reading.”

Carol Henderson is concerned with the amount of on-street parking the building of coach houses will encourage.

“Accessory buildings cause more on-street parking,” she said. “Many people have boats and trailers these days and there will be more vehicles per lot. I see people living on the side of streets in trailers already. There are things happening here that we as a sophisticated town should not allow.”

Hutchins explained there has been a lot of support for coach houses in the past.

“Four years ago we began looking at legalizing secondary suites,” he said. “We’ve had four public meetings. We did a phone survery and the vast majority of residents supported that, around 96%, and 66% voted for coach houses.”

Rob Johnson, a former town councillor, asked for further discussion at the council table before passing the bylaw.

“Change should be driven by public request,” he said. “Why are we making changes if the public demand is not there? I hope the voting doesn’t happen tonight. This bylaw is important to our community in terms of reshaping it. There will be repercussions down the road if we rush into decisions.”

The bylaw concerning coach houses was not voted on by council after the public hearing had closed and will now be discussed further and voted on at a subsequent council meeting.

“To get all these people out here on a warm Monday night shows the passion we have in our community,” said Coun. Gord Horth. “A lot of good work has gone into this bylaw and if it’s passed, it won’t support everyone’s opinion. We will consider the thoughts and feedback from tonight at another council meeting.”

Coun. Jill Dashwood seems likely to vote for the bylaw to be passed.

“The hat I wear at the council table is an affordable housing hat,” she said. “I see schools closing down, the jobs are not there. We need to fill our community with families. I worry about how people can afford to live. We are not all mill workers with pensions and I like the idea of being able to live in a coach house and rent out my house. We need to think about how we can sustain our neighbours and friends in our community for a long time.”

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