Jeff Fisher addresses council during a near three-hour public hearing on the proposed Highlands of East Hill development at the former McMechan water reservoir site. Council passed the development, despite numerous concerns, by a margin of 5-1. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Jeff Fisher addresses council during a near three-hour public hearing on the proposed Highlands of East Hill development at the former McMechan water reservoir site. Council passed the development, despite numerous concerns, by a margin of 5-1. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon neighbourhood development gets official green light

The Highlands of East Hill will feature more than 170 lots, variety of housing, increased traffic

Traffic concerns are aplenty, from the public and from city council, for a proposed Vernon development which received the official green light to proceed Tuesday.

Council voted 4-1 following a two-hour, 38-minute public hearing that drew close to 50 people to council chambers to allow The Highlands of East Hill development in the 900 block of 39th Avenue – the former McMechan water reservoir – to move forward (Coun. Dalvir Nahal was absent from the meeting).

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“The whole development is a great development,” said Coun. Catherine Lord. “I can see different types of families moving in, seniors moving in, and creating a really vibrant kind of neighbourhood. The biggest concern is the intersections (39th Avenue and Pleasant Valley Road, 43rd Avenue and PV Road). There will be more traffic on 39th and 43rd is too steep for more traffic.”

A roundabout is proposed for the intersection of 39th Avenue and Pleasant Valley Road, with the city possibly having to acquire some land. Lord successfully motioned council include that project in its development cost charges bylaw for 2022.

“We have to complete a refined designed looking to minimize any potential property acquisition to ensure we can meet that time frame,” said Kim Flick, the city’s director of community development. “The intersection is already at a low level of service and we’re aware of that. We are working on a design and we are scheduled to do it in the year 2022.”

“Traffic is a big concern,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham, though excited by the project. “We need those denser neighbourhoods, and there will be a small amount of commercial in there.”

The project will also include two new transit stops along 43rd Avenue.

The development of the nearly 20-acre site will feature a 173 small-lot residential neighbourhood that includes housing options, with 10 per cent of the proposed homes being attainable and affordable housing. There would be ground-oriented single-family homes, duplexes and row housing with fee-simple ownership instead of strata.

The Highlands of East Hill also includes a new park space, connected trails and the possibility of a small commercial enterprise, which could be a coffee shop, convenience store or a daycare facility.

It will be phased in over eight stages with construction starting in March 2019. The developer, Lake Country’s Stoni Consolidated Holdings, said through representative Jonathon Campbell that they hope to complete the project in five-and-a-half years, depending on market conditions.

RELATED: Public weighs in on proposed Vernon development

More than a dozen people spoke at the hearing, and plenty of written feedback was received by the city, with one of the biggest concerns being increased traffic on 39th and 43rd avenues. Ann MacMillan, who lives near the proposed development, lamented the impending loss of aesthetics near her home.

“It saddens me to think that this beautiful hill will soon look more at home in the inner city and it’s going to completely change the look and feel of our neighbourhood,” said MacMillan.

Former Vernon councillor Barry Beardsell called the proposal “atrocious” several times during his time at the podium addressing council.

RELATED: McMechan Reservoir to become mini-neighbourhood

Jeff Palatnick said he’s largely in favour of the project and applauded the city for trying to create attainable housing. His concern, however, is the projected price tag of the homes.

“I’ve been saving for years trying to buy a house in the city. I get caught in a rent cycle where I pay expensive rents and have a hard time saving,” said Palatnick. “Me and my partner make well above the median average in this town and we decided this year we were going to buy a house. We’ve been out-bid, out-priced numerous times and we’re struggling to find our place in this community. My concern has to do with the cost. For a small, single-family home, between $450,000 and $550,000 is not very attainable even for someone like myself.”

Agreeing with that statement was Coun. Scott Anderson, the lone member of council opposed to the development.

“We always talk about attainable and affordable housing. Well, $350,000 to $600,000 ain’t it,” he said. “That is prime land. Why are we not selling as prime land and building as prime land? This would be better done elsewhere.”

Campbell was among the last of the speakers, and he told the crowd it was difficult sitting in a room and “not always hearing what you want to hear.”

“Progress is scary but progress can be managed,” he said. “I think the City of Vernon has done a fantastic job managing this process. We want to be part of this community. Through our website, we have tracked more than 300 registrants that want to be part of this community… We are doing everything we can to keep prices underneath $500,000 while meeting the design and community criteria put forward by the city.”

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