Plans to develop more rental units at the former Buffalo Creek School site are a step closer to approval, although some area residents aren’t happy about it.
The Cariboo Regional District on March 26 gave third reading to the rezoning application for the property at 5282 Canim-Hendrix Lake Rd.
The buildings on the 5.87-acre property currently house six rental units and the rezoning would allow the property owners to develop two more units within the existing structures.
The application, which calls for a redesignation from institutional to multi-family residential, must receive approval from the Agricultural Land Commission before it can be adopted.
Russell Couchman, a former Squamish resident who recently bought the property, said the plans would enhance the area. With the gymnasium still intact, along with a music room, Couchman said he would like to explore ways to make that space available to the community. He said his family plans to live on-site and grow food on the soccer field, which already has irrigation in place.
“There’s a lot of potential uses that would benefit the whole community,” he said. “We don’t want to disrupt the neighbourhood, we want to enhance it.”
However, neighbours of the property say they are concerned about adding more renters to the area.
Dave Naugler, who has lived behind the property for 18 years, said he has had a few “altercations” with renters from the old school site trespassing on his property. He said he is worried about the effect rental housing will have on the neighbourhood’s property values and overall safety.
“When it was a school it added value to everybody’s property around here,” Naugler said. “As an apartment building, it’s going to take away value from our properties. We are going to end up with the hard-to-house people coming in, with criminal activity and drug activity.”
Naugler said he is looking into installing surveillance cameras on his property as a deterrent to would-be thieves.
Alan MacNaughton and his wife, Cecile, live two doors down from the former school and said they have also had run-ins with trespassers on their property, whom they believe were from one of the rental units.
“Three times I have found a man on my property who lives in the duplex beside the school on the school grounds,” MacNaughton said. “This fella is climbing over my fences.”
While he and his wife enjoyed the activity that came with the school being open, they are worried about having renters in the neighbourhood, especially after encounters he describes as “disrespectful.”
“I’m paying taxes on this property and I do not appreciate having someone roaming around my property that I don’t know about,” he said.
Couchman, who is semi-retired, said he heard some of the concerns from neighbours first-hand during the teleconference public hearing March 17. Some of the objections – with regards to further construction and development of the property – are unfounded, he said.
“The rezoning would absolutely restrict (development) to just the existing structures,” Couchman said. “We can’t do more than that even if we wanted to.”
CRD Chair Margo Wagner, director of Canim Lake-Forest Grove, said there is a lot to be considered with this particular property, including the lack of rental housing in the region.
Wagner said the CRD board believes the proposed rezoning is a good fit for the property, given that it is already being used as rental housing, and it made sense that the board support it, pending the ALC approval.
“I appreciate the neighbours’ concerns, I really do,” Wagner said. “But the rental units that are there have been in there for a long time and we have never heard a thing.”
Wagner said the right steps are being taken to bring the property into compliance with the bylaws, and though she sympathizes with those who may have concerns about rental housing in the area, not supporting the rezoning would create problems of its own.
“Unfortunately, the board has to look at the whole aspect of the lack of rental properties,” she said. “And the fact that they have six units already rented out – where are those people going to go?”
Once the ALC decision about the rezoning has been made – which Wagner said could happen any day – the application will go back before the CRD for final adoption.