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'Monster' homes rile Oak Bay residents

Jun 12 2012

Tensions flared Tuesday at an Oak Bay council meeting where residents implored councillors to stop "monster homes," which some said don't fit in among traditional homes with lush gardens.

"These things are gigantic and they're intrusive," said Oak Bay resident Eric Zhelka, an engineer. About 75 people applauded, and some called for a moratorium on building permits until a bylaw banning such homes can be passed.

Council ruled that out, saying staff will study the issue and report on it by the fall.

One developer who has been the subject of protest over his modern home being built in the 1000-block of Monterey Avenue said it's the style of the home, not the size, that seems to be an issue with the neighbours and it's not council's place to legislate architectural design.

Developer Rajinder Sahota of Method Built homes said the structure could have been 4,500 square feet but he stopped at 3,200. "To call this a monster home given the size of the homes in the neighbourhood is inaccurate," Sahota said in an email.

Sahota said he believes the majority of Oak Bay residents embrace diversity in home design, adding there was a time in the 19th century when Arts and Crafts-style homes were considered innovative.

Though the design for the home broke no bylaws, neighbours wanted council to approve the look of the structure.

But Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said council can't control architectural style or exterior finishes.

Zhelka called the Monterey home "the straw that broke the camel's back," but said many other large homes are being built on small lots, leaving little green space, which is "out of character" with traditional neighbourhoods.

Concerned residents have set up a group, Oak Bay Watch, that plans to circulate a petition against such homes.

In 2007, Oak Bay council changed a floor-to-area ratio to ease restrictions on the size of homes. Jensen said previously, many people were demolishing homes with under-height basements because the basement counted against the house's square footage, even though it was too short to be a living space.

Jensen said the change has allowed many people to expand heritage homes instead of demolishing them to build bigger ones.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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