Friday, July 10, 2009

A neighbour’s response to the Morningstar letter

The letter from Morningstar shown below was received on the same day as the notice from the city of Delta regarding the public hearing. I too have written to the Council expressing my opposition to this request from the developer.

Issue 1: Illegal Suites
We have many concerns regarding the potential for illegal suites that approval of full-depth basements would create. While bylaws do exist to prevent the installation of illegal suites, the enforcement of that bylaw is insufficient and there are illegal suites all across North Delta. A simple perusal of the real estate listings will amply demonstrate that fact. The simple fact is that illegal suites exist despite regulations preventing them, just as despite the Delta Police’s efforts, not ALL motorists on Nordel Way adhere to the 60kph speed limit.

At the 2006 public meeting about this project, the developer stated that these homes would have “strong design controls” to prevent illegal suites. The developer now wants to change the design and pass the responsibility for preventing an illegal suite on to us, the development’s neighbours, with the expectation that we report homes with illegal suites.

To quote from their letter: “This means that if someone builds a secondary suite, inspectors can go in WHEN A NEIGHBOUR COMPLAINS…” Why are WE now expected to assume this responsibility when the developer goes away with the profits from the development and none of the aftermath?

In the letter from Sunstone, the developer poses the question “Why is Morningstar applying for the bylaw change?” They then talk about the potential uses for a FULL HEIGHT (my emphasis) basement as a den, a playroom, a guest room and other uses. These are all valid uses for a FULL HEIGHT basement. The intended use for the cellar with which these homes were to be built (not a basement, a cellar – a cellar is limited to a 6’4” ceiling) is as a place to locate the furnace, hot water tank, and miscellaneous storage. Cellars are not intended to become finished living space. Cellars do not require windows or emergency exits because people don’t live there, they go in, change the furnace filter and come out; they go in, grab the winter coats from storage, put the summer clothes away and come back out. They do not play games or entertain down there, nor do they temporarily house their visiting relatives there.

If an illegal suite is built, the developer and council expect the existing and well-established neighbourhood to deal with it—thereby pitting neighbour against neighbour, a situation in which nobody wins, and transfers the developer’s problem to the neighbourhood, which will have to deal with it for decades after the developer’s holding company has been dissolved.

Issue 2: Square Footage Exemption from Property Taxes
The developer then states in their letter that “After selling 90 homes in Sunstone and presenting our show homes to thousands of people, the question we received from the majority of them was, ‘Why don’t the homes have basements?’” The answer is that Delta limits the ratio of a home’s square footage to its lot size.

An excerpt from a Public Information Meeting
Q: (Resident) For the homes with a maximum of 2,300 ft², are basements allowed to be added to the square footage?
A: Oleg Verbenkov (Pacific Land Group) The bylaw regulates the house size by the size of the lot. The average house size total includes the basement space. Non-habitable space, such as a crawlspace is not counted.

Cellars, by definition, DO NOT count towards a home’s square footage, but basements DO. In Richmond, this limit was referred to as the “monster house” bylaw – if you wanted to build a 5000 sq.ft. home, you needed a large lot on which to build it. On Modesto Place, the developer has chosen very small (especially compared to their neighbours on Wiltshire Boulevard) lot sizes. With small lot sizes, come smaller square footage limits for each house. Since cellars don’t count, and basements do, towards the home’s total square footage, the change of these homes from cellars to basements means that the ratio of square footage to lot size would exceed the bylaw’s limit.

For example, what was a 2400 square foot home with a 1200 square foot cellar or crawlspace becomes a 3600 square foot home (with 1200 square feet of that unfinished basement) on a postage-stamp sized lot. This would dramatically change the character of the neighbourhood, something that the developers had assured us would not happen. At the public meetings, the developer went to great pains to assure Council and the neighbourhood that these houses would integrate into the existing neighbourhoods very well.

And since 3600 square feet of house exceeds the allowable building size for that small lot size, they are asking “that in-ground basements would be exempted from floor area calculations.” This would then exempt the basement’s square footage from property tax calculations, and creates a special case for these homes that other Delta homeowners do not benefit from.

These homes would provide a “property tax free finishable basement” since a third of the house has been granted a special exemption from property taxes. Further, that free basement now has illegal suite potential. In addition, any that are converted to illegal suites, use additional municipal services—and they won’t have to pay taxes for those, either.

This application stems from one issue, but that one issue causes two more problems. The developer wants to solve these problems by special exemption rather than dealing with the initial issue.

That issue is that the developer wants to upgrade the in-ground floor from a cellar that provides useful storage to a basement that provides additional, untaxed, square footage to their buyer.

The currently approved cellar design is not a “fire/safety hazard”
. It is the upgrade of the cellar to a basement which may then become finished, living space that poses the “fire/safety hazard”. It is the upgrade that is driving the concerns and request for the partial in-ground design, not the current design’s cellar. If the initial request to allow a basement rather than a cellar is approved, two more problems arise: illegal suite potential and the square footage to lot size ratio problem.

The developer’s solution to the square footage ratio problem is to ask for an exemption. Such an exemption would reduces the property tax payable for the newly exempted, oversized home on its overbuilt lot, and creates a special case for these homes that other Delta homeowners do not benefit from. So not only would they consume more resources because of the extra occupants (larger homes generally house larger families), Delta Council would be allowing them to do so on a reduced-property tax basis, a situation which is inherently unfair, and unreversable.

The developer wants the initial issue and the two subsequent two problems solved by exemptions only because some visitors to their show homes have asked why the existing (and nearly, if not completely, sold out) homes in the first phase of the project do not have basements. The answer is, quite simply, that the lot sizes are so small that all the available square footage has been used in the ground and second floors. Only a crawl space was possible below ground.

The simple solution to this problem is to deny the applicant’s request for the upgrade to a full basement and leave the home designs as they were proposed with a cellar or crawl space. The cellar does not pose a fire/safety hazard. The cellar does not count towards total house square footage calculations. Problems solved. And let’s face it, the developer’s representative(s) have done an impressive job of selling their newly built homes with cellars, despite current market conditions.

Surely, council and the surrounding neighbourhoods are not expected to compromise a long-term development’s plan because of short-term concerns in the local real estate market.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Letters Sent to Neighbours from Morningstar - July 3, 2009

Click on the following two images to make them bigger and to be able to read the letter from the developer.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Surrey Leader - July 1, 2009

A proposal to convert crawl spaces into full basements in 88 proposed new North Delta homes is generating opposition from neighbouring residents who are worried the change will mean taller homes with room for illegal secondary suites. City hall has been flooded with letters and phone calls since the developers of the 107-acre Delsom Estates residential project applied to have the southernmost section of the housing project bordered by Nordel Way, 82 Avenue and 108 Street re-zoned to alter the low-ceilinged (1.95 metres or 6’4”) cellars into a full basement with a taller ceiling (2.44 metres or 8’). At the lower height, the cellars are considered crawl spaces that can be legally used for storage, furnaces and hot water tanks, but not for accommodation.
People who oppose the change say it will open the door to illegal secondary suites and the increased traffic and congestion that comes with them. They’re also worried that the higher ceilings will mean taller houses that will block views. Delta council has voted to send the matter to a public hearing on July 14. Community planning and development director Thomas Leathem told council at their June 22 meeting that the problem with the cellars as currently designed is that they are neither “fish nor fowl,” being taller than many crawl spaces but not tall enough to fall within the requirements of full basements. Delta Fire Chief Dan Copeland told council there is concern that the spaces may end up being used for accommodation, even though they don’t have enough headroom and even though (as a cellar) they only require one exit and don’t have to have smoke detectors. If the bylaw is approved, Leathem said the developer would dig the basements lower so that the houses would not be substantially taller. The exception would be some houses on sloped land, which would end up about 11 inches taller, Leathem said. He added secondary sites are specifically banned. The basements won’t be counted as part of the total square footage of each house, a number that decides the maximum allowable size of a home and can also determine how much a homeowner pays in taxes. At Coun. George Hawskworth’s urging, council has ordered staff to investigate how other municipalities deal with basement sizes. Mayor Lois Jackson called for a more detailed than usual mail-out notice of public hearing to better explain the issue to residents.

Delsom Area for Admended Bylaw 2750, 1977

My Letter Sent to Delta Re: Development Application

Mr. John Hopkins, Planner
The Corporation of Delta
Community Planning & Development Department
4500 Clarence Taylor Crescent
Delta, B.C., V4k 3E2

July 2, 2009

Dear Mr. Hopkins,

Re: Rezoning Application at 10625 Delsom Crescent, Delta File No. LU005752

I am writing to express my concerns for the recent development application received by your department for the amended Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750, 1977 to allow in ground basements for the 88 properties behind ours and my neighbor’s homes. I and many of my neighbors petitioned, argued and discussed at public hearings to make the Delsom Estates into a neighborhood friendly development. When we attended these meetings both the Planning Department, Council and the developer were explicit in their replies that these proposed homes were designed as single family homes, that the design agreed upon would not permit the addition of an in ground basement. The Municipality, the Community Planning Department, and Pacific Land Group were all in agreement that for a livable and sustainable community that in ground basements were not suitable for this development.

The proposed amendment to Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750, 1977 to allow in ground basements changes all that. This proposed change is a stamp of approval for our new neighbors to build suites in their homes. The homes along 108th and were built with out in ground basements, but with zoning for “storage” or “crawl” space only. The same zoning your department, Council and the developer agreed upon. Is it fair that a small elite segment of the Delsom development gets a fully functioning basement? An in ground space that will no doubt allow for a suite, in the homes along Modesto Place, Delsom Crescent, and Delsom Place.

The zoning changes to the 88 lots in the Delsom Estates removes them entirely from all the other regulations to which every home in Delta is subject. These homes will be an oddity in the area, something which defects the purpose of Delta having zoning regulations.

The existing community of Canterbury Heights is all ready and will continue to be greatly impacted by the new development and now you wish to reshape the development to meet the needs of the developer and a finicky real estate market. Proposed by the developer and in agreement with Municipal Council over 35 homes alone will be built behind our home. That is a possibility and an estimate only of 55 cars parked in the Modesto Place cul de sac and most likely similar to 108th Ave. where all the residents’ cars can not be easily accommodated in their own driveways and now parking must overflow on to the street. Additional traffic congestion from the Delsom Estates was a major concern for our neighbors. If this application is approved, it will only welcome more traffic into the surrounding area.

I am very disappointed in how you and your department have handled the communication of this proposed amendment. Once again Delta and the Planning Department have slid back a few steps and left the stake holders out of the loop. Your department’s choice of placement of Community Planning & Development signage is questionable. The two development signs near my home are on the developers land, a great distance away from pedestrian and vehicle access & viewing. I understand that the developer caught you in a loop hole on having to put the signage on their land, and this technically excludes the gas line. You still could have found a better placement for the applicant’s signs. Very few of the local residents will ever see the notice for the amendment application. The signs are on private property and we all know you can’t trespass on Dennis Elsom/Delsom land.

To reiterate, I wish that Council and the Community Planning and Development Department reject this proposal from the developer and suggest that the developer build what was originally agreed upon during the public consultation process.

Yours sincerely

Copy of my letter sent by Delta Re: Development Application


June 23, 2009

Dear Resident:

Rezoning at 10625 Delsom Crescent and an Unaddressed Parcel on Delta Crescent (Delsom Crescent)

Please be advised your communication regarding the above noted subject was circulated to the Mayor and Council as part of the June 22, 2009 Regular Meeting Package. At this meeting, Council considered the report entitled “Rezoning at 10625 Delsom Crescent and an Unaddressed Parcel on Delsom Crescent (Delsom Estates)” and endorsed the following recommendations:

A. THAT first and second reading be given to Bylaw No. 6777, 2009, as attached in the memorandum dated June 19th, 2009 from the Director of Community Planning and Development. (This bylaw would amend “Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750, 1977” to rezone part of the property at 10625 Delsom Crescent and an unaddressed parcel along Delsom Crescent [PID: 027-861-686] from Single Family Residential RS8 to Comprehensive Development 348-9 (CD-348-9) zone to permit in-ground basements for single family dwellings that would be exempt from floor area calculations; establish the rear yard setback for a principal building and an uncovered deck; and increase the maximum site coverage to permit a 10.8 m2 uncovered deck.)
B. THAT first and second reading be given to Bylaw No. 6778, 2009 as attached in the memorandum dated June 19th, 2009 from the Director of Community Planning and Development. (This bylaw would amend “Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750, 1977” by amending the existing Comprehensive Development 348-1 (CD-348-1) zone at 10625 Delsom Crescent and an unaddressed parcel along Delsom Crescent [PID: 027-861-686] to permit in-ground basements that would be exempt from floor area calculations.)
C. THAT Bylaws 6777 and 6778 be referred to a Public Hearing.

Please be advised the above noted application will be referred to the Public Hearing scheduled on Tuesday, July 14th at 7:00 pm in the Municipal Hall. Formal notification of the July 14th Public Hearing will be forthcoming in the local newspapers and by mail to nearby residents.

Should you require further information and/or have any questions relative to the Public Hearing process, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 604-946-3208 or at In addition, please contact John Hopkins, Planner II at 604-952-3155 or should you have technical questions regarding the rezoning application.

Yours truly,

Claudia Jesson
A/Municipal Clerk

Cc: Chief Administrative Officer
Director of Community Planning and Development

Contacting the Municipality of Delta about the Sunstone Rezoning

This is the sign that's currently posted at Modesto and Wiltshire, about the rezoning of the development to allow for full basements -- and therefore, full basement suites which, as the sign says, will be "exempted from floor area calculations."

You can click on it to make it bigger on your screen.

The full text of the sign reads:

Proposed Rezoning for 10680 and 10625 Delsom Crescent, Delta, BC
File No: LU005752
Applicant's Name: Pacific Land Group
Telephone No: 604-501-1624

The property is presently zoned as RS-8 and CD-348-1 for single family development (3.81 cm/1.5 inches)

The purpose of this application is to amend Delta's Zoning Bylaw No. 2570, 1977 to permit in-ground basements for 88 lots within Delsom Estates provided that at least 50% of the basement is in-ground. It is proposed that in-ground basements would be exempted from floor area calculations. Notwithstanding the above, the dwelling must still meet the maximum height calculation of 10.5 metres (34.4 feet).
If you'd like to comment on this rezoning, here's their contact information.

Please note that their posted email address is wrong. The correct email address to send your feedback to is (The conspiracy theorist in me hopes that this isn't actually some kind of sabotage of the community feedback process.)