A profound (Fernwood) evening at City Hall

›› Bill McKechnie

A report on a business meeting at Victoria City Hall might sound a bit dull, but a recent public hearing was, in the words of Councillor Shellie Gudgeon, “a profound evening.”

Fernwood Urban Village, a group of passionate individuals, was asking for rezoning on a site in Fernwood to build the first cohousing community in Victoria. The City was challenged on all fronts; the matter felt a little like a choice between old ideas and ways of doing business, and newer, more progressive ones.

The members of the cohousing group range in age from 16 months to 88 years. Among those who addressed the Mayor and Council was 10-year-old Dana ­Ingebrand, who said that if her mother was too busy to help her with her homework, other ­residents in the cohousing group would say yes. After the laughter died down, Mayor Fortin asked the full-capacity crowd, “Okay, who wants to follow that?”

The best way to portray the essence of the evening is with direct quotes from the City Councillors.

First to speak was Councillor Lisa Helps: “We always have a chance to create a better way of life. Kudos for all involved to find the collaborative place. It is the ­embodiment of the vision in our ­neighbourhood plan—relevant to not just our generation, but for generations to come.”

Councillor Marianne Alto said, “We have witnessed this project for three years. The city put forward so many ­requirements. I think it is remarkable and laudable to stick it out so long! The goals you set out pushed me to consider how flexible our land use policies can be. You pushed our boundaries but will create a model of ­community and the chance to create a ­better way to live. An extraordinary piece of work. ­Congratulations!”

The final words came from Mayor Dean Fortin, who commented that the proposal was reflective of the spirit of Fernwood; he felt sure it would be embraced by the community. He called the project “an ­amazing development presented by ­amazing ­people,” and finished by ­directing his remarks to young Miss Ingebrand, telling her, “They can help you with your homework, but they can’t do it for you!”

The rezoning to allow Fernwood Urban Village Cohousing’s density increase was approved in a 7-1 landslide vote. Once recorded, the large crowd, with the ­permission of the Mayor, broke into cheers and applause.

They expect completion of their homes is sometime in 2016. The cohousing ­website is fernwoodurbanvillage.ca. The Fernwood Urban Village will be located at 1850 Chambers Street at the corner of Chambers Street and North Park Street.