IDLC proposes moving to Evergreen Hall but some neighbours aren't happy at the prospect

Though the debaucherous days of the Union Steamship Company-built Evergreen Hall are long gone (it was built as a clubhouse in 1941) the old building still has a controversy or two left in her. 

The Island Discovery Learning Community (IDLC) is proposing to move its school to the Melmore Rd. building––a proposal that drummed up a loud local opposition at Monday’s regular council meeting.

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With six staff and about 50 students, IDLC offers flexible learning opportunities and includes home-based and classroom components. Come June, IDLC needs to move from the Cowan Pt. location it has occupied for 10 years. A third party has offered to purchase Evergreen Hall and lease it to the school, with everything contingent on IDLC receiving a temporary use permit from the municipality. 

As the Deep Bay lot has residential zoning, the organization has applied for a three-year temporary use permit to allow a school use of the property. It is currently used as a bed and breakfast. 

As part of the application, IDLC submitted a traffic management plan that has parents dropping children off at the Catholic Church or on Cardena (so youth would walk up from the Causeway) or walking or biking to work. For building permit reasons, the building capacity would be capped at 30.

But for at least some neighbours, this hasn’t assuaged concerns. 

Two neighbourhood residents spoke at Monday’s council meeting against the proposal, noting safety issues for children walking along Melmore, concern about an increase of traffic and noise in the neighbourhood and taking issue with the use of a temporary use permit rather than a rezoning application. Council also received ten letters against and one in support of the application, all of which are viewable on the Feb. 9 council agenda.

Another concern is that the school could alter the quiet neighbourhood character with increased foot traffic and noise. 

Local realtor and Melmore resident Mary Lynn Machado wrote in a letter to council that in her opinion a school at Evergreen could negatively affect nearby property values.

“In other locations buying a home located close to a good school might be a plus,” wrote Machado. “But on Bowen, I feel that being in a quiet, peaceful location is more important to buyers than being close to a good school.” 

The most significant discussion among councillors was over the idea of this application being a temporary use permit rather than a rezoning. 

Coun. Michael Kaile quoted Deep Bay resident John Rich’s letter to council, which asserted that the use of a temporary use permit in this case would be to “achieve a rezoning through the back door” (rather than to temporarily use a site for a non-zoned purpose). He noted that rezoning applications trigger a more stringent public engagement process that’s in line with a complete change of use of an area. 

“There’s nothing temporary about three years,” he said. 

Manager of planning and development, Daniel Martin said that part of the reason for the temporary use permit is as the school needs to be out of their current location before the next school year and rezonings can take years months. He also said that with temporary use, there’s the opportunity for the neighbourhood to have a two-year trial period with the school and then decide if it should become permanent.

Several councillors voiced concern about the school’s investment in the Melmore location being indicative of long-term intent rather than short-term use intended by such a permit. 

Coun. Alison Morse suggested a one-year permit instead of three. 

Mayor Gary Ander, on the other hand, appeared baffled by the neighbourhood response. 

“I drive by [the Cowan location] 100 times a day,” he said. “It’s the most benign operation I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t know why the community is so afraid of it.” 

IDLC founder and principle Allan Staugstad also spoke at the meeting. He said that the learning community is excited at the prospect of moving to Evergreen Hall but that they also want to be good neighbours. He said that about a third of their families could walk to the school and that the submitted traffic mitigation plan would be strictly enforced. He noted the carbon benefits of a cove-adjacent building as currently parents have to drive children to the distant Cowan location. He also said that IDLC would only be onsite from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (school hours) and on the busiest days would have fewer than 30 people, with no weekend or summer activity.

Despite councillors’ doubts, they decided to consider issuing the temporary use permit at the March 9 meeting. In the meantime, IDLC is to hold a community engagement meeting at Evergreen Hall. 

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