The start of a new era

Congratulations to the winning candidates in yesterday’s local elections. Although results won’t be officially confirmed until October 24, we extend a happy welcome to the Mayor-elect Kevin Murcoch and the councillors.

The new line up for the District of Oak Bay:

Mayor: Kevin Murdoch
Councillors:
Andrew Appleton
Hazel Braithwaite
Cairine Greene
Tara Ney
Esther Paterson
Eric Zhelka

Read the coverage by the Oak Bay News here or click on the photo below.


Communities in action - TC October 3, 2018

Gonzales neighbourhood plan put on hold due to community resistance

While this news article from the Times Colonist today isn’t about the Oak Bay, it illustrates how important effective consultation is in any community process. Early and meaningful discussion can save everyone a lot of time and grief. If the Oak Bay United Church had made an effort, the local community might not be so divided today.
The last two paragraphs summarize what should be taken away from the experience of the Gonzales community:

…[…] “the win in Gonzales means you can fight city hall. I think it should be a lesson to our political leadership that if you engage people in a reasonable, honest process and put them first, you’re going to get a lot of constructive input.
“But if you try and basically put up a process as a masquerade to try to get approval for what you’ve already decided you’re going to do, people are going to object. And we did.”

Victoria’s plan to fast-track 10 new neighbourhood plans has hit a roadblock in Gonzales where city planners have met pushback over proposals to shape how the area will grow.
After two years of community meetings, workshops, surveys, draft plans, revisions, more drafts and more meetings, councillors have agreed to throw in the towel on the Gonzales neighbourhood plan, putting it indefinitely on hold.
Instead, the city will tackle such other neighbourhoods as Fernwood, North Park, Rockland, and North and South Jubilee.
“I think the neighbourhood is relieved and celebrating,” said Gonzales resident Michael Bloomfield, who has been opposed to the planning process from the outset.
“They tried to impose something on us through rather a devious process and people found time in their busy lives to rise up and say: ‘No, we just don’t want you to do this to our neighbourhood,’ ” Bloomfield said.
The process dates to 2015, when city council decided on a $700,000 “accelerated” program to, in the span of 3 1/2 years, update 10 neighbourhood plans bringing them in line with Victoria’s Official Community Plan. It’s a process that would normally take about 25 years.
Things started off well for city planners and two of the 10 updates, in Vic West and Burnside, were completed in quick order.
But that changed when they began working on the Fairfield/Gonzales update.
Coun. Chris Coleman, council liaison to the neighbourhood, said many of the objections were simply about accepting change. “People say they’re OK with density, but it’s change that they may have some difficulty with. When you boil it all down, we know we need more housing and a range of housing options but [the question is] how do you manage that?”
He notes the city’s Official Community Plan says Victoria will absorb 20,000 new residents over 25 years. Half are to be downtown, 8,000 in “villages,” and the balance via densification of residential neighbourhoods.
Bloomfield said Gonzales neighbourhood objections weren’t just about density but included aspects of proposals dealing with green space and tree canopy preservation, village areas and transportation routes.
Most frustrating, he said, was that for all the city “consultation,” it seemed no one was listening. “We would be promised modifications that were respectful to the community, and the next draft would come out and none of them would be in there and some new ones that set your hair on fire would have been added.”
Coun. Pam Madoff, for whom updated neighbourhood plans have long been a priority, said it is vital that city planners not only hear from residents but also listen to what they are saying.
Madoff said local area plans have to be about more than population numbers. “I think you have to understand the DNA of the neighbourhood and really listen to what people have to say as well.
“One of the things I’ve heard from a number of quarters is that the Official Community Plan, rather than being seen as a tool, is really being seen as a weapon,” she said, citing the northwest quadrant of Fairfield (between Cook and Vancouver streets up to Fort Street) as an example where zoning changes to allow greater height could tear apart a neighbourhood.
“And when you actually do an analysis of the number of units created in Fairfield, they’re exceeding the projections in the Official Community Plan on a yearly basis. So as they say, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? If you’re already getting these numbers without significant rezonings, why should we change to another model?” Madoff said.
Originally tackled as one large neighbourhood, Fairfield and Gonzales are now being treated separately with a newly formed Gonzales neighbourhood group.
Mayor Lisa Helps said there have been key lessons learned. “One is you can’t rush a neighbourhood plan and, two, neighbourhood plans are more than just about land use. They’re about public space. They’re about transportation.”
She points to “groundbreaking” work being done in Fairfield. “Fairfield is open to density and the best way to densify Fairfield … is to look at how can we use single-family lots better than we are right now, to put in triplexes and four-plexes and five-plexes that look and feel like single family homes but that can accommodate many more people.”
While Gonzales slips to the back of the queue, there’s now a neighbourhood group trying to find a consensus.
“They’re not throwing up their hands and saying we don’t want a plan. They’re saying move on and let us really dig into the issues here as a community,” Helps said.
Bloomfield, meanwhile, said the win in Gonzales means you can fight city hall. “I think it should be a lesson to our political leadership that if you engage people in a reasonable, honest process and put them first, you’re going to get a lot of constructive input.
“But if you try and basically put up a process as a masquerade to try to get approval for what you’ve already decided you’re going to do, people are going to object. And we did.”

Selling density as a means to affordability is Vancouver's myth

“…let's not bite when reports to council dangle vague references to affordability in front of us.”

This discussion is about density and home ownership. As density and rental accommodation trends parallel those in the home ownership world, this article is relevant to the OBUC development.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published April 17, 2015 Updated May 13, 2018

Remember EcoDensity™? I do.
It was June, 2006, when Vancouver mayor – now (seldom seen) B.C. Liberal MLA – Sam Sullivan introduced the brand to Vancouver and the entire planet as the city played host to the World Urban Forum.
Despite the gloss of the hot-off-the-press brochure, critics accused him of rebranding an idea already in practice: Increasing density would reduce the city's environmental footprint with the secondary benefit of making housing more affordable.
At the time, I questioned Mr. Sullivan on the second point. Density in the downtown core had virtually doubled over the previous two decades and condos were not getting any cheaper. In fact, each new development represented a significant jump in price.
"Don't you know anything about economics?" I recall him asking me rhetorically.
"Supply and demand, m'boy, supply and demand. We build more supply and the prices come down," he said, stretching out his suspenders with his thumbs and chomping on a cigar. Okay, there were no suspenders or cigar, but his answer did conjure up grainy black-and-white images of W.C. Fields, sans top hat. Also, I'm pretty sure he didn't call me "m'boy."
The point is that selling density as a means to affordability in this city is nothing new.
But it's a myth, and an especially cruel one to wave in front of well-educated young people hopeful that one day they'll be able to afford the sort of housing in which they might be able to raise a family in Vancouver.
And yet, it persists.
This week, council approved the third phase of the Cambie Corridor Planning Program.
This phase will see the city rezone the areas between the new developments currently under construction and the lower-density single-family homes in the neighbourhood – think townhouses and row houses in a sort of transition zone between the buildings on main arteries and single-family homes.
Once again, the foggy mirage of affordability appears in the latest report: "Phase 3 provides an opportunity to increase housing options and improve affordability by broadening the range of housing choices that will help young families put down roots and stay in Vancouver."
Susan Haid, the city's assistant director of housing for Vancouver South, also talked about affordability when I spoke with her about the plan this week. "Affordability is something that we're really going to explore; a range of options through the planning process," she said.
That's where the townhouses and row houses and other options come in.
Yes, there are opportunities for "lock off suites" that would allow an owner to rent a portion of their townhouse, and opportunities for low and mid-rise apartments.
But as for the definition of affordable, Ms. Haid conceded the city was talking about what she called "relative affordability."
"Affordable compared to a single family house in the area may be a desirable option for some families," she said.
We've seen block after block of townhouses and row houses spring up along Oak Street and Granville Street in the past few years as a result of rezoning along those busy roads. A quick scan of listings shows a 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom townhouse in the 6,100 block of Oak going for $870,000. That's not in a quieter "transition zone" – it's on six lanes of rush-hour traffic. Two blocks up the street is a similar but slightly larger two-bedroom row house listed for $1.18-million.


From there the prices only go up. (And don't forget the strata fees.)
As for low-rise apartments, I found a lovely, 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom suite in a new building on Cambie going for $780,000.
By whose definition are those affordable to a young family putting down roots?
Before you venture an answer, remember that we're talking about "relative affordability."
So with the law of supply and demand apparently suspended, and with so many market drivers beyond the city's control, let's just admit that the myth of affordable housing in the Cambie corridor is exactly that – a myth. We can talk about "providing opportunities" and "broadening the range of housing choices," but in the end, the real estate market in Vancouver is what it is.
Let's stop pretending the city can do anything to make housing more affordable for anyone. And let's not bite when reports to council dangle vague references to affordability in front of us.
Here's what it has done to us: when I told a young colleague this week about the 1,100-square-foot apartment on Cambie listed for $780,000, her response said it all.
"$780,000? For a two-bedroom?" she said. "That's a deal!"
Relatively speaking, I guess it is.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

OBUC Submits Development Application - OBN Aug 31, 2018

The rezoning application for Oak Bay United Church’s proposed affordable housing project on Granite Street has been submitted to the District of Oak Bay, though the mayor says it will be the next council who decides its fate.


“We are really happy with the design we’ve ended up with,” said Cheryl Thomas, property development committee chair for the project. “We have listened and tried to accommodate everything we possibly could from the community’s suggestions.”
At open houses in November, the church showed residents scenarios that ranged from 80 to 150 units in a four- to five-storey building. With feedback from the community and near neighbours, the church settled on a design that has 96 units: 55 to 57 of which are designed to meet government criteria for affordable housing; 35 that are market – affordable units aimed to support those who don’t meet standard government criteria but still need help with affordable homes; and 4 to 6 larger units with up to three bedrooms aimed to support families.
In January, the church had asked for their application to be fast-tracked, but the committee of the whole instead suggested that the best way to save money is to get to a design that will receive the acceptance of council and the community, which would be aided by listening carefully to the community.
For some, the project presented in the rezoning application submitted Aug.13, didn’t go far enough to address neighbours concerns. Of note, was the amount of parking spots included in the project (53 for the residential units, 50 for the church, and 12 for visitors), the size of the building, and the number of units.
The church conducted a survey during their open house and contracted an independent public opinion polling contractor to conduct an opinion poll by telephone.
The results of the survey, provided by the church, state that 44 per cent of the neighbours to the project were neutral or agreed the project fit the neighbourhood, while 67 per cent of those in Oak Bay who do not neighbour the project were neutral or said it fit. For traffic and parking, the survey shows 50 per cent of neighbours say they are neutral or agree that the design addresses parking and congestion issues, as opposed to 73 per cent of non neighbours.
The public will have an opportunity to speak to this project when it comes before committee of the whole. Mayor Nils Jensen says it is currently with staff and will go to the new council who will be sworn in in early November.

Problems with densification - TC June 30, 2018

The following article from the Times-Colonist points out many of the problems caused by densification:

Victoria’s aggressive densification plan is unnecessary and unfair, causing people to ask: “Is accelerated densification being pursued for the right reasons, in appropriate locations, following an honest public process that puts people who live here first?”

In Fairfield-Gonzales alone, at least 10 groups have arisen from these concerns, people willing to consider sensible proposals, but fed up with what they have experienced as an unfair process. This phenomenon is happening across the city.
Unfairness has occurred in numerous ways:
• A questionnaire asks leading and misleading questions.
• Meetings are poorly publicized and held at inconvenient times, such as during summer.
• Anyone from anywhere is allowed to participate, diluting input from people living here.
• City consultations have been far more sales job than sincere collaboration
• Developers are involved in what should be public decision-making.
• Community associations and land-use committees are used to promote approval.

Many criticize the process as undemocratic and question the role of developers. Some seek provincial review. Others are organizing for November’s election, seeking to ensure mayor and council put community interests first. Community associations and land-use committees are being challenged to restore independence and public representation.
And questions abound about the need for expensive new plans. Significant growth has occurred over the past 15 years under existing plans. During the same time, the city failed to expand services or facilities to accommodate growth. What will be the cost for additional police, fire, roadwork, etc., and who pays? Will accelerated growth worsen existing problems such as the shortage of family doctors?

My Gonzales neighbourhood exemplifies why accelerated densification is not needed.
• Between 1991 and 2011, our population increased by 27 per cent, more than twice Victoria’s overall rate of 12.5 per cent. Single-family homes decreased from 74 to 54 per cent, duplexes and secondary suites increased from 18 to 27 per cent, and apartment buildings from seven per cent to 18 per cent.
• At the same time, no appreciable improvements were made to meagre infrastructure or services, nor did the city deal with increased traffic and parking problem.
• Heritage homes were permitted to be destroyed and replaced by oversized out-of-character houses
Gonzales residents have done more than their share and overwhelmingly reject accelerated densification. Most oppose proposals that will dramatically change the neighbourhood, including a multistorey Fairfield Plaza and redirecting traffic from Richardson Street to busier Fairfield Road. Urban villages are regarded as Trojan horses for more development.
Is it reasonable for everyone who wants to live in Victoria to do so? That’s not possible, unless the rest of us are willing to accept increased traffic and pollution, reduced greenspace, more pressure on already insufficient schools, health services, roads, parks and recreation and the increased costs to maintain and expand them.
Finally, let’s stop the accusations levelled against residents, who have a different vision for Victoria than canyons of high-rises, more traffic and pollution and greater pressure on our limited amenities.
This fight is not about privilege or an intergenerational conflict. Victorians are supportive of help to people confronted with soaring housing costs, but accelerated densification raises serious questions that are not being answered about where, how much and for whose benefit.
It’s time for mayor, council and city staff to work with neighbourhood groups in good faith.
The most reasonable option is to update the existing 2002 plans, which are doing their job. At the same time, let’s fix other problems.
• The official community plan is easily exploited for its loopholes.
• Spot re-zoning is too easy and lacks meaningful community oversight.
• Neighbours have too little input during approval of developments directly affecting them.
• Developer involvement in local politics and planning contradicts transparency and fairness.
And while we are making our civic process more democratic, the mayor and councillors should live in Victoria. Otherwise, are they truly accountable to their neighbours and fairly sharing the burdens of the decisions they seek to impose on others?
How many more people does the city plan to shoehorn in, for whose benefit and at what cost? It should be up to the people who live here to decide Victoria’s future not developers and politicians pushing accelerated development for their own reasons.
Michael Bloomfield is a sustainability advocate and a resident of Gonzales.

Neighbourhoods being transformed for the worse - OBN April 6, 2018

“Gentle density, as I mean it, is a growth strategy where the growth doesn’t alter or reduce the physical character of the assets or character of a neighbourhood or community.  I think there are some highly controversial projects in Oak Bay and there will be more in the future it’s inevitable. The community needs tools to convince its politicians and to convince property owners and property developers that there is an option to multi-storey development.  I’m going to try to make the argument for gentle density as a growth strategy so nobody gets the idea that I’m anti growth or anti development.  I think our neighbourhoods are being transformed for the worse not for the better.”
Gene Miller
Oak Bay News April 6, 2018

 Click on the image to read the entire article

Click on the image to read the entire article

counter-protest - Oak Bay News March 14, 2018

Neighbours wake to shocking signs on their lawns


Densification debate heats up in Oak Bay
Oak Bay discussions around infill housing, affordable housing, and the legalization of secondary suites has created a divide in the community. Many residents have attended council meetings and written letters to the editor to voice their support or concerns around the densification of Oak Bay.
The situation got more heated on Sunday morning when a few residents woke up to find signs on their lawns that they describe as “offensive and obnoxious.” The signs read: “We support class-based segregation” and “I fear poor people.” The Oak Bay Police were notified.
The signs that appeared overnight were staked in next to lawn signs that the homeowners had previously put on their lawns that read “Stop Over Development. Respect Neighbourhoods.”
The homeowners’ signs are part of a campaign by local residents concerned about how a redevelopment of the Oak Bay United Church site would affect their neighbourhood. As part of their “Neighbourhood Outreach Initiatives,” the Concerned Citizen Network has distributed lawn signs “showing support for neighbourhood respect.”
The citizen group says it is not opposed to affordable housing.
Read the online article here.
Comment: No one stepped forward to claim responsibility for these signs but given the lack of transparency through the entire proposal, that was unsurprising.

What we had hoped for

Summary:

Listen to the community.  We're here to provide good, useful advice on how to make the project fit into the neighbourhood.

This report from the CBC Ottawa is what we hoped would happen in Oak Bay.

Developer's approach a model for others, neighbours say

Chenier Group consulted the community, stuck to height limit laid out in design plan

Laurie Fagan · CBC News · Posted: Aug 25, 2018 5:00 AM ET [Link here]

 Peter Ferguson, chair of the Lowertown Community Association's planning committee, praises Gaetan Chenier for preserving elements of the old house at the corner of Rideau and CoBourg streets. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Peter Ferguson, chair of the Lowertown Community Association's planning committee, praises Gaetan Chenier for preserving elements of the old house at the corner of Rideau and CoBourg streets. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Peter Ferguson and his comrades with the Lowertown Community Association have fought countless battles with developers over infill projects in their downtown neighbourhood. 

Sometimes they win, but often they lose. Whatever the outcome, the combatants always seem to emerge bloodied and battered.

Imagine Ferguson's relief when they came up against Chenier Group.

It’s a model for public consultation around the development process, and there’s no reason why others can’t be doing the same thing.
— Peter Ferguson, Lowertown  Community Association

The builder wants to construct a nine-storey apartment building at 541-545 Rideau St., a deep lot at the corner of Cobourg Street that's currently occupied by a 150-year-old red brick dwelling.

Chenier Group's proposal conforms to the Uptown Rideau community design plan (CDP), a council-approved document that's meant to guide growth, but which developers ignore more often than not.

The building would also add much-needed rental units at a time when the city — and this neighbourhood in particular — are grappling with record-low vacancy rates.

Collaborative approach

"The nine-storey ceiling was particularly important to us," Ferguson said. "[Company president] Gaetan [Chenier] was determined that he was going to stay within the limits of the [community] design plan, and good for him, he did." 

The Lowertown Community Association has opposed several developments along Rideau Street for exceeding height limits set out in the CDP. Those include The Charlotte, a condo tower proposed for a vacant lot across Rideau Street from Chenier's site.

Shortly after buying the property, Chenier, acting on the advice of Ottawa architect Barry Padolsk, approached the community association to discuss his plans and ask for feedback from residents.

"My approach has always been a collaborative one," Chenier said. "I recognize this is a community development process, so get the community involved so they can give input."

Praise from councillor

The community did offer its input, and compromises were made on both sides, Ferguson said.

"[Chenier] was very forthcoming," he said. "In our minds, it's a model for public consultation around the development process, and there's no reason why others can't be doing the same thing." 

Chenier's approach also won praise from Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who submitted comments to the planning committee. 

"There has been a conscious effort on the part of the applicant to engage the community in all aspects of this project," Fleury wrote. "This can be seen in the number of times the applicant has reached out to the community stakeholders to gain feedback since the initial submission of the project."

But it's what the developer has planned for the original building, constructed shortly after Confederation, that's winning him special praise for going above and beyond the city's requirements.

Brick by brick

Built in 1870 as a single-family home, the building that now occupies the property was converted to apartments after the First World War. Until a few years ago the ground floor served as a coffee house and catering business.  

The building, which has undergone extensive renovations and additions over the decades, doesn't have official heritage designation, but the city hoped to see some part of it preserved nonetheless.

Chenier first proposed incorporating the red brick facade into the new apartment building. When he discovered that plan wasn't viable, he hired engineers to determine whether the original building could be moved. That, too, was a no-go.

Instead, Chenier now plans to dismantle the dilapidated structure brick by brick, using the materials to construct a duplex that will replicate the French Second Empire architectural style of the original building, complete with a concave mansard roof and dormer windows.

 The new duplex will retain significant architectural features of the original building. (Chenier Group )

The new duplex will retain significant architectural features of the original building. (Chenier Group )

Fits in 'beautifully'

The duplex is designed by Padolsk, who specializes in heritage projects, and will sit next to the apartment building, facing Cobourg Street.

Ferguson said the duplex will fit in "beautifully."

"We're happy with this," he said. "This is something that he did not have to do, and he's volunteered to preserve the building." 

Chenier, who moved to Ottawa from Cornwall, Ont., eight years ago, plans to move his office into one half of the newly built duplex. The other half will be rented out. 

"The house is a costly endeavour, and there may not be a lot of profit in that," Chenier said. "But overall in the long term, the house will be highlighted as a separate structure, and it will stand out on its own." 

Advice for developers

Chenier hopes the duplex will be finished by the end of 2019, and the apartment building ready for tenants by the following spring.

A rezoning application is scheduled to go before the city's planning committee Aug. 28. It's expected to pass.

Chenier's advice to other developers is simple: "Whatever the community had planned, just go for that," he said.

Ferguson believes other builders could learn a lot from Chenier's approach.

"Listen to the community." he advised developers. "We're not there to pick fights. We're there to provide good, useful advice on how to make the project fit into the community."