No show on CFAX

This week the CCN was invited by Mathew Hylan of CFAX to speak on air with Mark Brennae, on his talkback radio show. We declined. This was our response:

February 26, 2019

Dear Mat,
Thank you for your inquiries yesterday and today. The CCN mail feed is monitored by volunteers and replies are often delayed.
The Concerned Citizens Network (CCN) of Oak Bay is an informal group of neighbours attempting to provide a platform to discuss the many issues around the OBUC housing project.
First of all: we are NOT against affordable housing, this is a land use debate. The proposed project is too big and too dense for this neighbourhood. This 4 storey building, towering over adjoining single family houses, will invade the privacy of the neighbours. The underground car parking will require blasting, possibly damaging adjoining properties. It may even damage the existing church. The Threshold House, which provides services to vulnerable youth, will be demolished and the already busy residential Granite Street will become busier.
We would like any development that fits the character of the neighbourhood and is in accordance with the housing strategy and Official Community Plan for Oak Bay.
As to your comments today, it is unlikely we will need to rebut anything Mayor Murdoch says. He is part of the process and will work with his strong team of councillors to make a fair decision.
We want to engage with the OBUC-Development Team to make this a win-win project for everyone. However, the OBUC-DT’s campaign to vilify their opponents as a vocal, reactionary few has incited intimidation tactics against the neighbours and their properties. Some have had bogus signs, smeared with derisive slogans, planted on their lawns. Existing protest signs are routinely vandalized. A few of our members have been shouted at and verbally abused in public, by complete strangers. Yesterday, as a consequence of the considerable hate mail addressed to our website and twitter account, the CCN twitter account was closed.
All of this merely because we disagree with some aspects of the OBUC housing project and seek to have our voices heard in a lawful manner in a democratic society.
As the CCN neighbours are interested in dispassionate discussion on the various aspects of the housing project, we believe the talkback format has the potential to create a hostile situation for anyone from our group.
Unlike the OBUC-Development Team, we have no paid professionals to deliver our message.
Consequently, we must respectfully decline your kind offer to participate on your program at this time.
Our website provides further significant details of our concerns about this project. 
Finally, because this project is under review by the District of Oak Bay, we are in limbo as we wait to see what recommendations the planning department will make to the mayor and councillors. We may re-consider your request once we know what has been recommended to the Council.
Concerned Citizens Network of Oak Bay


Postscript: A few of our members listened to Cheryl Thomas from the OBUC-Development Team speak on this show. Apparently, the host didn’t have the facts at hand when she was speaking.

At least twice he asked her if this project started August, 2018. Both times she said yes. It a sense that is correct. That is the month the application was submitted to the District of Oak Bay. She didn’t feel it necessary to mention an application for $500,000 was submitted to BC Housing in March 2017, which included a proposal for a 6 storey building in that tiny space. Nor did she mention that none of those plans were shared with the community until months later, after a couple of secret meetings with then Mayor Nils Jensen and at least two councilors.

“We went to the public with nothing designed,” she said.
Excuse me? The OBUC-DT didn’t advise the community that anything was happening until July 2017 - four months AFTER they’d presented an in-depth proposal to BC Housing, including a building plan. Had Ms Thomas truly forgotten that sequence of events? Or was her memory particularly selective that day?

Ms Thomas also said the whole project was being done entirely with the church’s money. Then she quickly clarified that by saying BC Housing would providing the building loans at preferential rate. That’s not church money any way you look at it. Those are taxpayers’ funds.

Oak Bay's desire for revitalization clashes with [...] a 4-storey apartment

Oak Bay's desire for revitalization clashes with neighbourhood opposed to a 4-storey apartment

by Justin McElroy, CBC news

See the original article here

The list of B.C. municipalities with at least 5,000 people that have fewer residents today than a half-century ago is a who's who of resource-dependent towns in far-flung locations: Dawson Creek, Powell River, Port Alberni, Prince Rupert, Trail and Kitimat.
And also a well-educated seaside village right next to Victoria, where the median family income is 42 per cent higher than the rest of the province. 
Oak Bay's new mayor, Kevin Murdoch, says the city must grow to tackle the problems of an aging population, aging infrastructure and aging stock of affordable housing.
"It's not sustainable," Murdoch says, after an election where he campaigned on streamlining the slow and sometimes byzantine set of regulations that has made redevelopment a difficult process.
In a municipality with more golf courses (three) than gas stations (zero), and where a proposal to legalize the city's secondary suites is now in its third year with no end in sight, the idea of significant rezoning change could be scoffed at, yet Murdoch is optimistic.
"We just need to find housing options that are appropriate for families and allow people to move within the community from single-family homes into apartments or townhouses," he said
“The process of overhauling the city's bylaws will take three years, said the mayor. But a contentious debate in council will come much sooner than that.
Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch says it's important for Oak Bay to develop gentle density in its neighbourhoods, but says it's too early to say if he'll support the United Church proposal.
At issue is a proposed 96 units of purpose-built rental housing by the Oak Bay United Church.

Correction: As far as the community can tell - given the information we’ve managed to uncover:
the current application is NOT for 96 purpose-built rental housing units. It’s for 57 (at this stage, subject to change) affordable housing units (affordable is undefined). The balance will be either market rental rates or (four townhouses) offered for sale at market prices.

It would be on the land it owns adjacent to the church, with most units priced below market rates, with a plan formally submitted in August 2018.
Nearly every nearby home has signs out opposing the project, arguing it doesn't fit the neighbourhood. 
"We're parents. We understand what young people and seniors can face in terms of today's housing market," said former mayor Diana Butler, a member of the group Concerned Citizens of Oak Bay, created to oppose the project. 
"So we're sympathetic to that. It's not an affordable housing issue for us. It's a land-use issue."
Butler said the proposed apartment block would set a precedent, causing a domino effect on the street, possibly spurring other similar developments.
The group said it hopes the church will "find something that works for the church and works for us ... so it's a win-win for everyone."
But a conversation with Cheryl Thomas, chair of the church's development committee, shows how unlikely that is.
"There is a small committed group of people in Oak Bay that don't want change and they think Oak Bay should just stay the way it is," she said. "If a church can't do this and provide something like this that's needed in the community, I don't see it happening in Oak Bay. Period.”

Comment: It’s NOT all ‘all or nothing’ issue, no matter how keenly proponents want polarize it as such. It’s a ‘proceed with community engagement’ question. We are still waiting.

Murdoch, the mayor, wouldn't say how he will vote on the project, saying he wants to wait to see the details when staff bring the submitted proposal to council. But he said the protracted debate over the building shows why Oak Bay needs clearer development guidelines for the entire city going forward, so residents have clear expectations of what can and can't be built. 
Councillor Andrew Appleton said he's confident that process will result in Oak Bay growing its population while preserving the heritage dear to so many residents."
Obviously there's this sort of abiding vision of Oak Bay as being a very conservative and slow to change, and I think people would be surprised [at] just how interested people are new development and adding some housing mix," he said.
"People's abiding opinion of Oak Bay, I think in a lot of cases, is not where we're at right today."
But when the United Church proposal comes to council as expected by the end of this year, it will provide a test of how committed Murdoch is to his rhetoric.   

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.”

What we had hoped for


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."