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.   

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."