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."
Perhaps.
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.   

FOI Requests - Results May Vary T-C Feb 16, 2019

You can read the original article here. The District of Oak Bay takes months to reply to FOI requests, as does BC Housing. Is it time they lifted they complied with the spirit of the law?

PARKSVILLE GROUP WINS FIGHT TO GET INFORMATION - Jack Knox

With the campaign for open government focused on vows to peel the curtain back at the legislature, it would be easy to miss the small victory celebrated by environmentalists in Parksville last week.
There was a fuss in the mid-Island community over access to an environmental assessment filed by the developer of land by the French Creek estuary.
A residents group, worried about the impact on a salmon-bearing creek, wanted the Regional District of Nanaimo to give them a copy of the assessment. No, they were told, professional reports submitted as part of an application could not be copied without the permission of the applicant. The documents could be viewed at the regional district office, but that’s it.
Backed by Emilie Benoit, of UVic’s Environmental Law Centre, the residents pushed back. How are scientific and legal experts, many of them in far-flung locations, supposed to evaluate a single document that may only be seen in a Nanaimo office during business hours? They argued that the province’s freedom-of-information law requires the immediate disclosure of such info.
The regional district relented. The RDN’s general manager of strategic and community development, Geoff Garbutt, readily acknowledges the initial decision was wrong. When the mistake was pointed out, they fixed it. The regional district takes pride in being open to the public, he says.
Ah, but that’s not always the case elsewhere. In fact, the UVic centre’s legal director, Calvin Sandborn, finds it frustrating to keep Groundhog Day-ing this story all over B.C., going over the same territory time and again.
Too often, he says, government bodies are reluctant to make readily available information that should be public. It frequently takes a drawn-out freedom-of-information application to extract environmental reports that people like Sandborn argue should be posted online as a matter of routine. Too often, agencies refuse to release third-party reports filed with government, treating them as private property, none of your business.
At the heart of the matter is a section of B.C. law that says government is supposed to proactively release — without requiring an official FOI request — information that is in the public interest. The problem, critics say, is that “public interest” was long defined so narrowly that much information is routinely withheld. Even after B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner provided a broader interpretation, agencies stuck to the old ways.
The environmental law centre has fought to change the landscape. After several Oliver-area houses were destroyed by a mudslide in 2010, the UVic-based body — one of those outfits fuelled by young, idealistic law students — successfully complained to the information commissioner that the government should have disclosed reports warning of the danger. After 2014’s Mount Polley Mine disaster, another complaint forced the release of dam-inspection reports the government had balked at giving up.
Similar intervention in 2016 resulted in a knuckle-rapping for the Environment Ministry, which, instead of simply handing over test results related to contaminated drinking water near Armstrong, had demanded an FOI process (complete with fee) that took months to complete. (Sandborn says that when the law centre asked the Oregon government for the same sort of information, the public servant who answered the phone replied: “Tomorrow’s a holiday. Is the day after soon enough?”)
In December, the information commissioner’s office released guidelines clarifying what “in the public interest” is supposed to mean. That’s fine, but there’s often a gap between what that office says should happen and what actually takes place on the front lines. Note that in an op-ed in the Feb. 14 Times Colonist, Larry Pynn wrote about being blocked by a municipal staffer recently when looking for Cowichan Valley logging plans.
It’s great that, in the wake of the uproar unleashed by Speaker Darryl Plecas, the legislature is finally being dragged under the umbrella of B.C.’s information rules. It will be even better if the keepers of the information make it available proactively, without needing a nudge.
It shouldn’t take prodding and coaxing to get public bodies to disclose the kind of information that allows people to make educated decisions and question the actions government takes in their name.