News from the pews

Churches and their wealth of land holding are cropping up in the news these days.
On March 10, 2019, the CBC website posted this story:
From Sacred to Secular: Canada set to lose 9,000 churches, warns national heritage group. This is summarized in the line: Shrinking congregations and rising maintenance costs force old churches to be closed, sold or repurposed.
This article warns that Canada is going to lose about 9,000 churches which underscores why the OBUC is fighting so hard to create an income stream from its parking lot and green zone.
The critical line is in the title: from sacred to secular. Once land and buildings change from their special status, shouldn’t they then be subject to the rules, zoning, bylaws, and taxes that attach to the rest of the community?
On March 23, 2019 the Vancouver Sun followed with:
Houses of Holy: In Vancouver a union of church and real estate. Real estate holdings by only some of Vancouver’s churches top over three billion dollars.
It further reports that B.C.’s housing minister wants the government to foster partnerships between religious groups and real estate developers. Did you notice the glaring admission from that sweeping statement? Nowhere does it suggest that those other critical stakeholders—existing residents in the communities—should be part of the aggressive development process.
That is entirely consistent with the CCN’s experience with BC Housing and the OBUC’s Development Team. For some reason both BC Housing and the OBUC-DT seem to have forgotten there is a significant group of third parties who will be adversely affected by their quick fix approach.
When you look at the architect’s drawings for the proposed development of the First Baptist Church land at 969 Burrard Street in Vancouver’s West End, it shows how developers put lipstick on their pigs.
Here is the proposed building on Burrard Street, a major north-south arterial route through the West End, on a fine day. There are only five cars on the street. Have you ever driven that route? A speed limit is almost unnecessary from the hours of about 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM because it is so choked with traffic.

A second photo of this project illustrates it with by exaggerating the small green zone across the street. It’s warm sunny day yet there are precious few pedestrians around.

First Baptist Church Vancouver.jpg


Photo from: https://vancouver.skyrisecities.com/database/projects/first-baptist-church-tower

We’ve seen these same distortions in the drawings submitted by the OBUC-DT. We can only hope our Mayor and Councillors are smart enough to see beyond the fancy wrapping.

Reader David Campbell summarized the unspoken truth of this campaign perfectly in response to the March 23 article: “Just imagine the good even mediocre governments could do with the taxes these folks should have paid on their prime properties. It is morally repugnant that these groups have been hoarding both land and money because governments have allowed them superior status to all other Canadians”

Not content with past hoarding that has created valuable assets, at least some of these churches are now demanding that community standards be ignored so they can reap even bigger profits.

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.

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.