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.

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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.

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

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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.