When is a loan Not a Loan?

This following letter was emailed to Malcolm McNaughton, Director of Regional Development, Vancouver Island on October 21, 2018.
If you’d like to contact Mr. McNaughton, his email address is: mmcnaughton@bchousing.org

Dear Sir,
Re: Oak Bay United Church,

First, congratulations on your receipt of a 2018 Care Award for creating Excellence in Housing Affordability.

And, secondly, I and many Oak Bay residents recognize the need for affordable housing.

However, B. C. Housing GAVE AWAY $500,000 of taxpayer monies to Oak Bay United church to develop a 6 story 269 unit housing proposal on church property and some of the units would be affordable.  Under the church's contract with B. C. Housing these taxpayer monies do not have to be returned if the project doesn't proceed (presumably the 269 unit project).  As you probably know, the proposal presented to B. C. Housing was not presented to the District of Oak Bay but instead a proposal was presented to build 96 units of housing as follows:

4  market priced 100 year leasehold town houses
35 market affordable units
57 affordable units

and all of this development, with unit size not meeting zoning requirements, would be on approximately 47,000 sq. ft. of land amid a block of single family homes.

Current zoning requires 90+ parking stalls for church use, 196 parking stalls for the units and 23+ parking stalls for guests.  Using the current surface parking lot for development would mean blasting down through granite rock for parking.  The proposed development would face Granite Street which is a transition street and bears most of the truck traffic servicing the Oak Bay village which includes a Fairways grocery store.  There is very little street parking on Granite Street so it would be reasonable to assume that vehicles would park on Victoria Avenue, thereby reducing the street to single lane traffic.  And as traffic increases it can be difficult to make a turn from Granite onto Foul Bay Road.

In addition to the traffic and parking situations, the size of the proposed development doesn't meet current zoning requirements and would occupy 23% more land that currently allowed.
Considering all of the above, how could you give away so much taxpayer money, with no strings attached, for an even larger development?  Why didn't somebody from B. C. Housing look at the proposed site and the current zoning requirements and question the application before being so generous?  After all, it is not the responsibility of taxpayers to fund any business, including a religious organization.

It is all so disappointing as B. C. Housing has funded some great developments but it appears that not much care was given to the proposal presented by Oak Bay United church.

B Sirinic
Oak Bay

cc Hard copy delivered to District of Oak Bay mayor and counselors

Within hours Mr. McNaughton replied:  

We did not give away any money. The money that BCH has loaned Oak Bay United Church is secured by a mortgage on the property. It is common for initial design concepts to evolve through the development process.

Malcolm McNaughton
Director Regional Development – Vancouver Island

It seems Mr. McNaughton deflected the question of whether or not the money was given or advanced via a forgivable loan. Yes the loan must be repaid if the project goes forward but if it doesn’t, there is no obligation to repay it.

Later that evening clarification was requested:

To: Malcolm McNaughton
Subject: Re: DISTRICT OF OAK BAY

Thank you for your information. An internal B. C. Housing Executive Committee document stated "The requested $503,392 including GST will be given out as an interest free loan and will be evidenced through a Promissory note.  If the project proceeds the loan will be repaid through the anticipated interim construction financing to be provided at Final Project Approval.  Should the project never proceed the PDF loan will be forgiven."

I further understand that, at a later date, there was an additional loan of $300,000 that was secured by a mortgage against the church but I don't know the terms of this financial arrangement.

B Sirinic

Note: The additional loan of $300,00 may not have been advanced yet.
In the same afternoon that Mr. McNaughton was replying to the above letter, he answered another inquiry about the additional $300,000 this way:

We have not completed the processing of the request for additional funds.  If the request is approved it would generally be on the same terms as the original request although there are instances when additional terms may attached to an approval. 

Malcolm McNaughton
Director Regional Development – Vancouver Island

 

Investigation needed - Times Colonist October 12, 2018

Some history to the letter that follows:
Many of us have asked, on numerous occasions, for the names of the people who comprise the Development Team driving the OBUC’s proposed project.

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To date, we have asked the OBUC directly, in emails, letters, and, on October 1, on Facebook on the Oak Bay Municipal Election Discussion page. Here is a screenshot of that conversation:

When that didn’t work, we wrote to the Executive Committee of the BC Conference, United Church of Canada (October 6, 2018) about this and a few other matters.
To date, the senior branch of the church has not provided the names of the Development Team, nor do they seem to have encouraged the OBUC to share this information in the spirit of transparency.

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Then, on October 9th, the Times-Colonist published an article titled Oak Bay mayoral candidates at odds on housing. This piece, written by Richard Watts, repeated many of the OBUC’s favourite refrains.
Following is one response to the inaccuracies in that report. Also in this letter the question is asked again: Who is the Development Team?
The longer that this vital information is withheld, the greater our curiosity - and the more this important question will continue to be asked.

How design images conceal the truth - TC Oct 10, 2016

One aspect of any design application is the artist’s rendering. These are the soothing images that persuade an unsuspecting public that proposed projects will slide into the landscape with barely a ripple. They ignore shadow patterns, traffic snarls, and strain on infrastructure.
As of today’s date, the Oak Bay United Church has not shared the Shadow Study in respect to its proposed development. The District of Oak Bay still refuses to allow public access to the application file.

 The OBUC drawings are done from the perspective of someone standing 20' to 30' above the ground (6 m to 9 m above the ground).   See this page

The OBUC drawings are done from the perspective of someone standing 20' to 30' above the ground (6 m to 9 m above the ground). See this page

What about today's neighbours? to OBN Sept 14, 2018

In the Oak Bay United Church’s letter attached to their Rezoning Application dated 13 August 2018,  the developer writes : “We hope to build a solution for the pressures faced by today's community and create a legacy for the generations to come.”
Has the church forgotten that they also need to consider the pressures faced by their present neighbours and wider Oak Bay community before building this massive project which will change their neighbourhood and the face of Oak Bay forever?  Have they given thought to the stress and fear their present neighbours, many of whom have lived here for decades and are in their very late years, are experiencing?
On September 11th the church posted some technical studies on their website. The arborists report writes of the trees that will be removed.

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The mechanical engineers description of how venting fumes and odours from the underground garage, garbage rooms, gas boilers and 96 units will be installed on the building’s roof (to drift over the neighbourhood). The geologists report that describes rock blasting and possible damage to adjacent structures during excavation and construction and the underpinning and shoring of the church and a neighbouring property that will be needed. Another warning is about seepage (already a common problem in older period homes next to the church). The report warns that noise and ground vibrations will be experienced by neighbouring residents and complaints from neighbours should be anticipated.  The church and heritage homes surrounding it were built at a time when rebar was not put into concrete foundations, putting these properties at serious risk.
If Oak Bay is serious about the welfare of  its citizens and protecting its heritage it must not accept the risk that this massive project represents.
B. G. Judson

A personal point of view - shared by many

A letter to the Mayor and Councillors of the Municipality of Oak Bay September 24, 2018:

Within the past month the Oak Bay United Church has presented an application for development of their property. Our neighbourhood is very concerned and I, as an immediate neighbour, would be severely impacted by this proposed development. I write with deep concern about their proposal.
I have lived on Granite Street for 41 years now. In 1977, when we moved into Granite Street, there were two Arts and Crafts bungalows (belonging to the United Church) to the west of our house, there were no sidewalks, it was a much more pastoral ambience. Granite Street is a local street (neither arterial nor collector) and I was reassured that the OCP kept the south side of Granite zoned as single family housing. This reassurance has been shaken by the possibility of such an enormous development on the property right next to mine.
The size, scale, and density proposed would be disastrous to my property and to our neighbourhood.
Placing nearly 100 more households on this one street would create extreme street and parking congestion and would make significant demands on all existing infrastructures.
The Geotechnical report states that extensive blasting would be necessary to create two stories of parking underground. The same report tells me my 105 year-old house could suffer damage and that underpinning may be required. Construction crews would need to encroach on my property to dig the SEVEN meter deep hole.
Light, both loss of natural light and light pollution is a major concern.
The west side of my house would be in the shadow of a 48 foot, four-storey building. My kitchen window would face the new construction and the entrance to the parkade. Noise, light, and air pollution would be significant (to put it mildly).
I ask you to consider this. If you were asked to have an entrance to a parking garage opposite your kitchen window with: 

·         cars entering and exiting all day and well into the evening,

·         the door opening and closing each time,

·         exterior lighting shining on your house 24/7,

·         headlights of cars shining into your kitchen,

·         exhaust from those vehicles in your airspace,

·         exhaust from the parking garage being pumped out into your airspace.

Would this be acceptable to you? And all this after enduring a couple of years of intense blasting and excavation that might threaten the structure of your home. It is not acceptable to me, indeed I feel it would make my gracious old home unlivable.
I ask you to reject this development proposal while suggesting to the developer that they come back with a much more modest plan that can build community, provide light, air and green space for everyone.
S. MacRae
Oak Bay

 Months of drilling and blasting will put many period homes at risk.

Months of drilling and blasting will put many period homes at risk.

Playing with numbers - to OBN Sept 10, 2018

As of today’s date (September 20, 2018) the Oak Bay News hasn’t published this letter. Its author sent it to us to publish on our website:

September 10, 2018

Letters to the editor, Oak Bay News

United Church Overdevelopment Project

When I was taking Statistics many years ago, we used a textbook called “How to lie with Statistics”.
The article “Oak Bay United Church (OBUC) submits rezoning application” (OBN, Sept. 5th), shows some of these underhanded tactics in practice. The article reports the findings of a survey carried out by the OBUC. The number of people polled, by phone and at a single Open House was not disclosed. The report fails to disclose the wording of the questions asked or the domicile of the recipients polled, casting doubts on the integrity of the data.

The results were filed into three groups, Agree, Disagree and Neutral.

Question 1: Did the project fit into the Granite Street neighbourhood?
Answer:
Agree and Neutral (added together) 44%
Disagree 66%

Question 2: Did the project fit into the rest of Oak Bay?
Answer:
Agree and Neutral (added together) 69%
Disagree 31%

Question 3: Parking and Congestion Issues in Granite Street.
Answer:
Agree and Neutral (added together) 50%
Disagree 50%

Question 4: Parking and Congestion issues in the rest of Oak Bay.
Answer:
Agree and Neutral (added together) 31%
Disagree 69%

I would like to see a meaningful analysis of this survey. The response “Neutral” means that the person being interviewed does not know about the project or doesn’t feel strongly one way or another.
It does not mean they agree. Their responses could just as validly be grouped with the Disagree responses. What would the results tell us then?

S. Doughty

Oak Bay

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Invitation to dialogue - OBN August 7, 2018

As a reasonably active member of Oak Bay United Church, I am always interested in a constructive conversation with my neighbours. Ordinarily, such a conversation would have three key elements: the assumption of good faith on the part of others involved in the conversation (even where there is disagreement about priorities, projects, or processes); avoiding emotionally charged language; and sharing facts and avoiding misinformation.
I am disappointed that Mr. Tod (SIC) uses language such as “specious” and “dubious tactics”. I am disappointed that he has concluded that the congregation acted in bad faith, asserting that “meaningful dialogue was not wanted”.
Mr. Tod shares, as fact, that the original proposal was for 269 housing units on one acre. I invite Mr. Tod to provide the primary source on which this statement is based. As far as I know, the original proposal was for almost half that number. If I am correct, the current proposal represents a reduction in the scope of the proposal of about 1/3. If correct, the current proposal represents a reduction in the scope of the proposal of about 2/3. In either case, it appears that the congregation has addressed “the critical issue of size and density” – perhaps not to Mr. Tod’s satisfaction, but substantially nevertheless. If we use Mr. Tod’s own, as yet unsubstantiated number, Oak Bay will have 175 fewer below market housing units than it would have. Mr. Tod and his neighbours have apparently been successful. And they are under no obligation to offer other suggestions about how to deal with the low cost housing crisis.
In any case, I look forward to Mr. Tod confirming the original proposal was for 269 units. I also invite him to have coffee with me one day, so that we can carry on the conversation.
David King
Read the online version of this letter here.

Opposition not diminished - TC August 8, 2018

When Cheryl Thomas told a Times Colonist reporter that opposition to to the Oak Bay United Church’s proposal had diminished, the church’s neighbours were confounded. How had she formed this opinion? Did she arrive at it because she doesn’t live near the church and failed to see all the protest?
Maybe, like a lot of politicians these days, she thought if she said it often enough, it might come true?

FOI raises fears - OBN July 27, 2018

Click on the article to read an online version of this letter:

Not about the money - Oak Bay News May 28, 2018

Recent letters castigate the Oak Bay United Church as simply seeking financial return. That is not entrely true. Name another non government development that would create 51 per cent affordable housing units. That’s 50 suites for our Oak Bay youth or elderly to continue to live in Oak Bay.
I spoke against the Clive apartments development as I thought it too large and it did not supply any underground parking. But it has fit into the fabric of our community very well. There were no affordable units.
Churches do a lot of good in Oak Bay and in Victoria in general. Granite Street has always been a transitional street in a real estate sense. Nearby neighbours can rest assured that the quality of their lives will not be negatively impacted and the value of their homes will remain unequalled when compared to almost all other greater Victoria neighbourhoods.
Patrick Skillings
Oak Bay

 Click on the image to read the online version of this letter.

Click on the image to read the online version of this letter.

Here’s a letter from another FIYBY - fine in your backyard.
Mr. Skillings lives a fair distance from the OBUC site so he can be generous with his comments.
He reassures those of us within meters of the site that our lives will not be negatively affected. How silly of us not to see that. Rubbing shoulders with 200 or more near neighbours? We’ll barely notice it. A hundred more cars squeezing down our narrow sidestreet? Won’t even register. More trees taken down, more pressure on the infrastructure. No worries.
The point is: no one questions the need for affordable housing. All we ask (have asked, are asking, will ask) is for a reduction in scale.