Conflict of Interest & Oak Bay's APC (Advisory Planning Commission)

At the July 3rd, 2018 meeting of the APC, commission member Virginia Holden, who was also employed by the Housing Policy Branch of the BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, gave a presentation promoting the development of affordable housing in Oak Bay. Community members in attendance described her presentation as a blatant sales pitch for the proposal by the Oak Bay United Church Development Team (OBUC-DT).

The OBUC-DT’s application to the District of Oak Bay was filed a few weeks after this meeting.

When brought to the attention of Mayor and Council at that time this conflict was considered to be likely non-actionable as Ms. Holden was not receiving any direct financial benefit.

However, on November 4th, 2018 APC member Ms. Holden approached BC Housing expressing an interest to work with them on this development project, in a paid contract position.

(see FOI excerpts below)

On November 8th, Ms. Holden wrote again to BC Housing with a presentation/plan from her private company to work on the Oak Bay United Church project, which is currently being evaluated by the District’s Planning Department and will eventually be given to Council for a decision.

NOTE: The Advisory Planning Commission’s role is to  “… advise Council on matters respecting land use, community planning, or proposed bylaws and certain permits under Part 26 of the Local Government Act. And Official Community Plan amendment applications, rezoning applications and land use contract amendments to ensure proposed developments comply with the policies and objectives of the Official Community Plan.”

When an APC member meets with and lobbies other members of the commission while at the same time attempting to negotiate a pecuniary arrangement with the funder/developer isn’t she splitting her loyalty between two interests: one that potentially offers a financial interest and one that doesn’t.

How could this not create a conflict ?

Conclusion: When this development proposal comes before Council in due course, any advice from the Advisory Planning Commission must be considered tainted. It should be excluded from the decision-making process.

Update:

The CCN wrote to Mayor and Council on April 1, 2019 about these concerns but so far the only response has been a perfunctory acknowledgement.

On April 17th, 2019 The Concerned Citizens Network of Oak Bay approached Mr. Malcolm McNaughton of BC Housing regarding these communications between him and the APC member with a copy of the emails between them (from our FOI request).

His response: “I can confirm that BC Housing does not have a contract with Ms. Holden.”

He does not say that her company doesn’t have a contract, nor does he address her past or future relationship with BC Housing.

IMG_0987v2.jpg

From: BC Housing FOI Request #30-13218

On 4 November 2018 Ms. (Ginnie) Holden wrote to Malcolm McNaughton and Armin Amrolia of BC Housing:

“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me on Friday. It was great to see you both and appreciate your willingness and flexibility for me to work with your team. Overall, I am interested to start something with BC Housing in the new year in some shape or form.  In terms of Oak Bay United, [redacted] I just want to understand what the possibilities are. I’m meeting the [redacted] on Tuesday so I will reconnect with Malcolm after that discussion. I walked through the neighbourhood around the OB church yesterday to get a better sense of the neighbours` concerns more clearly.”

On 8 November 2018, Ms. Holden wrote:

“I met with the Chair of the Oak Bay planning commission as well as the other members on Tuesday [redacted] I would just need to step out of deliberations any time that the project is discussed or reviewed. This is common practice whenever there is a perceived conflict of interest to the project under discussion. Given this decision, I would be interested working with BC Housing.”

Vandalism (again)

Someone has been at it again.
Sunday night, April 7 2018, someone walked down Victoria Avenue and ripped some of the ‘Stop Overdevelopment’ lawn signs off neighbours’ properties.
They scattered the signs in the road, perhaps hoping that passing cars would damage them. Obviously, they had no concern that the signs might damage passing vehicles.
This is the third incident of this type of property damage in just over twelve months.
Is it just random vandalism? In which case, why aren’t signs from realtors, painters etc ever touched?

Picture from Pexels

Picture from Pexels

If it's not viable, who will be liable?

To Oak Bay Planning Dept., Mayor and Council Copy Acting Chief Administrative Office

13 March 2019

Re: OBUC project ZON00034, DP000022

No Viability, just Liability

The dictionary defines viability, in the commercial sense, as the ability of a business product or service to make a profit.  This is certainly the definition intended when used by this  developer as the principal purpose of their project is to make enough money/profit  to keep the church going for the next hundred years. This amount has never been disclosed.  

The first time ‘viability’ appears is March 2017 when the church’s website describes meeting with BC Housing with ‘a financial model to estimate potential viability and risk to satisfy the church board and shown to BC Housing to secure a project planning loan’.  Our Freedom of information reports had the dollar amount to ensure viability redacted.    Viability (or amount of profit the developer needs to make) initially required a building  of 269 affordable units in a 6-storey L shaped tower, for BC Housing’s application for funding.  OK, said BC Housing.  The District of Oak Bay Planning staff  also were apparently “supportive of this project and the proposed development met the objectives of the local Planning Department” – again from a Freedom of information report obtained by neighbours .

From the beginning the terms ‘viability’ and ‘affordable housing’ went hand-in-hand, but with ever-changing definitions.  By March 2018 the 269 units of affordable housing morphed into 123 units of affordable housing and 14 market units.  By May 2018, there were 50 units of affordable housing and 46 market and long-term lease units.   Between March and May 2018, the name of the development changed from “Affordable Housing Project” to Neighbourhood Housing Initiative – with the word affordable no longer part of the description.

In an October 2018 submission to a Request for Proposals by the  BC Community Housing Fund, the developer applied for a grant based on using revenues from market units to subsidize the affordable units. The developer stated in this submission (available through FOI request 30-11318). “if grant support is not obtained or planning costs rise more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven.”  Also that “certain terms of the RFP conflict with the high cost of development in Oak Bay such that the level of grants and rental stipulations would prevent achieving breakeven”

In conclusion, the developer states “Due to the high cost of building in Oak Bay we unfortunately cannot meet the rental level requirements of the RFP since they would render the project unviable”.

Before proceeding further with the developer’s Rezoning Application, might I suggest that the Planning Department, Councillors and Mayor request confirmation of what the affordable rents for this project will be.  Based on the apparently new information that there is a “high cost of building in Oak Bay” and that “more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven” it seems that this could turn out to be a non-affordable development.

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Thank you.  

B. Judson

A modest request

This letter simply asks that the OBUC-Development Team be required to comply with the requests made by the District of Oak Bay in January 2018:

March 2019 letter to Oak Bay_Page_1.jpeg

Just the facts please

Tonight’s email to BC Housing and the District of Oak Bay:

Recently the CCN received documents from BC Housing as the result of an FOI request. These included Oak Bay United Church – Development Team’s recent submission to Housing BC: Community Housing Fund requesting grant funds (RFP 1070-1819/016 Submission), and other correspondence.

These documents stated unequivocally that the OBUC project have support from a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

From FOI 30-11318:

The project is […] supported by our MLA, (page 11)

MLA Andrew Weaver has indicated support (page 25)

MLA Andrew Weaver supports the proposal (page 89)

When a member of the CCN asked Dr. Weaver about these assertions, he responded:

I am surprised that documentation would be submitted saying I was for any specific project in my riding. I am supportive of the general notion of building more affordable housing. It is inappropriate for me to single out a particular project to support or not support”

The need for affordable housing is not in question. The CCN is challenging the height, size and density of this design in our single-family neighbourhood. The lack of adequate parking and significantly increased traffic would have a major negative impact on our narrow neighbourhood streets.

Did the OBUC-DT hope to distract from these issues by falsely claiming an endorsement from a higher power? 

When significant misrepresentations have been made in parts of submissions, doesn’t it cast doubt over the integrity of the rest of the OBUC-DT’s statements?

M. Bolitho
Oak Bay

Book cover from www.writersresist.com - click on the image for more details about this book.

Book cover from www.writersresist.com - click on the image for more details about this book.

Protecting the urban forest,

An email to Oak Bay’s arborist and the Mayor & Council, February 13, 2019:

I don’t know if the Planning Department has forwarded to you the Oak Bay United Church's Landscape and Arborist Report for comment yet, but having read it in detail, I have a few questions:

A copy of the report is attached.  This was downloaded from the OBUC web site and is the same as provided by the District of Oak Bay as part of a FOI request.

  1. Many of the Garry Oaks, and other notable trees, will have buildings erected on their PRZ (Protected Root Zone, called ‘root zone’ in the bylaws).
    For example see trees 972, 973 & 974 near Granite St drive entrance and 958 & 959 near Mitchell St townhouses (Page 3 – Arborist’s report)

Have OBUC applied for a permit under bylaw 4326 to damage the protected trees?

I note that the definition of “damage” includes the follow:

(a) cut or tear the roots of a tree growing inside the root zone;

(b) place fill or organic waste, building materials, asphalt or a building or structure upon land inside the root zone;

(f) remove soil from land inside the root zone;

(g) blast inside the root zone of a tree or outside the root zone so as to damage roots or disturb soil inside the root zone;

Trees 967 & 968 (amongst others) will have blasting in their root zones to make way for the underground car park

The OBUC are very proud to state in their Rezoning Application that “only two notable trees will be removed” but how many will be ‘damaged’ by this project?  Do you, as the District Arborist, expect all the remaining tress to survive the blasting and construction?

2. I note that the OBUC are planning on planting two new Garry Oaks, on Mitchell St, only 1.5 to 2.5 metres (5’ to 8’) from the west wall of the church (See planting description # 9. Page 2 of landscape report). Do you think that it is a good idea to plant Garry Oaks this close to a building?

Damaged trees end up as firewood - photo from Pexel

Damaged trees end up as firewood - photo from Pexel

A. Bolitho

Oak Bay

On February 14th, the arborist Chris Paul replies - the fastest answer any of us have ever received from anyone connect with this project! Thank you Chris Paul.

Hello Alan

Yes I have seen the report you have included with your email.

Question 1

No permit has been applied for under bylaw 4326 at this point. Once a building is approved we issue permits for tree removal and any work that is outlined in the arborist report. Tree and root zone protection outlined in the arborist report and any other requirements I may add will be made part of the permit conditions and are to be followed throughout demolition and construction. There are several Garry oaks that are close to the proposed building location as you have mentioned and there may be some impact on their root zones. Actual root zones will vary with soil conditions so impacts cannot be determined 100% prior to excavation. Garry oaks are reasonably tolerant of construction and if the remaining root zone is properly protected the trees should survive the construction. Arborist involvement at the time of excavation as outlined in the report will help minimize root damage and preserve the remaining root zones.

Question 2

Planting Garry oaks 2-3 meters from a building is acceptable if there are adequate soil volumes for the trees to grow in as there is there between the sidewalk and the church. The oaks are fairly slow growing and on the west side of the building it will be a long time before they get very large. Oaks will quite regularly grow out from under other oaks and grow in one direction to reach light. Garry oaks are not likely to cause damage to the foundation.

 I hope that answers your questions.

 Chris Paul

The way it should be done T-C February 13, 2019

This letter raises an interesting question – what if polls revealed the underlying bias with which they were conducted? - From the Times Colonist.

You can read the original letter here and the editorial column it responds to here (the original column is mostly about political polling):

Questionable conclusions

February 12, 2019

To: Mayor and Council, Bruce Anderson, Director of Building and Planning—District of Oak Bay

I am very concerned about the conclusions of the Traffic Study and the Parking Study on the OBUC web site:

OBUC Parking Study: "Based on the analysis of each proposed land use, engineers recommend 112-115 parking stalls to accommodate residents (plus visitors), church and public use. OBUC designs include 115 stalls, meeting the upper range of the recommended number."

OBUC Traffic Study: "The study finds that the project area’s main traffic impacts are the result of vehicles bypassing Oak Bay Ave. The OBUC project is not expected to be a factor in adding traffic to the area due to low vehicle ratios for affordable housing, space for bicycles and proximity of public transportation."

How can a development of 96 units, with I'm guessing at least 150 people, likely more, have no impact on local traffic? The Traffic Study by Watt Consulting Group (May 2018) makes the assumption that "Trip generation rates for affordable housing are generally lower than market rental. Studies have demonstrated that vehicle trips per household increase as income increases."

As it is uncertain how many individuals are being considered low income and how many of higher income, concluding how many trips may be generated is sheer speculation. I live on Mitchell Street and my daily observations since the recent parking restriction on Granite Street are that there has been a noticeable impact on traffic. So, combine this with the potential added traffic from the residents in the proposed development, there will be considerable impact on the use of surrounding roads as well as on street parking. The study's conclusion that there will be little impact on traffic is ludicrous.

Closer examination of The Parking Study by Watt Consulting Group submitted in May 2018, provides details of this proposal. It is based on providing 47 parking stalls for 96 units; 10 stalls for Visitor parking, as well as 15 stalls for Church programming, and 35 stalls to be leased for Municipal use.

However, Oak Bay By-Law 3540 determines the minimum parking supply for Multi-family developments @1.5 per unit. Following that, for 96 units the current requirement would be for 154 parking stalls. The Church parking lot currently has 53 spaces, while Church programming use within P-2 Zone requires 117 parking spaces. Allowing the Church to continue to have only 53 spaces as currently provided in their parking lot, the total number would be 217 parking stalls.  Even requiring only 1 parking stall per unit, the total required would be 159!

The proposed 115 parking stalls allows only 47 stalls for 96 units. This recommendation is based on observations by the consultants at other 'representative Multifamily sites with countable/visible parking spaces', ie buildings with only surface parking. These observations were made on two night time occasions in February 2018 (p9), presumably when all the residents were at home. This is an extremely limited strategy to measure the parking needs of potential residents in the proposed OBUC development.

It concludes that "should there be 'overspill' it could be accommodated on Mitchell St and Brighton St which have no parking restrictions". At a minimum there would be an overspill of 44 cars!  Both streets are now contending with the increased volume of traffic and parking due to the recent 2Hr 9-5 Restriction on Granite Street between Foul Bay Road and Mitchell Street. This is certainly not acceptable as a solution to the under provision of parking for this development.

Providing more parking in the proposed two level underground parking area would require deeper blasting. The Geotechnical Report provided by Ryzuk Geotechnical states that "drilling and blasting will require underpinning and/or shoring" of the Church and adjacent structures for the 7 metre maximum. The Report is based on two levels and a new Report would have to be done for going deeper. This report also indicates that vibrations could cause damage to homes close by.

Add to this the Thrift Shop hours on Friday and Saturday to both parking and traffic. I note that the Traffic Study states that the Thrift Shop will continue to operate at the proposed site, while the near residents were told that it would move off site!

My daily observation and experience seem to me to be more real and valid than the methods used by the consultants. The consultants' conclusions are certainly questionable and I hope Mayor, Councillors and staff will take a close of these studies.

The future of Oak Bay’s now quiet streets?

The future of Oak Bay’s now quiet streets?

Janet Poth
Oak Bay

A simple message to the Oak Bay United Church and its Development Team

Our principles are simple:

  • We don’t have secrets.

  • We have nothing to hide. 

  • We have this website.

  • We put signs outside our houses.

  • We send letters to the editor for everyone to see.  

We think the idea of appropriate affordable housing on the parking lot is laudable. 

All we are asking from BC Housing, the OBUC and its development team is simple:

DON’T PRETEND.  DON’T BUILD WALLS.  PLEASE PUT INFORMATION OUT THERE - WITHOUT BEING ASKED. 

Photo from Pexel.

Photo from Pexel.

FOI Results Could Be A Disapppointment - T-C February 8, 2019

To The Editor, The Times Colonist

Re: “Reform storm gathers steam,” column, Feb. 6.

Les Leyne’s column on extending freedom of information to the legislature made me smile. Anyone who has ever taken out an FOI request for a government body to provide what should be publicly available information is advised not to hold their breath while it is being prepared. When it does finally arrive (after a very long wait) 99 per cent could be redacted.

In a case where citizens in our neighbourhood tried to get some straightforward information from B.C. Housing, there was one little gem that wasn’t redacted in the FOI results we received. It involved a consultant telling B.C. Housing how to circumvent the FOI rules.

Simple: The client should not address anything to B.C. Housing. Instead, address it to a third party and mark it “confidential — contains proprietary information,” so it’s third-party confidential and thus secret.
Don’t think because you’d like to see what’s going on in our provincial government you can find out through FOI. You can’t, and when your large package of almost blank pages arrive, you will feel as Speaker Darryl Plecas described: You’ll want to vomit.

B.G. Judson
Oak Bay

Read the original letter to the Times Colonist online here.

Page 300 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

Page 300 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

Most pages in response to our FOI requests look like this:

P 302 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

P 302 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

A review of BC Housing FOI response 30-11318

To:  Malcolm McNaughton, Armin Amrolia,  BC Housing

CC::  Mayor and Councillors, Oak Bay Municipality. Dr. Andrew Weaver, MLA Oak Bay

 February 7 2019

A review of the FOI response from BC Housing (30-11318) leads to the following observations on its contents.  

 On 17 September 2018, just over one month after the development team for Oak Bay United Church (DT-OBUC) delivered its rezoning/development package to Oak Bay’s Planning Department, they submitted a request for further funding to BC Housing under RFP1070-1819/016.

The covering letter for this submission says “On August 2018 we applied for rezoning and development permit for 96 residential units. Of these 39 units are market rental and sale units, income from which subsidizes 57 affordable housing units. This will replace and expand an existing 9-unit affordable housing operation.” (emphasis added)

This is a surprising statement given that (a) the rezoning and development permit applications to Oak Bay Municipality did not contain this information and (b) there are several factors that make their RFP submission ineligible for BC Housing funding.

As there is a significant investment of taxpayers’ money in this project, this RFP submission raises the following concerns:

  •  The “existing 9 unit affordable housing operation” is a building that is currently rented to and operated by the Threshold Housing Society as transitional housing for youth-at-risk. OBUC Minutes dated August 20, 2017 state that Threshold Housing Society has 4 years remaining on a five year lease with the church. Threshold provided $60,000 for repairs before moving in and their loan is being repaid in the form of $1,000 rent reduction per month with a current balance as of August 1 2017 of $47,000.

  • The OBUC Minutes state “the building is in good repair with the exception of the roof”. Coast Capital and other sponsors agreed to sponsor Threshold for the next five years.

  • It is a misrepresentation of the facts for the DT-OBUC to claim this as “existing affordable housing”.

  • The Minutes of the AGM of OBUC (June 10, 2018) state “It has been determined that Threshold House cannot be maintained on site while also positioning the Affordable Neighbourhood Housing on the property”

The development submission to Oak Bay Municipality shows the building will be demolished.

 In OBUC Minutes (August 20, 2017) under “Background to the motion to borrow $500,000 from BC Housing for the Planning Phase of Affordable Rental Housing”, they list the following reasons for the need to borrow this money (under the guise of Affordable Housing)

“If the development is to be considered feasible for the OBUC – it has to

  • Require no funding from OBUC

  • Provide a benefit to the community

  • Provide approximately 5,000 square feet of replacement space for church offices and programs

  • Provide funding to retire the mortgage and make repairs to the sanctuary

  • Upgrade the kitchen

  • Provide on-going income of at least $100,000 a year.”

One might think that the Church’s governing body could help provide the required funds but, according to the Oak Bay United Church Minutes of August 20, 2017, the United Church of BC Conference Property Resource Team was consulted to see if they would fund a development feasibility study as they had for other congregations and they declined.

The Minutes show:

“Based on the known information at the time, PRT declined as redevelopment was considered unlikely based on zoning and density”. The Minutes then state “Not to be deterred, the congregation of OBUC allocated approximately $20,000 to hire consultant Chris Corps of Pivotal IRM and Waymark Architects to do our own development feasibility study. Subsequent work by the consultants has refined the business case to the point where BC Housing is prepared to provide an initial loan for project development funding UP TO $500,000 for the project development phase”.

DT-OBUC were permitted by the congregation to borrow a further $300,000 from BC Housing for development funding (OBUC Minutes September 18, 2018) for a total of $800,000.

On September 17, 2018 DT-OBUC submitted an RFP for more funding from BC Housing knowing that their submission failed to meet eligibility requirements. Their letter of application says that they were encouraged by BC Housing to submit this non-conforming proposal anyway.

When the proposal to build an affordable housing project on the OBUC’s small piece of excess land was first raised in the community, it was universally considered to be a good idea. Some months later, neighbours attended meetings and an open house organized by the DT-OBUC that revealed no meaningful community input was being sought. The plans were already drawn, even though the DT-OBUC had told the community (on 16 August 2017) they were working with a ‘blank sheet of paper’. Oak Bay United Church had clearly already decided what they had to build in order to generate the cash flow from such a project. The community’s suggestions of a compromise on size and density were ignored.

In December 2017 neighbours were asked to rubber-stamp one set of drawings or another, out of several alternatives none of which reflected any of the local concerns about the size and impact of this massive project on a single-family zoned block.

The DT-OBUC, having engaged a public relations company funded by BC Housing, has attempted to discredit anyone who doesn’t agree with them as a vocal minority and/or ‘an organized opposition group’

Organized? Yes. Minority? No. A quick walk around the neighbourhood shows increasing opposition to this project. The protest signs that once graced only a yard or two now appear in abundance. Again, you are invited to review the web-site www.ccn-oakbay.com

What should citizens do when their collective voice as stakeholders in the community is overlooked? Should we sit back and watch BC Housing throw money at a project that ostensibly is to provide affordable housing but where the real agenda is something more prosaic – to build a ‘community space’ to be paid for by tenants and to provide a revenue stream for an institution whose congregation is declining and its revenue base shrinking. The DT-OBUC continue to quote manipulated data from their self-created and self-serving public relations polls to push an aggressive, overreaching and inappropriate proposal.

Isn’t it time for someone at BC Housing to engage with the local community and to examine this proposal more closely?

Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening?

B. G. Judson

Remember the survey

21 January 2019

To Mayor and Council,
Oak Bay                                                                      

 Remember the Survey ?  Housing Strategy update.

When the Oak Bay-wide survey was taken in advance of preparing the Community Plan, a lot of good information was gathered. When the topic of housing was surveyed, the following list of housing options were considered by the public to be the least acceptable in any development:

  • building height increases

  • inclusion of triplexes and fourplexes in existing single-family residential areas

  • allowing very small units (such as 300 square feet) to allow for more units in a building

  • developers encroaching on single family zones

The survey also reported that residents did not trust the motivations of developers to propose or carry out what is best for a neighbourhood and nearby residents. A common opinion was that they are motivated solely by money. Developers not following through on promises of community amenities and approvals of variance applications allowing developers to realize higher profits can cause problems for neighbourhoods.  Developers are the only ones who win “while the neighbourhood pays the price.”

Unfortunately many developers seem to treat the ‘public input’ suggestion on the Zoning Amendment process information sheet with contempt.  The suggestion that “Applicant encouraged to undertake neighbourhood consultation to obtain public input” is just a suggestion and is not required or mandatory.

Citizens often face an unfair process when developers decide to get public input:

  • questionnaires ask leading (or misleading) questions,

  • meetings are planned for deliberately inconvenient times (the period just before Christmas for example),

  • input from participants from outside the affected area is solicited, manipulation and misinterpretation of data collected –

  • and much much more.  

Some developers seem merely to go through the motions with no intention of listening or implementing any neighbourhood input.

The requirement of a prescriptive and standardized Neighbourhood Consultation Process for all developers would add an element of fairness for all involved.  The use of the IAP2 Participation Spectrum defining the public’s role in any public participation process might be a good starting point.

DO IT RIGHT was the message from the Survey. Go slow with change, make changes that are well thought through, well researched in other communities and are intentional and according to a plan, not ad hoc. Please, mayor and council, remember what citizens said in the survey.

It is good news that mayor and council will begin work on Strategic Goals, including a housing strategy, thank you for this.

Photo from Pexel

Photo from Pexel

 B. Judson

A little harmony, please

CATHERINE GRIFFITHS,
GAREN KASSABIAN & PHILIP KASSABIAN

December 9, 2018

Mayor Kevin Murdoch

Oak Bay Municipal Hall
2167 Oak Bay Avenue
Victoria BC, V8R 1G2

Dear Mayor Murdoch,

RE: Oak Bay United Church Rezoning Application - ZON00034

Our family has moved to Oak Bay from Toronto.  We arrived here in August 2017, for the commencement of the construction of our new home and learned that the OBUC was planning a re-development of their property.  We imagined that this re-development would consist of an enclave of homes, in harmony with the character of the neighbourhood, much along the lines of the Rowan Oaks project.  We were truly shocked to learn of the anticipated size and density of the actual project OBUC is contemplating.

We are adamantly opposed to the OBUC application that is now before you.  The proposed height and density are unacceptable, the traffic implications nightmarish, and the precedent the project would set would be devastating to the character of Oak Bay.

When building our home, we were mindful of this beautiful community and its traditions.  We respected all building and zoning regulations and made certain that the design of the home was in keeping with Oak Bay’s special character.  We are proud to say that the home we built complements this heritage community.

While we respect that development and growth are required and welcome, this project represents a massive overstep.  Affordable housing is highly desirable, but it must be done right and this is not the case with the OBUC proposal.

Oak Bay is a community of which every citizen here is understandably proud.  It is a true gem and all of us have a responsibility to make thoughtful and well considered decisions concerning its future development.  Oak Bay has been over a century in the making; let’s not seriously damage it with a rash move that has been motivated by a rush to fulfill an agenda

All we are asking for is respect for the neighbourhood. Is a project that harmonizes with its surroundings so very much to ask for?

All we are asking for is respect for the neighbourhood. Is a project that harmonizes with its surroundings so very much to ask for?

Yours very truly,

Catherine Griffiths,
Garen Kassabian
Philip Kassabian

What's the big secret? What are they hiding?

On Tuesday, January 8th 2019, the following email was sent to the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Honourable Jinny Sims.
It outlines the way Chris Corps, consultant to the OBUC Development Committee, has circumvented the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. It raises questions like:
Who is Chris Corps to decide what is in the public’s interest?
Why didn’t Mr. McNaughton, strongly and unequivocally, refuse to buy into this collusion to thwart the FOI rules? (Maybe he did but the FOI responses do not show that).
Is the FOI legislation little more than window dressing?
Read on….

Dear Minister
 In addition to sending the email at the bottom of this message (see our email here) to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, we thought that you, as Minister of Citizens’ Services, would be interested in the highlighted paragraphs.

Of particular concern is the exchange that follows.

Background: Instead of the Oak Bay United Church (OBUC) applying for development funding from BC Housing, the OBUC used a consulting firm that provided information that was NOT addressed to BC Housing to obtain a $500,000+ forgivable loan (forgiven if project doesn’t proceed). When local residents tried to get more details of this secretive project, we received an FOI response that was so heavily redacted it was virtually useless.

From FOI request #30-0518, part 2 page 300

From: Chris Corps <email via Pivotall>
Sent: November 23, 2017 3:34 PM
To: Malcolm McNaughton
Subject: RE: Oak Bay United Church Neighbourhood Consultations

Explanation: I'm sure you'll rephrase as you think will suit.

The church has not been providing any materials partly for privacy reasons but mostly, because they are highly respectful of Oak Bay's public process, which will determine the project, its appearance, sizes, etc. Releasing draft work - which in any event looked at a wide range of options - could be contrary is not to the public's interest as it provides no firm conclusion and multiple options were considered, not just one.

we ran through the spreadsheet model with you and the model itself was not provided. You can thus honestly say that you don't have a copy, because you don't. We ran thru it with you fairly extensively and also, separately with Kirsten testing numbers, to allow you to look at and test multiple scenarios, but it wasn't actually provided.

It might help to note that I was careful that the "business case" documents were not in fact addressed to BC Housing, but were confidential documents addressed to OBUC Board and which included proprietary information. The first document (provided to Shayne) was a draft. I think I'm right in saying that the only formal application documents submitted to you are a one page formal request for PDF funding from the Chair of the Project Devt Committee, plus a spreadsheet budget. You had sight of other OBUC documents, and to the model so you could satisfy yourself as to the project options and potential, but the documents are OBUC documents and are marked confidential and contain proprietary information. I'm sure your FOI colleagues can comment on the appropriateness of releasing third party confidential and proprietary documents?

Hope that helps, but if more needed then by all means call. Seeing Kirsten tomorrow.

Kindest
Chris Corps
Pivotal IRM Inc.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
<phone number available Pivotal>

Should not BC Housing have insisted on a “"business case" … addressed to BC Housing“ instead of playing privacy games with developers?

We do not accept that “Releasing draft work - which in any event looked at a wide range of options - could be contrary is not to the public's interest (sic) as it provides no firm conclusion and multiple options were considered, not just one” as we would have liked to have seen the multiple options.

Concerned Citizens Network
ccn-ob@shaw.ca
Oak Bay

Questioning BC Housing's responses to FOI requests

On Tuesday, January 8, 2019 this letter was emailed to:

Malcolm McNaughton, BC Housing
with cc’s to Hon. Selina Robinson, BC Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens’ Services (FOI legislation)

 Dear Mr McNaughton,

Re: BC Housing Ref #9444 Project Ref #7958 - Oak Bay United Church (OBUC)
Our group, the Concerned Citizens’ Network of Oak Bay, has recently received information about the above project, subsequent to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request (#30-8718).
It was noted that Michael Flanagan has reported to you on the neighbourhood’s position regarding this overdevelopment project of the OBUC site. Mr Flanagan has forwarded copies of emails from the Concerned Citizens’ Network to you. These clearly outline neighbours’ concerns.
To monitor the growing opposition, we invite you to visit our website www.ccn-oakbay.com and sign up for our newsletter.
The information received under the FOI indicates that BC Housing (Kirsten Baillie and you) reached out to the former mayor and at least two councillors in May 2018 (p 167 of the FOI response #30-8718) It is our understanding that the local representatives who attended these meetings were told to keep what was discussed in the strictest confidence. That secrecy is cause for grave concern. Good news is rarely kept private.
Perhaps you might explain why BC Housing resorted to closed door meetings, excluding the community from any understanding as to why BCH supports such a massive development project for an established single-family neighbourhood? More importantly why do these meetings exclude the people whose lives will be most affected by any decision reached?
BC Housing, as a crown corporation, holds over a billion dollars in taxpayer assets (2017-18 Annual Service Report). This position of trust demands a high standard of transparency, which is not evident in the way this OBUC project is being handled.
In the May 1, 2018 Confidential Advice to Minister, it was stated (FOI30-8718 p 134):
“Residents in Oak Bay have expressed concerns about the suitability of a proposed affordable rental housing project in their neighbourhood (originally proposed for six storeys). In response to neighbourhood concerns, the development has been reduced in height to 3 and 4 storeys.”

This is a false and highly misleading statement.

FACT: the OBUC development team submitted a proposal for a six-storey building to BC Housing in order to secure funding. (April 6, 2017 per FOI 30-0518).

FACT: NONE of the neighbours had a true idea of the size of the project as originally proposed by the OBUC. Rumours did circulate that it would be big. Only after the personal expense of time and money, were we able to ascertain that the OBUC’s original submission had been for a six-storey tower. (FOI request 30-0518, part 1, starting page 24.)

FACT: the FIRST official indication of size provided to the community was in the scaled-down plans presented in December 2017. Neighbours weren’t told these were revised plans. Contrary to the Confidential Advice to Minister, the developers did not reduce the size in response to neighbourhood concerns about the six-storey tower. The conclusion is that the minimal community engagement made before this date had indicated such an ambitious proposal would not be supported.

Further, it is also important to note that those December neighbourhood meetings, where drawings were finally tabled, were called by the developers at very short notice. Letters hand-delivered from the OBUC dated December 6 invited neighbours to meetings on December 13th and 14th, at the busiest time of year for most people. Was the short notice intended to engage as little participation as possible? Regardless, 4+ storey models that were presented to the public in those meetings were met with immediate and widespread opposition.

FACT: Representatives from the OBUC and the development team remained evasive about size and plans until the December meetings. At no time did anyone from either source mention the proposed six-storey tower as submitted to BCH in March 2017.

While the community has repeatedly attempted to engage the OBUC developers in discussion about this project, our efforts have been stonewalled. Worse still, they have been exacerbated by funding provided by BC Housing, as well as being denied access to critical documents.

The developers of this project are clever: they knew enough to establish a third-party representative to avoid disclosure and scrutiny of their plans. See the email from Chris Corps to Malcolm McNaughton, November 23 2017. (FOI request #30-0518, part 2 page 300).

As citizens and taxpayers, we ask that BCH resist this manipulation of the system by developers who seek to compromise and undermine the intent of the Freedom of Information Act. BCH should insist that principals in any projects, who hold out their hands for public money, be prepared to fully disclose their intentions to the public who fund their ambitions.
May we ask at this time, before advancing any further funding for this project, BCH require an independent mediator be appointed to find a suitable compromise. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been handed to a group who thus far have refused to deal with the community in good faith.

BCH now has the opportunity to insist the developers work with the community to reach a reasonable resolution, something the residents have been asking for since the ambitions of this group were first made public.

BC Housing has failed the community in the past. Now is the time for leadership.


Below are the names of some of the neighbours who have helped write and / or asked to have their names attached to this letter. This list is an indication of some of the local support, but it is in no way exhaustive.

Wayne Todd
Wayne Randall
Alan Bolitho
Maggie Bolitho
Barbara Judson
Scott Judson
Jake Richardson
Curtis Hobson
Garen Kassabian
Catherine Griffiths
Pat Hindmarch-Watson
Peter Hindmarch-Watson
Matt Stooke
George Dufour
Ron Matthews
Patricia Matthews
Diana Butler
Barb Lamb
S. MacRae

When is a problem not a problem? Ask the experts.

The Oak Bay United Church (OBUC) Developers have called on many experts to prepare their application to the District of Oak Bay.

Important questions to ask when considering input from experts:

  1. Are their findings reasonable and logically supported?

  2. Have they taken an open-minded approach?

  3. Does funding have a determination on their bias?

  4. Are the chosen experts the most qualified and the most trustworthy?

Let’s look at the Traffic Impact Study

The Watt Consulting Group (WCG) state on their website that they are “regarded for consultative processes that involve the community and build support for implementation.”
Yet we have been unable to identify a single person in our extensive community who was asked anything about traffic and parking by WCG or anyone else.
WCG maintain that “the proposed development will have little or no impact on the traffic operations of the Granite Street/Mitchell Street intersection in the short and long term.”
Think about that: a 96-unit apartment block is proposed for a quiet side street and experts says this additional housing for 150-250 people would have no impact on traffic.
No. Impact.
How was that conclusion reached?
We know it was not arrived at through involvement with the people who have lived in this area for decades. Does that mean WCG only sought the opinion of their client—the OBUC Developers? Most of the Developers don’t live anywhere near Granite Street.
A recent community consultation article notes that developers don’t see residents as experts and that this is a critical and corrosive mistake.
“We should only consult with residents when they are the ones that can best answer the questions at hand. But in those moments they should be treated as they experts they are.” People who live in this neighbourhood have extensive experience of the traffic problems that already exist. The OBUC Developers suggest none of the current traffic problems have anything to do with the church.
From the WCG: “The study finds that the project area’s main traffic impacts are the result of vehicles bypassing Oak Bay Ave. The OBUC project is not expected to be a factor in adding traffic to the area due to low vehicle ratios for affordable housing, space for bicycles and proximity of public transportation.”
That argument is lost, if not on its sheer lack of logic, then on the fact that almost half the new apartments will be at market rates, attracting tenants who will most likely have cars.
To say nothing of the simple reality that that the people who don’t own cars still take taxis and use car-share programs. They will also have friends, family, and professional services who will arrive in cars.
WCG notes that “Specific traffic projections are not presented in the City’s (sic) OCP [Official Community Plan] but a steady and low increase would remain for the vehicle travel mode in the future.”
But aren’t WCG the experts? If the traffic flow isn’t presented in the District’s OCP, because there is no 96-unit building on that site now, isn’t it the responsibility of WCG and the Developers’ proposal to identify what that change would be?

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Finally let’s not forget that the WCG conclusions assume that the building will be built on time and to budget. If it is not, how many of the planned affordable units will be reallocated to market rates so the OBUC can meet its financial goals?

That’s another worry for another day.

Let’s go back to those first four questions:

  1. Are their findings reasonable and logically supported? No. It is not logical to assume that over a hundred and fifty new residents in a single suburban block will have no impact on traffic.

  2. Have they taken an open-minded approach? Not that has been documented in their report. Not that anyone who lives in the immediate neighbourhood can verify.

  3. Does funding have a determination on their bias? Unknown. The WCG may have working relationships with some of the Developers beyond this project. If so, there may be a vested interest in delivering the conclusion that suits the client.

  4. Are the chosen experts the most qualified and the most trustworthy? Also unknown. However, if they are qualified, how did the most obvious dynamic of all escape their notice? How could they possibly not anticipate the simple and obvious fact that 96 new homes will bring a huge influx of people and traffic to any street, anywhere.

When one of the underlying studies for this project is so wildly off base, does it call into question what the other experts might have missed? Watch this space.

When people turn nasty

The following letter, sent today to the Oak Bay News, addresses an escalating trend in our once lawful neighbourhood. It raises a number of disturbing questions:

Who is behind the theft and vandalism?
Are the instigators even Oak Bay residents?
How many people are behind these actions?
Are special interest groups here taking lessons from our neighbours to the south? Are they trying to silence the rights of others by acts of overt bullying?
Are these illegal actions going to get worse?

If you see anyone destroying community property, please contact the Oak Bay Police: 250.592.2424.

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To the Oak Bay News:

Over the past few days there has been a disturbing number of thefts and vandalism of neighbourhood protest signs from our properties.  One can only assume that this is the latest tactic of supporters of the United Church mega development project, yet another dirty trick to add to the planting of offensive lawn signs and vile anonymous emails to our website.  These supporters are doing their best to intimidate any opposition to the proposed oversized development.
As neighbours don’t have the same access to taxpayer funds that the church has, we rely on volunteers and cost-effective methods to democratically show our widespread opposition to this mega project. The church’s campaign to isolate and bulldoze neighbours’ concerns has resulted in a toxic atmosphere between the church and its neighbours and the latest tactic certainly bears this out.  Supporters of this oversized development project should engage in rational debate in appropriate forums and in a respectful manner.   The church should be aware that just because some protest signs are stolen or vandalized, widespread opposition to its redevelopment project remains.   The work done by the community volunteers can be viewed at the website www.ccn-oakbay.com
Far from being just a few ‘vocal’ neighbours, or as the church calls us “an organized opposition group”, the neighbourhood challenge to this project is gaining momentum as people become aware of the negative impact it will have on the neighbourhood, the village, traffic and parking and infrastructure overload that this 96-unit apartment block will have if approved.
Wayne Todd
Oak Bay

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.