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

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

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

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.

FOI raises fears - OBN July 27, 2018

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