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

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?

NY Expert2.jpg

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 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

 

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.

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.

Church should pay taxes on commercial land venture

Oak Bay News May 16, 2018

Click on the image to read an online version.

Click on the image to read an online version.

The second letter in this image says that Oak Bay residents only want to see homes 'like theirs' in their neighbourhood. What homes would those be? The Rowan Oaks townhouses on Granite Street? The apartments on Oak Bay Avenue?
Maybe Mr. Blood is referring to apartments like Granite House across the street from the Oak Bay United Church?
Being as the consensus, expressed again and again by the local community, is that we need affordable housing, there would probably be little resistance to a development with the set back and density of Granite House.
The issues troubling neighbours are NOT the ones surrounding affordable housing. They are serious concerns about density, size, traffic, environment, and many other challenges that the OBUC is not discussing with its neighbours.

Oak Bay housing project fails to gain neighbourhood support

I found this letter to the Times-Colonist while searching for other online versions of correspondence. With all this very vocal opposition, it is astonishing to think that the District of Oak Bay has accepted the application when the OBUC has failed to secure more public support. In the January 2018 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, Mayor Jensen suggested they should not return with an application without strong support.

Read on:

To complain about anything when we live here in paradise appears to be churlish.
Nevertheless, when taxpayers have subsidized, year after year, tax-free church lands, and now the church wants to “develop” its land, overriding the recommendations of those same residents who have subsidized them for decades, surely the taxpaying residents have a right to be heard.
Apparently, Oak Bay United Church’s “best compromise” is to reduce its original proposal of 160 units on a 1.3-acre lot to a mere 98. I guess it’s a well-worn strategy to start huge and wear people down with subsequent minor “reductions.”
What is it about this church that refuses to listen to the local residents who have subsidized them from the year dot? Residents have stated in spades that they are not opposed to change; they support affordable rental housing that fits with the neighbourhood (in which they pay exorbitant taxes); they support a development of between 25 and 40 units; and they’ve made several sound recommendations around this proposed development.
The church states that its rents would start at less than $1,000 permonth, be self-sustaining and bring in money to operate the church. Does this really mean that a brand-new rental suite in Oak Bay would be less than $1,000 amonth? For whom? Can the Oak Bay police handle a potential increase in neighbourhood crime associated with below-market rent?
The church says its congregation is increasing — are these rental suites already allotted to churchgoers? What if it’s not a “self-sustaining” project? Does the church then decide to sell off these units at market price? (Just look at the condo/real-estate pre-buying boondoggle going on in Vancouver.)
There are already unconfirmed reports of a group of Vancouver Realtors being seen on the church property. The church has been less than forthcoming in the past, so what can we expect in the future?
The church is on record calling local residents “mean-spirited” for merely trying to maintain the ambience of their cherished neighbourhood, which they’ve worked and cared for for decades. God help the local taxpaying residents once the trees come down, the multi-storeys go up, the views are diminished, the birdlife is gone, and 120 more cars are coming and going all day and all night long. Thanks for that, United Church.
And by the way, if the congregation is truly increasing, where are they all going to park? Maybe the church should rethink that parking lot.

E.J. Williams
Times Colonist May 13, 2018

Read the online version here.

Sign 2.jpg

Size, density, parking traffic concerns remain for OBUC proposal

Oak Bay News, May 7 2018

As a near neighbour, I attended the OBUC open house last weekend with great interest. Having participated in earlier meetings regarding the development proposal for the church property, I was curious to see the actual final plan.
My concerns regarding size, density, parking and traffic issues this project will bring to my neighbourhood have been confirmed.
The development looks massive, standing 51 feet, which is taller than the roofline of the church. Ninety-eight units are planned on 4 floors, half under the “affordable housing” criteria and the rest not. Most of the suites are under 460 sq ft in size (1 bdrm).
In comparison, Granite House across the street is also a four-storey building with a floor area that is 3,000 sq ft larger than the proposed building and with just 60 units.
One level of underground parking was originally proposed, but the current plan calls for 113 parking spaces on 2 underground levels. That will require a great deal of drilling and blasting and I fear will still be inadequate, given the fact that it must serve the church congregation of roughly 200 people and the building tenants (maybe 120?). Where is everyone visiting going to park? Where are all the day users of the current church parking lot going to park? Where are all the workers coming to the building site for many, many months going to park?
My dream would be to see perhaps 20 or 30 affordable, 2 bdrm units built on the church land with adequate parking for congregation and tenants. I know that would not meet their “bottom line”, but their plan does not meet mine.

Monica Fiederer
Oak Bay

Read the online version here.

Development would exacerbate traffic problems - OBN January 31, 2018

Note the carefully selected photo paired with this letter. Does it look like Granite Street has a traffic problem? Not at all. But any street, photographed at a chosen moment, can look as innocuous. If there were truth in reporting, the photo would have been taken on a business day. Or at a time when the church is hosting any of its much-lauded events.
At those times, parking is so scarce and tempers so short, it's only good fortune that no major accidents have happened so far.

The Oak Bay United Church has $500,000 of taxpayers' money with which to engage PR talents. Was this photo supplied by a spin doctor?

18-1-31 OBN.jpg

Here is one of the many crowded streets around the OBUC when the church is in use: