21 January 2019
To Mayor and Council,
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.
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:
Are their findings reasonable and logically supported?
Have they taken an open-minded approach?
Does funding have a determination on their bias?
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Agree and Neutral (added together) 44%
Question 2: Did the project fit into the rest of Oak Bay?
Agree and Neutral (added together) 69%
Question 3: Parking and Congestion Issues in Granite Street.
Agree and Neutral (added together) 50%
Question 4: Parking and Congestion issues in the rest of Oak Bay.
Agree and Neutral (added together) 31%
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?
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.
Read the online version of this letter here.
When Cheryl Thomas told a Times Colonist reporter that opposition to to the Oak Bay United Church’s proposal had diminished, the church’s neighbours were confounded. How had she formed this opinion? Did she arrive at it because she doesn’t live near the church and failed to see all the protest?
Maybe, like a lot of politicians these days, she thought if she said it often enough, it might come true?
Click on the article to read an online version of this letter: