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):

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

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?

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 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.

ghoststext.jpg

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