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.

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.

Not about the money - Oak Bay News May 28, 2018

Recent letters castigate the Oak Bay United Church as simply seeking financial return. That is not entrely true. Name another non government development that would create 51 per cent affordable housing units. That’s 50 suites for our Oak Bay youth or elderly to continue to live in Oak Bay.
I spoke against the Clive apartments development as I thought it too large and it did not supply any underground parking. But it has fit into the fabric of our community very well. There were no affordable units.
Churches do a lot of good in Oak Bay and in Victoria in general. Granite Street has always been a transitional street in a real estate sense. Nearby neighbours can rest assured that the quality of their lives will not be negatively impacted and the value of their homes will remain unequalled when compared to almost all other greater Victoria neighbourhoods.
Patrick Skillings
Oak Bay

Click on the image to read the online version of this letter.

Click on the image to read the online version of this letter.

Here’s a letter from another FIYBY - fine in your backyard.
Mr. Skillings lives a fair distance from the OBUC site so he can be generous with his comments.
He reassures those of us within meters of the site that our lives will not be negatively affected. How silly of us not to see that. Rubbing shoulders with 200 or more near neighbours? We’ll barely notice it. A hundred more cars squeezing down our narrow sidestreet? Won’t even register. More trees taken down, more pressure on the infrastructure. No worries.
The point is: no one questions the need for affordable housing. All we ask (have asked, are asking, will ask) is for a reduction in scale.

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.

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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?

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