Conflict of Interest - April 1, 2019

To:  Mayor and Councillors, Oak Bay Council and Mr. B. Anderson, Planning Department; Chief Administrative Officer; Director of Corporate Services

Re:  Advisory Planning Commission membership and Conflict of Interest Z0N00034/DP000022

On 14 August 2018 the attached letter was sent to Mayor and Council.  The topic was perceived conflict of interest when Virginia Holden, a member of the Advisory Planning Commission, gave a ‘workshop’ on affordable housing to the Commission at its July 3 2018 meeting. She gave this workshop in her role as Director of Housing Policy in the Housing Policy Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Incidentally, the minutes of this meeting were not posted on Oak Bay’s Municipal website until  Friday  29 March 2019 after we alerted Municipal Hall that the minutes had never been posted, although they were adopted at a meeting on February 5 2019.

In response to our letter of 14 August 2018, we received replies from then-councillors Murdoch and Green who acknowledged that this was something to be watched, which we have done.  (Copies of their replies have been included at the end of this email.) 

For the past year and more, we have been submitting Freedom of Information requests to BC Housing concerning the proposed Oak Bay United Church development. The following disclosure is from our Freedom of Information request 292-30-13218.

It appears that Ms. Holden and BC Housing are collaborating on the OBUC development project. Based on the correspondence included in the FOI, it appears she has had private meetings and discussions with BC Housing on this topic. 

On 4 November 2018 she wrote to Malcolm McNaughton and Armin Amrolia of BC Housing – “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me on Friday. It was great to see you both and appreciate your willingness and flexibility for me to work with your team. Overall, I am interested to start something with BC Housing in the new year in some shape or form.  In terms of Oak Bay United, (redacted) I just want to understand what the possibilities are….I walked through the neighbourhood around the OB church yesterday to get a better sense of the neighbours` concerns more clearly.”

On 8 November 2018, she wrote “I met with the Chair of the Oak Bay planning commission as well as the other members on Tuesday (redacted) I would just need to step out of deliberations any time that the project is discussed or reviewed. This is common practice whenever there is a perceived conflict of interest to the project under discussion. Given this decision, I would be interested working with BC Housing”.
(We should point out that all of the grammatical errors are hers – we have merely copied her correspondence.)
Our FOI ran from October 5 to November 8, 2018, so unfortunately we do not have any further information to convey, although we are waiting momentarily for the next one. However, we firmly believe there is enough in what we have received to date to be very concerned.

We understand that Ms. Holden was taking a leave of absence from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing so she could look after her children – she stated this at the July 3 2018 meeting of the APC. We don`t know what has transpired since in terms of her employment, but t certainly appears that she has been seeking a contract with BC Housing since then.

We entirely appreciate that it is common practice when confronted with a perceived or real conflict of interest to recuse oneself from any discussions or deliberations that concern an issue at hand – and, to her credit, Ms. Holden does seem to recognize this. However, when someone declares a conflict they are obliged NOT to discuss anything about a proposed project with those who are involved in providing advice or making a recommendation on a proposal. We have no way of knowing what information or views she has shared with other members of the APC about the OBUC project, although we know she met with them to discuss her situation. This is unusual – it should not have required a meeting, she should have immediately recognized she had a conflict – and that SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF ANY DISCUSSION with any members of the APC.  Of course, unless she understands this (and why should we think she does understand this) her continued presence as a member of the APC provides her with ample opportunities for side-bar chats with other members. To say the least, this whole situation is very worrisome.

It is entirely inadequate that she only proposes to recuse herself from public discussions on the OBUC project when she has already spoken to the members privately and appears to be acting as a paid agent of BC Housing and the developer. This is something that needs to be investigated as quickly as possible.
During the recent municipal election, you, as our mayor and council, promised more transparency. We feel you should be aware of this significant information and urge you to take immediate appropriate action so that this submission is judged fairly and independently by the commission and by council. 

Concerned Citizens Network Oak Bay https://ccn-oakbay.com

On behalf of Concerned Citizens Network of Oak Bay:   Wayne Todd, Maggie Bolitho, Barbara Judson, Catherine Griffiths, Diana Butler, Wayne Randall, Alan Bolitho, Garen Kassabian, Curtis Hobson, Matt Stooke.  Citizens of Oak Bay. 

Note: a copy of the original text in the FOI report is available upon request.

pexels-photo-1527255.jpeg

Letter sent to Mayor and Council on August 14 2018 from a concerned citizen, Concerned Citizens Network Oak Bay

At the July 3 2018 meeting of the District of Oak Bay Advisory Planning Commission, committee member Virginia Holden, who is also Director of Housing Policy in the Housing Policy Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, gave a presentation to committee members on housing affordability. Some local citizens who attended this meeting as observers and took notes felt that this was clearly a sales-pitch for the contentious OBUC affordable housing project. She stressed the need to identify and help non-profit sites that need redevelopment. She described now as a time when "the stars have aligned" and wanted other members of committee to know what a perfect time it was for non-profits, among others, to take advantage of all the affordable housing funding available from BC Housing, the Community Housing Fund, the Federal Government, CRD, and how Density-bonusing is being promoted with municipalities, including exemptions from property taxes for 10 years for those developers. She spoke about municipalities being encouraged to streamline and hasten the process of rezoning applications for these developers. She plans to give part II of the presentation to committee members at the next meeting in September.  It sounds as if  BC Housing is giving advice to developers on how to speed their developments through local councils without having to go through due-process.
As part of the Advisory Planning Commission’s mandate is “To advise Council on matters respecting land use, community planning, or proposed bylaws and certain permits under Part 26 of the Local Government Act. And Official Community Plan amendment applications, rezoning applications and land use contract amendments to ensure proposed developments comply with the policies and objectives of the Official Community Plan”  might I suggest that there is a conflict of interest in Ms. Holden’s dual roles as Director of Housing Policy in the Policy Branch of BC Housing and a member of the Advisory Planning Commission who will be advising Council on the Oak Bay United Church/BC Housing’s massive mixed income building project.   The OBUC has already appeared before council asking that their project be streamlined and expedited (which failed).   I hope that Ms. Holden’s planned part II in September will be reconsidered.  It is clearly inappropriate.
Responses received to the above letter
From Kevin Murdoch

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Conflict of interest is important to keep an eye on. By my assessment, there is probably no "actionable" issue here, but rather something for a mayor to talk to members about directly.  In general, conflict of interest is self-declared. In areas where there is no clear, direct financial benefit to someone by their actions, it is a judgement call by the individual. For elected officials it's a bit more of an issue, as we are held accountable every few years by the electorate, so perceived conflict of interest has as much weight as technical / direct.  
The other factor here is that the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) is an advisory body only - they don't make any decisions. As such, their exposure to conflict of interest is quite low.
Of course, the members are allowed to have opinions (even strong opinions). Most problems with APCs come generally where they are seen to be advocating for a particular development, particularly before it comes before them formally with staff input. That, again, should be fairly blatant to action. In the end, Council will very rarely remove a member, but issues around performance come up when Council (annually) determines whether to renew their membership on the committees or commissions.

Kind Regards,
Kevin 

From: Cairine Green [mailto:oakbay@cairinegreen.ca]
Sent: Thursday, August 16, 2018 4:05 PM
To: Barbara Judson
Subject: Re: Perceived conflict of interest Advisory Planning Commision

Barbara, many thanks for your email message.  
Having been a Councillor in two communities, North Saanich and Oak Bay, and as a current volunteer Commission member in Oak Bay (Heritage Commission), my experience has taught me that every volunteer Commission member must always be careful about real or perceived conflicts of interest when serving the municipality and the public.  As you know, Commission members are not only volunteers but also agents of the Municipality, given that Mayor and Council ratify volunteer appointments.  
Commissions have a more formal mandate, unlike committees, task forces or working groups. Commissions are standing committees, are created through a bylaw and, therefore, have a unique relationship with Mayor and Council because of their role and responsibility in making decisions on specific referrals from Council that are later brought back to Council as recommendations for Council’s final decision.
I have found through many years of volunteering and as an elected official, that conflict of interest can be a concept not always well understood.  In the case of municipal government, elected Council members are reminded of conflict of interest from time to time but the final decision about whether or not the member may be in conflict rests with the individual Councillor.  That being said, it’s always good practice to obtain independent legal advice if there is any doubt.  The best advice I had was that if one thinks or feels they might have a conflict, then they probably do and should always err on the side of caution.
You may be interested in a precedent-setting case from North Saanich in 2005, on Conflict of Interest, Godfrey vs. Bird, where a North Saanich Councillor, Bill Bird, was disqualified from holding office.  A group of 10 concerned citizens took Mr. Bird to Court and won. There is a real lesson here for anyone elected to local government, given that the majority of decisions made are about land use.
The best advice that I can give you in this case is to share your concerns with Mayor and Council and with senior staff.  Thanks for getting in touch with me.

***

All of the above is a great concern, exacerbated by the erratic schedule of this Commission as reported here:
https://www.bclocalnews.com/news/oak-bays-advisory-planning-commission-cancelled-again/

competition-dispute-fight-37323.jpg

Vandalism (again)

Someone has been at it again.
Sunday night, April 7 2018, someone walked down Victoria Avenue and ripped some of the ‘Stop Overdevelopment’ lawn signs off neighbours’ properties.
They scattered the signs in the road, perhaps hoping that passing cars would damage them. Obviously, they had no concern that the signs might damage passing vehicles.
This is the third incident of this type of property damage in just over twelve months.
Is it just random vandalism? In which case, why aren’t signs from realtors, painters etc ever touched?

Picture from Pexels

Picture from Pexels

If it's not viable, who will be liable?

To Oak Bay Planning Dept., Mayor and Council Copy Acting Chief Administrative Office

13 March 2019

Re: OBUC project ZON00034, DP000022

No Viability, just Liability

The dictionary defines viability, in the commercial sense, as the ability of a business product or service to make a profit.  This is certainly the definition intended when used by this  developer as the principal purpose of their project is to make enough money/profit  to keep the church going for the next hundred years. This amount has never been disclosed.  

The first time ‘viability’ appears is March 2017 when the church’s website describes meeting with BC Housing with ‘a financial model to estimate potential viability and risk to satisfy the church board and shown to BC Housing to secure a project planning loan’.  Our Freedom of information reports had the dollar amount to ensure viability redacted.    Viability (or amount of profit the developer needs to make) initially required a building  of 269 affordable units in a 6-storey L shaped tower, for BC Housing’s application for funding.  OK, said BC Housing.  The District of Oak Bay Planning staff  also were apparently “supportive of this project and the proposed development met the objectives of the local Planning Department” – again from a Freedom of information report obtained by neighbours .

From the beginning the terms ‘viability’ and ‘affordable housing’ went hand-in-hand, but with ever-changing definitions.  By March 2018 the 269 units of affordable housing morphed into 123 units of affordable housing and 14 market units.  By May 2018, there were 50 units of affordable housing and 46 market and long-term lease units.   Between March and May 2018, the name of the development changed from “Affordable Housing Project” to Neighbourhood Housing Initiative – with the word affordable no longer part of the description.

In an October 2018 submission to a Request for Proposals by the  BC Community Housing Fund, the developer applied for a grant based on using revenues from market units to subsidize the affordable units. The developer stated in this submission (available through FOI request 30-11318). “if grant support is not obtained or planning costs rise more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven.”  Also that “certain terms of the RFP conflict with the high cost of development in Oak Bay such that the level of grants and rental stipulations would prevent achieving breakeven”

In conclusion, the developer states “Due to the high cost of building in Oak Bay we unfortunately cannot meet the rental level requirements of the RFP since they would render the project unviable”.

Before proceeding further with the developer’s Rezoning Application, might I suggest that the Planning Department, Councillors and Mayor request confirmation of what the affordable rents for this project will be.  Based on the apparently new information that there is a “high cost of building in Oak Bay” and that “more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven” it seems that this could turn out to be a non-affordable development.

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Thank you.  

B. Judson

A modest request

This letter simply asks that the OBUC-Development Team be required to comply with the requests made by the District of Oak Bay in January 2018:

March 2019 letter to Oak Bay_Page_1.jpeg

Just the facts please

Tonight’s email to BC Housing and the District of Oak Bay:

Recently the CCN received documents from BC Housing as the result of an FOI request. These included Oak Bay United Church – Development Team’s recent submission to Housing BC: Community Housing Fund requesting grant funds (RFP 1070-1819/016 Submission), and other correspondence.

These documents stated unequivocally that the OBUC project have support from a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

From FOI 30-11318:

The project is […] supported by our MLA, (page 11)

MLA Andrew Weaver has indicated support (page 25)

MLA Andrew Weaver supports the proposal (page 89)

When a member of the CCN asked Dr. Weaver about these assertions, he responded:

I am surprised that documentation would be submitted saying I was for any specific project in my riding. I am supportive of the general notion of building more affordable housing. It is inappropriate for me to single out a particular project to support or not support”

The need for affordable housing is not in question. The CCN is challenging the height, size and density of this design in our single-family neighbourhood. The lack of adequate parking and significantly increased traffic would have a major negative impact on our narrow neighbourhood streets.

Did the OBUC-DT hope to distract from these issues by falsely claiming an endorsement from a higher power? 

When significant misrepresentations have been made in parts of submissions, doesn’t it cast doubt over the integrity of the rest of the OBUC-DT’s statements?

M. Bolitho
Oak Bay

Book cover from www.writersresist.com - click on the image for more details about this book.

Book cover from www.writersresist.com - click on the image for more details about this book.

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

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 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

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

 

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.

secret pexels-photo-315918.png


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.

Curiosity.jpeg

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.

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.

a streetscape.jpg

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.

FOI raises fears - OBN July 27, 2018

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