The number of recent Subdivision Applications and Approvals should be a major concern for residents. There is every indication this subdivision trend will continue and most likely escalate. Why is this reason for concern? Since adoption of the OCP in 2014, many residents have criticized the flawed process on land applications, and how residents are shut out of discussion and decision-making. Residents have continued to demand answers and to be included in the review process, often having to resort to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to obtain reports.
While the current Subdivision Bylaw #3578 specifies the Zoning Bylaw requirements which must be followed, it does not take into account the unintended consequences of changes to the bylaw made in 2007. A select 4 member Committee, including the present Mayor, recommended zoning changes and these allowed the big houses on small lots and associated demolitions about which so many residents complained. To date this has not been corrected allowing the same overbuilding on subdivisions.
To make this situation worse some of the recently approved subdivisions override our already liberal Zoning Bylaw. There is no policy and guidelines in place for the District’s Approving Officer to follow. Additionally Council has insufficient fee schedules approved to pay for the impacts on the infrastructure. The District also does not recover the costs for the significant amount of staff time and resources required to process these complex subdivision applications. Clearly, the short-comings in the financial planning and management heavily favour developers.
There have been many resident delegations pointing out the impacts that subdivision developments have on the immediate residents and their neighbourhoods. Tree and vegetation loss is also a big factor. District Staff, Council, the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) and other committees lack practical methods to ensure community interests are fully considered. The July 2018 Mayor’s Task Force Public Engagement Report
The Report listed Land Use and the Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan (OCP) as the # 1 issue to Oak Bay. It's easy to understand then why so many residents are confused and upset with Council's ad-hoc planning and their inconsistent approach to complex developments.
237 King George Terrace Subdivision, The Public Interest and Shoreline Protection
There can be no better example of Council's dysfunctional land use planning process than the proposed (4 lot) strata subdivision located at 237 King George Terrace, directly adjacent to Trafalgar Park and the Lookout. This recently approved development application has shed light on:
* The District’s flawed Subdivision and LandUse Development Permit Process.
* Disregard for the Public Interest and
* The glaring need for a reassessment of how our shoreline is being protected.
The Attachments summarize just how bad the process was on this application, and how it also repeated mistakes already identified in 2 earlier shoreline developments dating back to 2014 (Attachment # 3). It also demonstrates the potential loss to the District, in this case a legislated $180,000, and highlights the need for sufficient shoreline protection and for residents to have adequate input on land use applications.
For more Details on just how problematic the Council process was for the King George Terrace 4-lot Strata development and shoreline protection – see Attachments #1 and #3
For the Public's Concerns - see Attachment #2
Oak Bay Watch Perspective:
The District’s process to consider and approve subdivision applications is seriously flawed in favour of the developer. Residents that attended Council, Advisory Planning Commission and Design Panel meetings have recognized many errors and omissions when information was presented and considered. However, they have no voice at these meetings. Public Input at Council Meetings is also restricted.
The Mayor has been steadfast in that Council is not permitted in any way to influence the Approving Officer’s decision or reports. While this is true he is only partly correct - the Approving Officer’s quasi-legal status only applies to the decision to deny or approve the subdivision. Council has a responsibility to set Policy and Guidelines for the Approving Officer to follow – This is absent in Oak Bay but standard in most BC municipalities
It was evident that the Mayor and Councillors and members of the Advisory Planning Commission lacked the information and/or knowledge and reports* to understand the complexities of the King George Terrace application. District Staff neglected to provide important relevant reports and legislated regulatory guidelines that were critical to making fully informed and fully transparent decisions on this application. Even so, the Application for the subdivision was recently given final approval but with a number of the conditions still outstanding. (*see Attachment #1, bullet #2)
Oak Bay Watch will continue to advocate for bylaws and policies to protect Oak Bay’s shoreline and ecosystem and to demand fully transparent land planning that is fair and equitable for residents. Our concern however, is that after all the submissions, letters and resident complaints, is Council listening.
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Proposed subdivision 237 King George Terrace
Comments, Excerpts and Conditions from Approving Officer’s April 10, 2017 Report:
* The proposed development land is located in the District's Shoreline Development Permit Area (SDPA). The Official Community Plan specifies no disturbance or encroachment into the 15 metre shoreline development permit area is permitted. Environmental reports were required to be provided prior to Council's considering a Shoreline Development Permit on June 26, 2017. Note: Although the Acting Director of Planning stated that Environmental Reports had been submitted by the developer the reports were withheld from the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) and members of the public who requested copies. * The Approving Officer required the removal of a 7,000 square foot house, garage, greenhouse, and an inert underground oil tank. He also required a ground pool to be reinstated if a large, habitable Cabana were to be retained. The Council's Advisory Planning Commission in direct conflict with the instructions of the Approving Officer gave the approval to remove the pool, and retain the habitable cabana – a cabana is a structure to provide a changing/ dressing room for a pool.
* The Approving Officer called for the principal dwelling building and other buildings to be removed, and a whole host of other conditions to be satisfied prior to application for final sub-division approval. Note: the subdivision was approved by a new Approving Officer in July 2018: however the main building is still intact and it is still uncertain when and how these dwellings will be removed. It is also not clear what the status is of all the conditions that were required to be completed.
* The statutory right of way for services was also required, along with a plan for water run-off.
* Local Government Act, Section 510 requires either parkland or payment in lieu be provided to the local government. The Approving Officer's report reads the amount ‘TBD’ (To Be Determined) Note: The Advisory Planning Commission (APC) recommended and Council approved. the work to begin on the Shoreline prior to this determination. This developer contribution ($181,900) omission was questioned by a resident: otherwise, it seems that the District would have neglected to collect the contribution.
* In fully developed communities all subdivisions are considered infill and an Approving Officer must consider both the public interest and the impact on the neighboring properties, including existing restrictive covenants on roof heights etc. Note: In this case, neighboring property owners were not even notified that the District had received an application for the subdivision. Notice was required but not provided to neighbours who wanted to assure themselves that their existing covenants were attached, and complied with, when the new Subdivision was registered with the BC Land Title Office. Attachment #2
The Public's Concerns:
* In 2014, construction at nearby 363 King George Terrace substantially altered the shoreline, prompting anxiety and criticism by Council members and residents. Residents asked for policy to be implemented for protection of the shoreline (see letter and information Appendix #3). Council/Staff ignored the request. The District lacks expertise in environmental assessment and protection. The Advisory Planning Commission also lacks the knowledge and expertise required to review complex applications. For an undisclosed reason at the start of this Council term, the Mayor disbanded Oak Bay’s Environmental and Transportation Committees. The absence of this oversight has and will continue to be a problem.
* In 2016, urgent remediation was needed at 383 King George Terrace to prevent the new dwelling (and adjacent property) from impacting the beach and ocean at McNeil Bay. Again residents demanded that Council/Staff act to ensure comprehensive environmental assessments be carried out prior to permits being issued. This should have been a wake-up call that Oak Bay needed the necessary bylaws for Shoreline and Steep Slopes development.
* The District is consistently ignoring the need for public notice of proposals for new developments. The Approving Officer’s Reports and relevant documents have generally been obtained only by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. These should be made available to Council and its appointed Commissions and Committees, and to members of the public. Withholding information causes confusion, distrust and extra work for District Staff who must then respond to FOI requests. This can be done by ensuring developers and consultants understand that the information is for release to the public. This also supports the case for requiring reports by neutral, independent consultants paid for but not contracted by the developer.
* During the months that this application was being considered Oak Bay’s Approving Officer and Chief Administrative Officer left their jobs with the District on very short notice.
* Unlike other communities, Oak Bay does not have bylaws or policies for development on steep slopes and shorelines. Therefore there is no regulatory framework to require bonds to ensure compliance with work permits and no fines for doing work without a permit in the Shoreline DPA. Covenants should be mandatory, not voluntary.
* The proposed development will require intensive blasting to construct 4 houses with high, walk-out basements. There will also be extensive blasting near a high stonewall separating the property from Trafalgar Park. Planning documents show two of the proposed lots are within Oak Bay’s shoreline protection area. Does this mean our shoreline will be lost to future generations as the development of basements and swimming pools take precedence under the guise of private property rights? Attachment #3
Resident Letter to Council - Also included was a 79-page Impact and Environmental Assessment Report regarding the 263 King George Terrace excavation of the entire shoreline embankment.
Attn: District of Oak Bay Municipal Council
Re: Technical Letter - Planning Impact Statement 363 King George Terrace. Oak Bay
To District of Oak Bay Municipal Council,
I am writing to express my concerns arising from the planning permission granted at 363 King George Terrace as affecting the backshore ecology of the property and the larger environment of Sunny Lane Bay of which this property is a key component.
As a neighbour to this property and as a community userof the Sunny Lane Bay shoreline, in my opinion, there has been a significant negative community and environmental impact due to the permitted construction on this property, specifically the rear elements of the approved planning as it affects the backshore environment.
In my view, the granted permission is contrary to the intent, if not the letter, of the majority of planning and development guidance published by the District of Oak and the Capital Regional District since the 'Regional Green / Blue Strategy' published in 1997.
This Technical Letter is intended to both solicit reasons from the municipal council for the granting of this Planning decision and to outline my concerns with this decision, according to the relevant planning and development documentation published by the District of Oak Bay, the Capital Regional District and the Province of BC and to provide my opinion as to a preliminary assessment of this impact.
While I appreciate that the Shoreline Development Permit Areas included the soon to be published 2014 - Oak Bay: Official Community Plan are going to be an important step towards the regulation of shoreline developments in Oak Bay. It is also my opinion that the notably deleterious impact of this specific planning approval, is an unfortunate reminder of how rare and precious the remaining ecological heritage of Oak Bay is. It should also be a strong motivator to ensure that the upcoming Shoreline Development Permit Areas is developed according to best environmental practice and robustly enforced at both the planning and construction stages of projects.
In this case, the allowed rear concrete and masonry construction and landscaping finishing entirely removed the backshore embankment that provided both a significant community and ecological amenity. The backshore embankment was replaced with an installed rear patio and a terraced landscaped private access feature stairway directly to the beach foreshore. In exchange, both a contiguous shoreline biological corridor was totally disrupted and in my opinion, the social amenity value one of the most important community Greenway routes in Oak Bay was severely degraded.
I would like to add that this letter is solely directed towards the District of Oak Bay Councilandtheplanning permissions that were permitted; there is no intention to critique any other parties involved in the project as they were acting within their rights under the requirements set by council. Further, I hope to provide some suggestion towards how the current situation might to some degree be remediated and provide input into how the upcoming Shoreline Development Permit Areas should be structured and regulated in Oak Bay. Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to receiving your reply.
Author's Credentials (CEnv, MEI, MSc Arch)
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