Newsletter - May 17, 2019
Oak Bay Watch’s April 2, 2019 Newsletter described Oak Bay’s current governance problems (accountability, transparency, responsiveness) as a leaky boat. It appears now, however, that some Council members and Senior Staff may have missed the boat entirely. Take for example how Council and Staff “handled” a simple, straightforward Councillor Zhelka Public Interest resolution. Consider the Council and staff time and effort spent (two Council meetings May 6th and 13th), staff reports, memorandums, an incomplete chronology and, the staff and Council involvement it took to re-write the resolution to get it approved. It is becoming more and more apparent that the majority of Council, the Administration and the Planning Department seem unconcerned, or perhaps unaware, of the District’s problems.
It has been established that Oak Bay has serious financial, over-development, transparency, public engagement, and infrastructure problems. There is plenty of evidence to confirm this. It is indicated in survey findings, resident submissions, a whole list of Council priorities and certainly by the turnout and vote in the last election. With a 2019 8.3% tax increase staring residents in the face, which is more than double almost every other CRD municipality, wouldn’t any rationale person realize that ways to address this must be the number one priority. Especially since the number one solution - Development Cost Charges and Amenity Housing Fund charges are ready-made starting points.
Development cost charges have been prioritized by the District since 2015. Tax dollars have paid for a Development Cost Charge consultant report. Over-development has been going on since our perfectly good zoning bylaw was mistakenly and wrongly changed in 2008. Council admitted a mistake had been made. This has not been corrected and there have been a “boatload” of resident complainants (2008 –2019) to substantiate this. Administration and Planning Staff have increased substantially in recent years with no apparent benefit to the Community. The Development Industry however has profited considerably by the Planning Department’s failure to follow Council direction to implement development charges for Oak Bay’s end of life infrastructure (sewers, storm-drains, roads). This funding would have brought Oak Bay's 2019 property tax increase in line with other municipalities.
Oak Bay Watch’s Perspective
Our Concern is this: Was the resistance to a straight-forward Councillor Zhelka resolution by Staff and some Council members an indication of their preference to amend the Zoning bylaw to remove the present safety and tenant limit for secondary Suites? After all Councillor Zhelka’s original resolution only strived to show there are two totally different Community viewpoints on this issue.
The Community conflict was also demonstrated by three current Council members who last term opposed the Staff’s secondary suite terms of reference as presented. Does the Staff and some Council member resistance indicate the Community Engagement process for basement suites will be equally unbalanced in favor of approval? This was particularly the case at the 1st Open House that was promoted as a public engagement meeting but was a one-sided pro-suite affair.
Additionally we are concerned that, Council is spending an inordinate amount of time addressing inconsequential issues and out-of- sequence priorities. The Community has made it very clear: Get expenses under control, taxes in check; infrastructure prioritized; and over-development (that impacts so many problems) corrected. However, there is no sequential Priority Plan in place or even being discussed or hinted at to address how Oak Bay is going to make a start on these serious problems. Without engagement, the public has no idea of what is being accomplished or intended to be accomplished.
See Appendix #1 for a “free – non consultant” Sequential Priority Plan
A lead article in the Oak Bay News on Friday May 10, 2019 (Edition) seemed to congratulate Council for trimming the Civic Grants Budget and saving taxpayers $31,000. This kind of reporting is not helpful. Civic grant requests like developer density requests are inflated. It is expected that they will be cut back and Council did indeed do some trimming: however there were no “Savings”. You cannot claim to have saved what you do not have in your pocket/ budget. Cancellation of the $100,000 budgeted for a premature Infill/ Basement Suite zoning amendment and Housing Needs Study would be have been a “Real budget efficiency”.
There have been a number of poorly advertised Finance meetings this year that have resulted in another escalating, unsustainable tax increase. As stated there is no indication Council and the Administration are going to provide and follow a well thought out Strategic Plan with a sequential “first things first” (including budget considerations) priority list. It is equally concerning that some Council members have indicated they are happy with the Planning Department’s present Infill and Basement Suite bylaw amendment initiative that at this point will only intensify our problems.
It was noticeable that the authors of Councillor Zhelka’s Resolution rewrite left the word “Approvals” in after the Final Stage. To avoid “implying” an anticipated result, we believe that adding to “Approvals” “or Disapprovals” would have been much more accurate representation of the Community’s acknowledged, conflicted position on this issue.
Council has a duty to protect the Public interest and this can only be accomplished by maintaining standards, listening to the community (what ever happened to the implementation of the July 2018 Public Engagement Task Force recommendations? – wasn’t that a Council Resolution?) and protecting Oak Bay’s singe-family neighbourhoods. To fail to do this will place Oak Bay’s future in jeopardy.
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To set the stage for major land-use change initiatives, the following sequential or concurrent priorities must be addressed and or in place. To fail to do so would be not only defective planning, irresponsible decision making and not meet campaign promises.
1. ASAP implement Development Cost and Community Amenity Contributions /Housing Fund Charges – no need to reinvent the wheel – many long term free DCC & HP Policies available to adapt.
2. Review Zoning Bylaw to stop over-building lots: far too much lot coverage and paving is causing environmental damage, loss of Oak Bay’s character and heritage and impacting neighbours.
3. ASAP implement the 2017 Urban Forest Strategy Report (ASAP) recommendations and strengthen the tree Bylaw (overdue).
4. ASAP implement Community Engagement Recommendations/ Commitments and thereby significantly improve transparency.
5. Environment: Provide over-sight on all aspects of environmental protection i.e. review and improve shoreline protections and address CRD impervious surface/ over-development concerns, water conservation and run-off issues etc