Duplexes, triplexes, more suites, laneway houses etc. for Oak Bay single-family neighbourhoods?
Council has unanimously agreed to spend over $120,000 for an expensive densification initiative to consider allowing duplexes, triplexes, laneway houses, detached suites, heritage home conversions, small/ large-lot subdivisions and townhouses in all Oak Bay single-family neighbourhoods.
During Council discussion, the Mayor dismissed resident concerns that this extensive amount of densification would put additional stress on our "crumbling infrastructure".
What is the reason Staff is pushing Council so hard on these densification initiatives? What is the reason Council is spending so much and playing the same “extensive densification initiative” tunes as the previous ousted Council?
Council Report: April 29, 2021 Special Council Meeting - Staff Infill Project Charter.
At a mid-week short notice April 29. 2021 Special Council Meeting. Council unanimously agreed to spend over $120,000 tax dollars for yet another consultant to advance an Oak Bay all-encompassing development initiative. If implemented this would allow duplexes, triplexes, laneway houses, detached suites, heritage home conversions, small/large lot subdivisions and townhouses in all Oak Bay single-family neighbourhoods.
All of this new densification would be in addition to 1,500 new multi-tenant basement-suites predicted by the City Spaces Consultant if Council also approves a basement-suite zoning change staff are also advancing.
The April 29, 2021 Council meeting agenda, which included this complex Oak Bay fundamental land-use change “Infill Project Charter Report” was posted on the municipal website midweek, allowing only two working days’ notice.
At the meeting, a special concession by council allowed 20 minutes for public input with a maximum of three-minutes per speaker. To their credit, some Councillors noted the meetings short notice and the limited time for resident consideration. However inexplicably, not one Council member moved to defer this complex, extensive development item for further and a more detailed revuew.
Key elements of Council’s discussion were requests by most Councillors to amend the planning staff’s Infill Project Charter Report to allow for regular updates to Council (touch points). And a directive to send the Infill Project Charter Report to the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) as information only to prepare for future APC regular progress updates.
Council members were also concerned about how staff was going to keep them informed about the Infill Project Charter’s 3-Phase timelines. Clearly, on the defensive, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) reminded Council of the separation of Council’s governance role and of staff’s operational role. Note: Perhaps Council should have explained to the CAO their anxieties arose from the:
- Infill Report Charter Phase #1: February – May 2021 timeline is already 3/4 completed indicating the report has been held back for 3 months before Council and the public were made aware of it and,
- Staff being unaware, if not oblivious to the outcome of the 2016 Council's University of Victoria packed open meetings. There was a substantial unfavorable resident reaction to a similar single-family area infill report. The Council called this one a Residential Infill Strategy (RIS). It was pointed out by Councillor Zelka that the RIS was overwhelmingly rejected by the Community at these meetings. This resulted in the last Council withdrawing the RIS immediately following the meeting.
Notwithstanding this, Council members expressed concerns about the difficulties involved in adequately engaging the public about this fundamental land-use change during the Covid-19 pandemic. The change would alter the character of Oak Bay permanently.
Public Participation: only two community members phoned in with comments nevertheless council still insisted on enforcing the resident 3-minute limit. Contrast this with developer presentations that have no time restrictions and have, on occasion, lasted for over an hour.
Obviously, Council does not understand how discretion can be applied and/or the reason for the 3-minute rule for resident input. A previous Council introduced public participation at Council meetings. The 3-minute rule was to allow more residents to provide input during the allotted 20-minute public participation session.
However, at the April 29. 2021 Council meeting, as indicated, there were only 2-residents on the phone-in list. Therefore, given the importance and implications of this fundamental land-use change, and in the "spirit of community engagement" and the District's vision of: "Oak Bay’s residents are active contributors in local decision-making", wouldn't it have been reasonable for the limited 3-minute timeline restriction to have been waived in this case.
Both residents explained in detail that adding the amount of infill density included in the Infill Project Charter to Oak Bay’s single-family lots would seriously impact the100 year-old “crumbling end-of-life” infrastructure. They also explained to Council at best, this was problematic. Particularly, when Council had recently indicated they were anxious about the very recent extreme flooding infrastructure capacity problems of December 2020/ January 2021. Council Ney had stated the District could expect more of these in the near future.
The Mayor is on record for recognizing the seriousness of the existing infrastructure's limited capacity problem. In this situation, however, he dismissed the resident's concerns stating the situation was well in hand. Not mentioning whose hand, it is doubtful the Mayor’s assurances would have satisfied all of Oak Bay flood victims, some of whom showed up at Council on February 18, 2021. They passionately explained how the District's overwhelmed storm drains had resulted in their extensive, expensive basement flooding and damage.
It should also be noted: that since the 2018 last election this Council’s 2019, 2020, 2021 budgets, although promised, have taken no action to set aside or borrow very low-interest funding to address the approximate $300 million infrastructure deficit.
With a year and a half left in this Council term and with a Council approved overloaded Corporate (Priority) Plan (that includes so much increased density) it is not clear when any meaningful infrastructure improvement action will be taken. What is clear however is the next election is in October 2022.
Oak Bay Watch Perspective
It’s no wonder residents have given up addressing Council: it is apparent listening and acting on resident input is not a Council strong point. For example, Council has been informed that new development taxation is not keeping up with the cost of providing services associated with new development: this would include the impact new development has had on the need to fix pipe breaks and leaks. The cost of this is one-third of the infrastructure budget.
Evidence and logic, often provided by residents, seems to have been left out of Council’s decision making. As explained, without addressing the harmful infrastructure impacts first, this level of density, when implemented, will result even further in seriously overloading the District's failing storm and sewer pipes. It will also have pandemic congestion implications and so many other negative harmful impacts.