Newsletter February 11, 2023: Corrective Action and Balance NeededNewsletters
Oak Bay’s former mayor fought tooth and nail to avoid forming a community requested Advisory Planning Commission. He had intended to form an Advisory Planning Committee which would be free from Provincially legislated, checks and balances,
Significant community pressure won out and an Advisory Planning Commission was formed. As it turned out however, it mattered not to the Mayor and Council of the day as the Provincial Advisory Planning Commission (APC) legislation was easily overcome,
Council, or whoever selected the APC Commission members, appointed commissioners (with one exception) who were either:
- Directly connected to or were associated with the Development Industry or
- Were in favour of Council’s densification agenda.
An Advisory Planning Commission April 3, 2018 Floor Area Review (FAR) Zoning In-House Workshop (conducted by a member of the 2013/2014 FAR Committee) informed Commissioner’s that FAR Zoning Amendments were meant to clarify rules for builders, staff and Council, and address concerns about large houses on small lots
However, that FAR Committee member said that the FAR Committee had recommended too many zoning bylaw exemptions (14 in all). He said that after the exemptions were approved by Council, developers were using them all and building to the maximum lot coverage. He repeated this over-building of lots information several times
It was not clear why this important information for Residents and Council did not find its way into the April 3, 2018 APC Meeting Minutes. A meeting with the CAO of the day about this “oversight” did not correct this omission.
An Advisory Planning Commission Assessment Checklist (see Appendix #1), which took over eighteen months to develop and receive Council Approval, was only used once or twice for minor development applications. The Commissioners explained its purpose was “to deal with each application in a similar manner, and is meant as a high-level summary to ensure consistency and communication to Council.” The intent was to include it with the APC minutes that recommended development permit approvals.
The Advisory Planning Commission Assessment Checklist has suffered the same fate as the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), disbanded in 2015. It’s probably just a coincidence both the EAC and the APC Checklist dealt with environmental and traffic impacts.
Oak Bay Watch Perspective (News & Information)
News: Advisory Planning Commission meetings for September through December 2022 were either cancelled or not scheduled. Other Advisory commissions, committees and boards continued to meet in those 4 months, including the November 4, Advisory Design Panel that considered the 4-lot subdivision development applications for 2072 Hampshire.
Council considered this 4-lot Hampshire application on November 28, 2022 (no public input allowed) and it was left to the end of a four-hour Council meeting on December 12, 2022 when it was approved.
The 772 Victoria Drive subdivision application came to Council on January 9, 2023 and was approved on January 23, 2023 despite a resident delegation concerned about loss of views and tree destruction.
While we understand that environmental oversight can get in the way of some development proposals, we are struggling to understand a Council member’s recent comments about the need to fast track development applications when the Hampshire and Victoria subdivisions were considered and both approved within two weeks.
However, perhaps the goal is to hire a consultant to cut down on what she considered to be “lengthy” development applications timelines. In all fairness, on January 18, 2023, Advisory Planning Commission members were updated on the Hampshire subdivision. The meeting minutes however, don’t indicate if commissioners queried, or were concerned that, this complex application was not presented for consideration by the District’s Advisory Planning Commission - land use .
Information; In 2019 an Oak Bay resident, who had served on an Advisory Planning Commission in another municipality, had concerns about no public input and possible conflict of interest issues that had been a point of contention. This was about APC commission members’ employment being associated with the development industry.
Unable to get a satisfactory, or any response, from the District regarding these issues he made the following recommendations to Council (see note below):
1) The announcements of appointments should include the member's present or former occupation/profession and employer, if applicable.
2) For at least the next round of appointments, interested parties should apply again. This would remove any perpetuation of biases included in the previous appointments as well as and clearing out non-contributors.
3) There should be a short period allowed at the end of each meeting for public input.
Another member of the public wrote to Council in October 2022 with similar Advisory Planning Commission concerns. This time about a consultant review of Oak Bay’s Advisory Planning Commission. She noted (see note below):
- There is no recommendation on public involvement or input in the commission meeting process.
- Meetings are not video recorded (or even tape recorded) and minutes are often incomplete and not available for months after a meeting.
- Members sit around a table with their backs to the 'visiting' public and speak as inaudibly as possible.
- Members frequently seem unprepared and disorganized, which is disturbing given their important task of making recommendations to council.
- Members may be volunteers but professional behavior must be expected.
- Developers may make presentations to commissions/committees but the public may not speak- ever.
NOTE: Both of these letters may be authenticated by consulting the appropriate agendas.
It seems to us that it is obvious that something is radically wrong with: the APC - land use membership selection process; the lack of Community input; and how Council, or whoever is deciding what land use developments are to be considered by the APC.
The Advisory Planning Commission takes a lot of time and expense to administer. The many indicators show it is obvious that it has not been used effectively and this requires corrective action. Oversight of developments, and allowing public input are required for good governance. Selecting a fair resident representation and resurrecting the Advisory Planning Commission Assessment Checklist would be a good first step.
As the former commissioners, who designed the Checklist pointed out, this important tool provides a comprehensive list of crucial tasks to be completed in a specified order; this ensures consistency and that no important step is forgotten.
Nothing is inevitable if you are paying attention” Oak Bay Watch
Oak Bay Watch is a volunteer community association and its members have a variety of professional backgrounds in both the public and private sector.
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