Renewing Oak Bay’s Infrastructure
Priority: We need to get serious about renewing our aging infrastructure.
Action: Decide on a plan and funding formula for future infrastructure renewal.
Infrastructure replacement is a significant and important undertaking for our community, as it is with many communities in Canada. You will be electing a Council who will benefit from the work done by the outgoing Council. This is the first Council to have taken significant action in addressing the infrastructure issue. I have included a flow chart which demonstrates what has been accomplished on infrastructure renewal planning by Council and staff in the 2014-2018 term.
You can see that in the 2014-2018 term Council methodically developed strategies and actions to address the $280 M infrastructure costs (see Opius Report, 2016). In 2015 Council agreed to develop an Asset Management Program as a Strategic Priority, and since then has meticulously reviewed the status of the District’s assets and infrastructure, as well as the past practices of maintenance and renewal. In 2018 Council adopted an Asset Management Policy and Strategy and approved an annual 1% contribution to infrastructure reserves. Council then directed staff to develop a long-term Asset Management Financial Plan.
The next steps will be for your new Council to work with staff and the community to choose a plan and funding formula for future infrastructure renewal. These funding options could include borrowing, grants, reserves, taxation, and a likely combination of these.
Village Vitality: Oak Bay Village Plan
Priority: Support our village areas to be livable, accessible, and vibrant
Action: Oak Bay Village is the heart of our community. If we want our community to be healthy, we need to ensure the village is livable, vibrant, and sustainable – a place our residents want to gather, socialize, shop and support local businesses and restaurants.
The viability of small businesses in Oak Bay village and our secondary village is important in shaping and maintaining a unique “village culture.” In addition to a village vision (articulated in the OCP), I believe we need an OB Village Plan to support more people living along the village corridor, increasing pedestrian traffic, which will in turn support a diversity of businesses. A Village Plan will also allow the community to be more proactive regarding the kind, density, and design of housing stock that is developed along these village corridors and, would provide certainty for residents, businesses, and developers. Additionally, a Village Plan will allow staff to develop shovel ready projects so we can leverage federal grant money for sidewalks, parking, bike lanes, public spaces, infrastructure and building assets. It is timely to develop a plan for Oak Bay Village. In sum, a Village Plan will:
- Improve the viability of small businesses and create diversity in our commercial districts
- Provide housing options (and relieve pressure for infill in residential areas)
- Add parking spaces
- Increase village vibrancy and sustainability
- Improve walkability, mobility, and public spaces
- Ensure shovel-ready plans to leverage federal infrastructure grants
- Give predictability and design control over future land use projects
Housing, It’s All About Balance
Priority: We need to engage low densification strategies (secondary suites, duplexes,
townhouses, and triplexes) that will increase the availability of housing while respecting the
integrity of local neighbourhoods.
Action: Complete the secondary suite program and give direction to staff to align the Zoning
Bylaw with the Official Community Plan.
People I speak with are frustrated with the lack of housing options in our community. I have
spoken to a great number of seniors who want to downsize from their family home and are
passionate about remaining in this community and maintaining their social and recreational
connections as they age. But we are losing too many long-time Oak Bay residents whose
housing needs are not being met here. In making these options available for older adults
through townhouses and other low densification strategies, we free up larger homes for young
families. Young people, families in transition, and single parents also tell me they want housing
that has a range of price points, and, can be rented or owned.
Oak Bay needs an array of housing stock that corresponds to the demographic mix in our
community. I believe we need to engage low densification infill strategies (secondary suites,
duplexes, townhouses, and triplexes) that will increase the affordability and availability of
housing stock while respecting the integrity of local neighbourhoods. And expanding housing
options on the high traffic corridors, as per the OCP, can reduce pressure to densify in the
residential areas (see Oak Bay Village Plan).
Here are some examples of infill housing options contemplated in our Official Community Plan.
Secondary Suites. Most people in Oak Bay (85% Official Community Plan survey) want
secondary suites to be regulated. It’s is important to recognize that there are an estimated 800
unregulated secondary suites in Oak Bay. We are the last of two districts in the region to
regulate suites. Regulation will address parking issues and ensure suites conform to building
codes, minimizing fire and other safety hazards. In sum, regulated suites create a legitimate
housing option, can be mortgage helpers, and provide a way for some residents the ability to
‘age out’ in their community.
This past July, Council directed staff to engage the community to develop a secondary suite
program. It’s important to me that community residents have input into shaping the secondary
suite program and this will be high on the agenda for the new council.
Non-conforming Duplex Properties. There are about 85 existing legal non-conforming duplexes
in the District. Without legitimate zoning, owners of these properties are reluctant to upgrade
or renovate. This is because there is no duplex-specific zoning bylaw, which make upgrades or
renovations unpredictable and administratively onerous for property owners; further, because
the property is on one fee simple lot, ability to purchase one side of a duplex as separate property is denied to residents who wish to downgrade or spend less. To remedy this situation
Council will need to direct staff to create a duplex zoning bylaw for these legal non-conforming
Heritage Conversions. Homes in Oak Bay with a heritage (historical) character contribute
significantly to the unique character of our streetscapes and community. They are precious. In
spite of achievements by our Heritage Commission to designate increasing numbers of heritage
homes, designations are being outpaced by demolitions, and heritage houses are being
replaced by new builds that maximize square footage. To disincentivize demolitions we can
introduce a heritage conversion zoning bylaw that will encourage preservation of the heritage
building in exchange for increased density like rentals or condos. A heritage conversion bylaw
would serve three functions: preserve the heritage buildings, retain streetscape, and offer new
Priority: Identify places in our community that would benefit from traffic calming strategies.
Action: We could hold some neighborhood meetings and work with staff to develop a coherent traffic calming plan.
Many residents are frustrated with traffic speed on residential streets. We need to correct confusing speed signage and identify roads that would benefit from traffic calming (eg. Beach Drive, McNeil, Victoria, Granite, Henderson, and even Oak Bay Ave (others?). Let’s hold some neighborhood meetings and work with staff to develop a coherent traffic calming plan.
Also, bike lanes keep cyclists safe and encourage more cycling, so we can complete the bike lane on Cadboro Bay (northwards), as well as the top of Foul Bay Road.
Priority. The natural (trees, foreshore, parks, etc) and built heritage of Oak Bay are key factors that make our community so attractive and livable. They are precious and we must do what we can to care for them.
Action 1. Create a Heritage Conversion Bylaw and promote Heritage Revitalization Agreements (HRA) to convert older homes to rental or condo housing stock and support neighbourhoods to develop Heritage Conservation Areas. We also want to continue to support the Heritage Commission who educate the community about heritage landmarks and encourage increased heritage designations.
Action 2. Support the implementation of the Urban Forest Strategy and strengthen the Tree Bylaw to sustain replacement of trees on public and private lands.
In Oak Bay we need to renew our participation infrastructure to recognize citizen capacity and our collective problem-solving potential. This means that we need to support regular opportunities for people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions, and celebrate our community. And this is for all kinds of people and all kinds of matters. Let’s change the culture of engagement in Oak Bay!
There are a host of new processes, formats and structures for engaging our public— face-to-face deliberations, convenient digital tools, and online networks can add dexterity to the power of face-to-face relationships.
In July 2018 Council received the The Public Engagement Task Force Report (which I
Chaired) that provides a framework, as well as themes, methods and techniques to engage our community. There are also 56 recommendations (see pp. 6-10) and the next Council will work with staff to identify and prioritize some strategies to create a robust engagement infrastructure in Oak Bay.
What might this look like for Oak Bay? Here’s some ideas that can be found in the Report:
- Introduce “Council Highlights” to communicate the decisions of Council within 72 hours of meeting
- Invest in the website to make it more intuitive and information-search friendly.
- Introduce a household electronic and/or print newsletter.
- Increase use of social media, including visuals and paid or promoted ads, to highlight upcoming meetings, events, and surveys
- Revise notification requirements, such as “tree removal” signage, demolition notifications, street and sidewalk permits, event notifications, and development permits.
- Consider online application tracking or Placespeak-type subscriber notification system for land-use applications in Oak Bay.
- Neighborhood conversations on high impact topics.
- Clarify expectations for third parties (e.g. property developers, private contractors, event organizers) for public notification, and public engagement activities that will inform Council decision-making.
- Strive to exceed minimum legislated requirements for notification, providing greatest notification possible.
- Introduce a checklist of minimum standards for engagement activities (e.g. notification periods, formats offered, accessibility requirements, information provided, etc.).
You may have your own ideas. Please feel free to share.