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.
Most people I talk to agree we need to reduce the deer population in Oak Bay. I agree. People care about their gardens and nobody wants to collide with a deer making its way across a public road. So we need to reduce the deer herd and citizens need to feel assured of their safety. To follow is an overview of what steps Council has taken.
In 2014 Oak Bay Council addressed the increasing population of deer in Oak Bay. At the time the only option available was to cull since the Province would not permit translocating or inoculation. The cull turned out to be expensive, ineffective, and divisive. One of the unique and key challenges for Oak Bay is that there is no will from Victoria and Saanich (from where the deer are migrating) to work collaboratively on this project. This means there will continue to be a constant flow of deer— attracted to our parks and gardens— migrating into Oak Bay. What we can do is address the overpopulation by reducing the deer herd to manageable levels. Everything the province will allow us to do we are doing.
So in 2016, recognizing the challenges of a cull the Province agreed to permit an innovative approach by inoculating the deer with a contraception. Oak Bay Council partnered with the Province and Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS) to implement a program that is evidence-based and involves public education. The program begins with data collection and analysis to monitor deer movements and ecology. Then, in Fall of 2018, an immuno-contraception program for the doe population is planned.
The scientists believe that this is our best option given our unique topography and circumstances. I believe this approach strikes a balance between citizen quality of life/safety and a humane, affordable, and effective intervention to manage the deer herd in the community. We will need to monitor this program and should the program not work then we will find one that does.
For more information about the program see Oak Bay News and the UWSS website.
I was recently asked the following question about the United Church development proposal: “Could you advise us of your position on the affordable housing project proposed by the granite street united church?”
Here is my response:
My understanding is the OB United Church has submitted an application to the District to rezone their property for affordable housing, an aspiration in keeping with the Church mandate.
My impression from talking with neighbors, and reading emails and other notices, is that the neighbors are largely concerned with the massing of the proposed building, traffic congestion, and construction disruption and how this will impact the established neighborhood.
The framework of our OCP encourages us to consider opportunities for affordable housing and it also requires any development be respectful of established neighborhoods. The challenge is to find common ground and address the needs of the neighbors, community, and applicant.
To be clear, my comments below are in the context of not having yet reviewed any development application. While Council is aware the application is now in process with staff, and I have attended a couple of the consultations the applicant has had with the neighbors, Council has not yet seen the current Oak Bay United Church application. I appreciate this process has been highly contentious and there has been a fractious communication dynamic between the applicant and the neighbors. This is unfortunate since this project really deserves a robust engagement process.
The way I see it, OB is a built out residential community. We do not have large tracks of land like other jurisdictions in the region. We also lack well-defined transition areas for new development adjacent to single family neighborhoods. These existing conditions quickly trigger strain between new land use applications and neighbors. And it also means in instances where new development is sought, ideally, applicants, neighbors and the District need to work in partnership to ensure the right fit for these new developments. We all need to be creative, open-minded, and respectful. It takes work but it can be done.
The questions for me is, “Can the church forward an affordable housing proposal that respects the established neighborhood?” And, how would I approach this issue?
To understand my approach, my track record of larger developments speaks for itself: For example, in 2012 I voted against the Oak Bay Lodge application for a 320-bed regional critical and dementia care facility because I concluded the development— a 5-6 storey building— was too big for that property and would undermine the integrity of the adjacent established neighborhood (it dramatically hovered over the west side of Hampshire Rd neighborhood). That said, the Clive development is an example of where I supported a higher density multi-residential development on a high traffic corridor that in my view respected the established neighborhood (on Clive Ave.). My support for the Bowker, again on a high traffic corridor (Cadboro Bay Road), was supported for similar reasons as the Clive, and I believe that in time the Bowker development will enhance, not undermine the adjacent neighborhood.
I would support an application for affordable housing on this parcel of land if the proposal is respectful of established neighborhood.
I hope that you can appreciate that I cannot comment on the actual application that I have not yet seen. But I can assure you that I will be looking for an application that can ensure the integrity of the established neighborhood is upheld.
Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further.