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.