Times-Colonist Editorial — Manage Growth Carefully

When we returned to Oak Bay in 2010, our family and friends asked how we liked living in an urban setting again, given that we had lived “in the country” (Maple Bay and North Saanich) for the previous 24 years.  We assured them that we found the transition very positive, that what brought us back to Oak Bay was still here, that sense of community and friendly neighbourhoods, with landscapes, streetscapes and houses that make Oak Bay unique in the region.

I was interested then in this week’s Times Colonist editorial titled, “Growth Is Good If It’s Managed.”  The article praises the Greater Victoria region for an unequalled quality of life that continues to attract people to live here.  But there is a note of caution — while growth brings prosperity, the region must also be careful that development, as the editorial states, “does not detract from what makes Victoria wonderful.  Care should be taken to ensure new projects don’t detract, but complement and enhance [our] historical and natural ambience.”

I agree, especially now as an Oak Bay Council member and Council Liaison to the Heritage Commission, Foundation and Archives.  I am learning that possibly one of Oak Bay’s greatest land use challenges is, how to carefully plan and manage neighbourhood development and infill.  “Carefully” is the key word, given that the number of demolition requests for older homes in Oak Bay appears to be rising and the face of neighbourhoods is changing, as these older homes come down and new homes go up.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe that growth in this community will make Oak Bay sustainable, vital and inclusive well into the future.  But I also believe that while we grow and change, we must also carefully manage and protect, as assets, our built heritage and historical, natural landscapes. These create the context in which we define, identify and market Oak Bay’s unique character. Older homes also add to local accessible housing stock and are often more “affordable” than the new homes replacing them.

As the editorial stresses, development should “not detract from what makes [Oak Bay] wonderful.”  Just ask the dedicated volunteers who serve our Heritage Commission, Heritage Foundation and Archives.

Which is why I believe that Oak Bay needs a strategic plan for heritage; a qualified planner to assist our planning department so that we are not forced to make piecemeal land use decisions; and, concurrent bylaw initiatives to address the pressing need for careful and effective land use management.