As I promised before the Canada Day long weekend, I want to share with you my comments (on public record) to support my recent decision of June 27, 2012 to deny the Oak Bay Lodge proposal based on the developer’s request for variances on height and parking.
Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.
My Remarks on OB Lodge
June 27, 2012
Special Oak Bay Council Meeting
- To set the context for this decision (and others like it), we must recognize that local government has become increasingly complex, largely due to provincial government devolution of programs and services.
- This creates a climate of increasing pressure for local government decision-makers to address not only local land use and infrastructure, but also other community issues related to social and health programs and housing.
- I would like to thank the scores of residents who contacted me throughout the consultation process.
- I would like to thank our municipal staff for their support and my Council colleagues for their input, the consultants and Baptist Housing, VIHA, the CRD and other public officials who have contacted me.
- Such extensive feedback has helped to prepare and inform my decision on this proponent’s request for parking and height variances for the re-development of Oak Bay Lodge.
- Nevertheless, all of the available information makes this no less a challenging decision for me.
- As you know, I am an advocate for community planning that includes qualified planning expertise at the local level.
- On page 4 of the Focus report, it states that Oak Bay’s “level of interest and concern should not be ignored… “ particularly in “…an absence of a structure to manage complex community issues. The complexity of the planning process should not be underestimated.” I would agree.
- And because decision-makers are not planning experts, we need this type of vision and guidance when addressing developments of this scale.
- The Oak Bay Lodge is a case in point.
I also believe that equal partnerships between government, communities and service providers, including community consultation that is timely and transparent, must also be fundamental to community planning.
A key statement for me is the report’s observation that “Communities must develop and grow in a collaborative environment rather than reviewing single structures in isolation.” I agree.
I believe that Oak Bay residents, on both sides of this proposal, recognize that Oak Bay does and should fulfill its regional responsibility in providing health care services for seniors and their families.
And what’s also clear to me, based on community feedback, is that Oak Bay residents want to participate fully and equally in planning for their future.
Finally, I want to stress that residents not supporting this specific proposal should not be unfairly cast as opposed to seniors’ health and residential care in Oak Bay — without exception, every resident who has expressed their opposition to the BH proposal, both publicly at meetings, through consultations and in writing, has at the same time, expressed their unqualified support for locating and expanding quality seniors’ care in this community.
Those who are opposed to the proposal have stated repeatedly that the new building will be simply too high and too large on the current site.
I cannot ignore that the proposed height seems to have created anxiety and uncertainty for residents about the future of their neighbourhood.
This appears to be, in part, supported by the Focus Report on Page 6, that states: “increased height will bring new impacts to the area such as more light at night from residents’ rooms and common areas, built-form higher than existing tree tops, and potential noise from mechanical equipment at a higher elevation.”
I acknowledge that the applicant has attempted to relieve this hardship by lowering the average grade, by blasting to remove material and lower the first floor to lower the roofline and compact the building to the central portion of the site to alleviate this extra massing.
The applicant has tried to work with the municipality and the site by making design concessions and alterations, between last November and now, related primarily to access and egress, and pulling the building back to the center of the property to lessen its impact.
But the Focus Report and results of community consultation still point to the problematic height of the proposed building, suggesting that it “does not lend itself to the character of the existing community at its current location.”
“The excessive height affects view scapes, negatively affects the surrounding character of the community and does not “fit” with the surrounding neighbourhood…”
This observation seems consistent with the majority of input, with individual observations and with photos showing visual results of the balloon testing. On Parking: The report states that the parking can be “handled” and “adequately absorbed” by existing road infrastructure, including increased traffic.
But for me, there is no clear definition or technical analysis of what “handled” “or adequately absorbed” mean, especially in the context of this location, in this neighbourhood, related to peak use, volume, intersecting traffic from two nearby schools, pedestrians, public transit, and emergency and general traffic to meet the needs of a facility of this size and function.
While the report states that “there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the proposed use could not function within the proposed parking allocation,” I am aware that this report also does not provide compelling evidence to suggest that it could.
Nor does it address in any detail potential implications of construction traffic impacts specific to this area, for this proposal and for the planned new Oak Bay High School development.
Oak Bay also recently established an Active Transportation Committee that is recommending the concept of a complete streets policy and planning model.
Related to traffic and alternate forms of transportation, how compatible the Oak Bay Lodge proposal would be with such a model is not at this time clear.
The issues are complex and are more difficult because they touch on the technical, the social and the emotional.
As well, the Focus Report raises for me more questions and concerns than it answers, falls short of a more thorough technical analysis related to the two variance requests on height and parking and focuses on some issues that are simply outside our scope of decision-making.
Resident feedback has been thoughtful, well researched and direct; it seems to represent a broad spectrum of community opinion related to where people live, their demographic and their position on this proposal, demonstrating that Oak Bay is truly diverse.
And this feedback confirms that Oak Bay cares about and embraces public community-based seniors’ health care, recognizing that it is essential for the future.
But Oak Bay strongly believes that such care facilities should be carefully planned and situated, taking into consideration community and neighbourhood context, impacts both positive and negative, public accessibility and cost.
Some resident feedback may also reflect the community’s reaction to and interpretation and perception of how this proposal was originally developed, determined and presented to this community.
Under all the circumstances, including the results of public consultation and given overwhelming feedback from the community, I am unable to support the proponent’s current request for height and parking variances on this site and, therefore, deny their requests.
While there is no question that seniors’ public health care is a priority for Oak Bay and it would be untrue to suggest otherwise, the current proposal for height and parking would be precedent setting and potentially place an unnecessary burden on the largely residential area surrounding this site.
Oak Bay Lodge has a long history in this community of providing compassionate and effective public health care for seniors, a standard that we want for ourselves and for our loved ones.
My hope is that a new plan for seniors’ public health care at this site will still emerge, one grounded in collaborative decision-making with the community and the municipality, one that achieves innovative solutions for a continuum of care at a sustainable public facility.