Reports from the Municipal Treasurer, highlights of Oak Bay Parks and Recreation Commission minutes and a series of land use applications made up the agenda. Major items included:
- Oak Bay Parks and Recreation
The tennis bubble replacement question grabbed much of Council’s attention related to questions about support for a permanent facility or structure in the long term vs. replacement with another bubble. While the decision to replace the bubble with another bubble is favoured and September 2014 has been idenified as the completion date for a new bubble, the Commission also agreed to strike a sub-committee to engage in longer term planning for a permanent indoor tennis facility.
Events for fall include:
Oak Bay Bike Festival September 22, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Henderson Fall Family Festival September 28, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Oak Leaves Bazaar, Monterey Centre, October 20, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
An item that caught my attention was related to facility rental. The Commission talked about whether municipal commissions/committees should have free access to meeting space. This poses a challenge because meeting rooms are heavily used for programming, with a potential for negative impacts on budgeting.
I happen to feel that wherever possible, the municipality should make an effort to provide free meeting space to its Council-appointed commissions/committees, notwithstanding the competing pressures for program space. But I also empathize with staff’s point about negative budget impacts. I am pleased to see, therefore, that municipal staff have been asked to explore policy options related to use of meeting space and I suggested that commission/committee chairs be included for their input on what they would like/need.
- To Duplex or Not to Duplex
A proposal for a duplex at the corner of Estevan and Cadboro Bay Road was back for more discussion and public input. You may recall that no duplexes have been built in Oak Bay since about 1966 so I am supportive of this proposal in principle, believe it has merit and would like to see it move forward, provided it has community support. There are about 200 duplex units currently in Oak Bay.
The applicant in this case has presented us with a strong design, albeit exceeding the current bylaw that regulates mass related to lot size. Some members of Council argued that, while this appears to be a good proposal, the timing is wrong given that our review of the OCP has just started and shouldn’t we wait until the review is completed in 18 months or so.
Consultation with the public was also cited as important but others pointed out that consultation would occur if and when this proposal reached a public hearing.
I argued against waiting for completion of the OCP review, pointing out that we could lose this proposal and the opportunity to build housing stock that already exists and provides more housing options in Oak Bay. After much discussion, Council agreed to refer this back to staff so that they can draft a new duplex zone, with guidelines and conditions consistent with the current OCP, for further review and discussion.
Some members also pointed out the negatives of spot zoning and normally, I would agree. But in the absence of an urban planner, combined with a timely opportunity to provide housing choices and a chance to do something different on a site that seems compatible with the surrounding area, I believe that we take the risk, test public sentiment and have faith that our community is open to and ready for a project of this kind.
I hope that we can move this forward and, after 50 years, I don’t feel we are rushing anything. The location seems logical, is consistent with other duplexes on the street and in the neighbourhood, is a quality design by a local OB architect and has involved ongoing consultation with adjacent neighbours as to sighting and impacts. Stay tuned…
- Future of Municipal Hampshire Property Contemplated
The future of 1531 Hampshire, a house owned and rented by the municipality for some years, is up for discussion and public input on its future use. Suggestions about what to do with the property have ranged from creating a new parking lot to support commerce on the Avenue, to creating green space and a new park for residents to enjoy.
At the Mayor’s suggestion, Council agreed that an urban planner be hired to guide this process, including public consultation, on future uses for this property. Staff were asked to come back to Council with details about cost and terms of engagement for contracting an urban planner.
- Note to Self – “Hire a Qualified Planner”
As you know, I have been strongly advocating for a qualified part-time urban planner for Oak Bay, since the last election, culminating in a recent note from me to my Council colleagues on this subject.
I continue to believe the lack of in-house expertise and capacity creates challenging and difficult issues for staff, for Council and for our community, in addressing planning/land use. And my opinion is shared by countless residents who have contacted me.
But I must make it clear that my opinion on planning is not a criticism of our existing Building and Planning Dept. staff. They do the best they can with the resources they have at their disposal.
We are hiring a planning consultant to guide us through the OCP review but without an in-house qualified planner on staff, I am concerned that it may be difficult for the municipality to anchor the new document, to ensure that its community vision, values and plan are well implemented and supported over the long term. So, I will continue to advocate for qualified planning staff.
Finally, I will ask this question: “Is the cost of not having a qualified planner on staff in Oak Bay greater in the long run?” Food for thought.