SO NEAR BUT YET SO F.A.R. – December 3 Committee of the Whole Meeting Highlights


  • Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Bylaw Provisions Dominate Meeting

You will remember the controversy and subsequent protests earlier this year related to big houses on small lots (RS4 and RS5 lots).  A group of neighbours argued that Oak Bay’s existing zoning bylaw that defines “floor area regulations” and lot coverage (FAR), was a major factor that allows new home construction they believe threatens neighbourhood integrity, streetscapes and green space.  Council agreed to ask staff to review the zoning bylaw and report to a Committee of the Whole meeting later this year.  The report was submitted at this week’s COW and residents, builders and architects attended to provide feedback.

This is a complex subject that can challenge Council members and professionals alike.  Making what seem like simple “tweaks” to our zoning bylaw can cause other “unintended consequences” that impact not only new construction but renovations to older homes.  It was for these reasons that the bylaw was amended in 2007, changes that some residents now argue have had negative results. 

But we learned from the majority of professionals who attended and spoke at the meeting, that Oak Bay’s current zoning bylaw allows flexibility within well defined regulations — the rules are clear.  Some argue that the existing bylaw is workable and provides necessary controls that protect neighbourhood character.  Others admitted that minor changes to the bylaw would better protect immediate neighbours, streetscape and green space. 

What is clear to me is that zoning bylaws differ from municipality to municipality, that there is no “one size fits all,” and that there is a range of opinion about how Oak Bay’s bylaw is interpreted and applied.  I argue that changes to zoning can only be done within the context of a broader planning framework, anchored by qualified planning principles and expertise.  This is a complex issue and I have learned that when emotion and politics are at play, an even greater challenge to find the best solution, one that is fair and equitable, is created.

At the end of the night, there was general consensus that more work needs to be done.  I therefore made a motion to refer the matter to another Committee of the Whole meeting for further discussion, and included a request of staff to explore in the meantime the viability of a working committee (of residents, Council members and staff) and additional planning expertise to guide the work.  The motion passed unanimously.

Thanks to members of the public who attended and participated in the meeting.  It was a great help.

  • Bumps in Oak Bay’s Road Network 

A detailed study of Oak Bay’s road network reveals that long term costs to maintain high standards on paved surfaces will escalate over time.  Oak Bay commissioned EBA Engineering Consultants to conduct a pavement management system report and their findings were presented to Council this week.  The report generated questions from Council about data use and analysis, budget management and the need to ensure that high volume roads are addressed as priorities in  developing maintenance and repair schedules. 

Our Engineering Department will continue to refine a plan to address the consultant’s conclusion, “that the road network cannot be maintained at the current funding levels ($300,000 annually).  Without a significant increase in funding to a minimum of $1.3M a year, the network condition will not improve and the District’s backlog “debt” along with the annual maintenance costs will continue to climb.”  It was noted that infrastructure grants may be available to augment funding costs and Oak Bay will continue to explore such opportunities.

The report was received for information.

  • Taxi Stand Approved

A request to allow a taxi stand on Oak Bay Ave. to accommodate riders with mobility issues, was approved by Council. 

  • Other Engineering-Related Topics

Residents wanting to explore costs and engineering factors to relocate overhead electrical cables on their street were referred to Oak Bay’s Engineer Dave Marshall for further information.  The costs related to relocation are high and residents are on the hook to fund these costs themselves.  BC Hydro will provide information to residents interested in pursuing relocation and Oak Bay’s Engineer agreed to serve as initial contact person.

Council approved a request by Oak Bay Beach Hotel for new signage that allows temporary 15 minute parking in front of the new Kate’s Cafe.