Highlights of September 9 Council Meeting


(Looking from our Edinburgh flat on the Royal Mile out to the New Town)

Before I write about this week’s Council meeting, I want to share with you some observations during our summer holiday in Iceland, Scotland and England.

The Blend of Old and New – Traveling is always a great learning experience for me and our trip this summer was no exception.  This holiday provided many examples of interesting transitions between the past and the present, from urban to rural, from city to countryside and from village to village.

As Council Liaison to Oak Bay Heritage, I have a renewed interest in how urban centres such as Reykjavik, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York and London address the needs of growth and new development and still manage to protect and preserve their built heritage and significant history.  Green space and gathering places seem to predominate, as well as the creation of buffer zones that soften the movement from density housing to neighbourhood streets that include conversion, row, semi-detached and detached housing.

In Edinburgh, one definitely must look up when walking through the city, otherwise, one misses so much of the overwhelmingly beautiful old architecture that sets Edinburgh apart from other cities in Britain.

While these are urban centres that include large cities such as London, (Reykajavik is the smallest, given that Iceland’s total population is about 325,000), all of them have undergone new housing and commercial development in the past 20 years.

There are excellent examples of blending landscapes in Glasgow, York and Edinburgh related to the mix of old and new neighbourhoods and housing.  Admittedly, population density and diversity are very different from communities in this region; but all of these European centres are working hard to protect historical places while making room for new development.  Looking through a heritage lens, it was fascinating for me to travel, visit and explore each of these wonderful locations.

  • Clive Drive Development Proposal

The major item on Monday night’s agenda was the proposal for a new rental apartment building at the corner of Clive Drive and Oak Bay Avenue.  As you know, this proposal has been on our agenda off and on since last December and the applicant has made some changes to the original design.  The Clive proposal has its detractors and its supporters but wherever you stand on the proposal, a lot of debate has been generated in most corners of the municipality, some positive and some negative.

So it was no surprise that it was a packed house at the Council meeting, with standing room only.  Ahead of this week’s meeting was also a flurry of activity at the community level, with a citizens’ pamphlet developed and distributed by concerned residents, websites, petitions. letters and e-mails that clearly expressed how residents feel about the Clive proposal.

Three big issues for those most concerned about this proposal appear to be massing of the building on the existing lot, setbacks (especially to the north) and parking.  Statements about setting a precedent and having to amend the Official Community Plan to allow this development were included in circulated materials and referenced by some residents who spoke during the public participation period.  Council subsequently spent time before our debate asking staff to clarify facts and correct misinformation.  In particular, we learned from our planner Hope Burns, that no amendment to our current OCP is required for the proposal as it currently stands.

After listening to staff, residents and other Council members, and expressing my own thoughts on the situation, I made a motion to refer this application to Oak Bay’s Advisory Design Panel (a suggestion from our planner Ms. Burns) for their assessment and comments, especially on issues of massing, setbacks, green space and streetscape.

It’s the best option at this stage, mainly because I would also like to hear from those less vocal residents who do not come to meetings.  I am also concerned about the apparent anger and anxiety expressed by some residents and believe that my motion (it passed 6 to 1) represents a good compromise, given that there are aspects of the proposal that have merit.

The proposal and a report from the Advisory Design Panel should come back to a Committee of the Whole meeting sometime in early October.  Stay tuned…

  • Other Items

Oak Bay High School construction was discussed and the School District requested the removal of a large tree that sits in the middle of what is planned as a playing field.  I voted with Council to approve this request.

I voted with Council to approve the BIA’s request to hold the Pumpkin Art event again this year, one that is popular with the community.

Two heritage homes slated for renovations and improvements were discussed and one was approved, however, I voted with Council to place a 60-day protection order on 2086 Byron St. pending a referral to the Heritage Commission.

A community survey was presented to Council by the CAO for final approval.  The survey forms a key part of the Official Community Plan renewal process.  I voted with Council to approve the survey following a brief discussion on the questionnaire, related to some wording and suggested timelines.

I proposed a resolution to adopt the “Mayors for Peace” initiative, an item originally brought to our attention by the Mayor for our consideration.  This is a nuclear disarmament coalition of cities that supports total abolition of nuclear weapons and, in 1990, was registered as an NGO with the United Nations Department of Public Information.  Mayors from communities in 157 countries and regions around the world (5,664 cities in all) have signed on to this initiative so Oak Bay is in good company.   While some Councillors argued against adopting the resolution because they believe that it is outside our jurisdiction and may impact staff time, the resolution passed.  I happen to believe that leadership is a call to action and I will support any initiative that focuses community leaders on world peace.  BTW, I understand that virtually no staff time will be needed to support this initiative.

  • Great News

I am pleased to tell you that Oak Bay has a new permanent Chief Administrative Officer, Ms. Helen Koning.  The announcement appears on our municipal website as of a few minutes ago.  After a nation-wide search, I believe that Ms. Koning brings to Oak Bay a variety of strong skills that will take our Municipality and our community into the future.  Please refer to the website for further details.  I understand that Ms. Koning commences her duties on November 4, 2013.

  • Make a Note

Oak Bay Heritage is pleased to present the following lecture series:

September 18 – 7:00 PM, Windsor Park Pavilion, “The Art of Oak Bay Gardens” – John Lucas

October 16 – 7:00 PM, Windsor Park Pavilion, “Mutiny from the Willows Camp; Canada’s Forgotten Siberian Expedition” – Dr. Ben Isitt

November 20 – 7:00 PM, Windsor Park Pavilion, “Oak Bay Architecture:  Celebrating 150 Years” – Nick Russell