As you know, there is a lot of debate at the community level these days about housing in Oak Bay, much of it recently focused on the Clive Drive redevelopment proposal. I want to provide you with some of my insights into the project, and hopefully address any misunderstanding or misinformation about my current position on the issue. Let me make my position clear — I remain sensitive to the concerns expressed by those who are opposed to this proposal.
When I first encountered the proposal last winter, I believed that it had some merit. The current Clive building is an older building that provides 9 rental units. While I realize that for many residents it is a landmark, the developer’s proposal to redevelop the Clive, which would result in 19 new rental units (based on the current plan), seemed like a reasonable option. The pluses were that there was potential to create a building that would meet modern, sustainable LEED building code standards, including accessibility, greater energy efficiency and earthquake resistance, in addition to new good quality housing on the Avenue, close to local small businesses and transportation amenities.
Before and since this proposal, many residents representing different age groups and areas of Oak Bay have talked to me about what they see as a gap in attainable housing options in our community. The major concern is that if a resident or a family cannot or does not want to live in a single family dwelling, but wants to live in Oak Bay, there are limited housing choices or options open to them.
For those who can no longer maintain their single family dwelling due to a change in personal circumstances, but want to stay here in Oak Bay (which is their home), they are faced with the same limited options. They ask, “Where will we go and must we leave this community, which is our home?” Hard questions with no easy answers.
They explained to me that if they want to rent, the rental stock in Oak Bay is dated and simply does not suit or meet their needs. Many acknowledge the fact that the last time anyone built new rental housing in Oak Bay was decades ago; to me, the Clive redevelopment proposal represents an opportunity to not only increase our housing options but also our rental housing stock.
“Development/redevelopment” may not be limited to buildings. The terms can address planning strategies of sustainable growth focused on enhancing our community now and for the future. For example, our community can provide carefully planned space to welcome new residents and their families, expand our tax base, support and build our community services such as recreation, volunteer organizations, local clubs, local schools and boost our local village economies; in other words, encourage development/redevelopment that adds value to the quality of life and vibrancy that are already hallmarks in Oak Bay. I am convinced that this is what most of us want.
I do not believe or agree that I have “pushed” the Clive proposal to where it is now. What I have done is try to find some middle ground between broader community needs for new rental housing and additional housing options and concerns of those residents who oppose this development — achieving balance on competing issues such as these is a fundamental challenge for all local governments.
How does one achieve this middle ground? Good question. At this stage, wanting additional opportunities for proper process, more input and information was my rationale. This rationale is reflected in my decision to move the proposal to the Advisory Design Panel (ADP), a suggestion made by planner Hope Burns in her most recent report to Council on the Clive.
This decision does not mean that this proposal will be approved. What it does mean is that there are still outstanding issues related to design, massing, green space and parking, issues that require further analyses and input. Obviously, six of us agreed and supported the motion to refer the proposal to the ADP.
Yes, between July 15 and September 9, I changed my vote. I changed my vote because I had time away from my community to think more about this issue. Upon my return in late August, I also continued to gather information by speaking with more residents and others of all ages. In fact, remaining flexible and open to new information are important to me as qualities for balanced decision-making — I continue to listen and analyze and do not regret my decision to refer the Clive proposal to the ADP. Most important, I did not and will not approach any decision with my mind already made up.
The existing Oak Bay Official Community Plan (OCP), currently under renewal, does not clearly define guidelines for density development such as the Clive proposal. While the Clive property is zoned for multifamily residential, detailed wording as to form and character and other important decision-making elements is not specific, a fact identified by Hope Burns, the planner contracted to Oak Bay to help us with the OCP renewal and with the Clive proposal.
I have consistently advocated for qualified planning expertise since the last municipal election. On major land use issues, without this expertise, I feel it is incredibly challenging for Council to make well informed land use decisions within the broader community context. If you don’t have a clear picture of the completed puzzle, how do you know where to put the pieces?
It seems that the combination of no planner and an OCP that does not adequately clarify or specify land use planning guidelines and principles, resulted in a series of spot zoning decisions that include the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, the Hamilton, Carlton House and the Penny Farthing Pub, among others. Frankly, in the absence of an updated OCP and a qualified planner, certainly not ideal conditions for well-informed relevant decision-making, spot zoning was and is one of the few tools available to help guide Council.
Planning tools are key to making informed and balanced land use decisions — the technical and visionary nature of community planning is complex to say the least. My desire is that Oak Bay will hire a permanent full-time planner to provide the kind of ongoing planning advice and support we need and I will continue to advocate for such expertise.
Finally, we all have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to shaping our future, through the OCP renewal process. A community survey will be launched this fall seeking your input. I urge you to take the time to respond.
Questions, comments? Please get in touch with me and thank you.