Oak Bay is looking for a few good people

…to serve on various boards and committees. The terms run for one or two years and start in December. So which committees need people?

Advisory Design Committee

This group works with developers and builders looking to construct new buildings in the municipality from a design perspective. However, all applicants must be registered architects with the Architectural Institute of BC, which has a fairly stringent application process.

Oak Bay Parks and Recreation Commission

They oversee the running of the various facilities and programs that Recreation Oak Bay runs. Interest in parks and recreation recommended.

Recognition of Renovation and Building Achievement Awards Panel

This little known group hands out awards for new developments and renos.

Heritage Committee

The Heritage Commitee is responsible for the historical archives, researches various historical mattesr and maintains inventories of historical properties, including those on the Heritage Register as well as a whole host of other responsibilities. This is not the Heritage Advisory Panel, which deals more directly with the Heritage Register and other regulatory matters. The full division of labour between them and the Heritage Foundation is clearly explained on this Heritage Oak Bay page.

The deadline for applications is Tuesday, November 3rd. and needs to go to Lorraine Hilton, the municipal secretary. Full details here (PDF).


Come support Oak Bay Sea Rescue tomorrow night

Dallas Rd. storm
Dallas Rd. storm. Photo credit flickr user dewolfe0001. License CC by sa 2.0

Tomorrow night the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society, Coast Guard Aux. Unit 33, is up before council for a rezoning request for their new boat house. The Times Colonist has covered the story half-decently, but I thought I would point out a few more things

1. The $4,000/year they are paying for rent for their second boat could and should be used for rescue equipment, like an automatic debribulator that they want to buy.
2. If they don’t get it built this season, their new boat risks serious damage in the upcoming storm season

3. The Oak Bay Marine Group has never seen fit to actually attend any council/comm. of the whole meeting where this has been discussed in the past 6 months, despite being invited. In contrast the OBSR has been out at every meeting and sat patiently to get their turn to speak.

4. The new boat house will only be slightly larger (about 10′ longer and about 5′ wider) than the existing boat house. From Beach Drive I seriously doubt anybody will notice the difference.

Lastly and most importantly: This is an all volunteer outfit that protects you, the average user of the water. As Jeffery Dubney of the society said to me,

Members risk their lives for others and they should not
have to prepare for a mission at 2 AM  in sub zero temperatures by being
forced to put on protective clothing outside in driving rain in 50 mph winds
because there is no room in the existing boat house.

It usually isn’t during the sunny, nice days they called out. It is times like this storm on Dallas Rd. in the picture that they go out and rescue people who have gotten into trouble. So come out tomorrow at 7:30pm at the Municipal Hall and support the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society in their bid to provide better service for all users of the water.

Notes from last nights council meeting

For the second time in a row, a report from the council meeting last night. The meeting was the usual grab bag of stuff such as variance and bylaw approvals, plus the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the new Sea Rescue boat house. Also discussed but not on the agenda was the latest on sewage treatment. The bench was shy two last night, with both Mayor Causton and Hazel Braithwaite away, leaving Nils Jensen as acting Mayor.

Rough map of Island View Park acquisition
Rough map of Island View Park acquisition

First up was a presentation by the CRD on their acquisition of a piece of land to attach to Island View Park, as they announced last month. The plan involves the piece of land seen on the right, which will then be split up. In very crude terms, roughly the red portion west of the ridge, which is in the ALR, would be sold and the yellow portion added to the park. The total cost would be $4.7 million, of which about half is expected to be recouped via the sale of the western half.  In the end, the council voted for the acquisition.

Next up were block parties. There were quite a few of them. I plan on having a full post with all the upcoming block parties, including maps later this week, but the interesting bit for those wishing to host them is that getting approval might be about to get a whole lot easier. Councillor Jensen asked if staff could handle these requests in the future, which would require rewriting the bylaw, so don’t expect this done until the fall at the earliest.

In new business, Herbert gave a quick update on the sewage treatment. As was covered in the press, the sewage treatment committee has recommended that the CRD go for the 3 site option. Due to the byzantine politics in the region, this doesn’t mean we are necessarily getting 3 plants. The sewage committee only recommends a solution to the whole CRD board and they make the final decision.

Haro Woods - Photo courtesy Cadboro Bay Residents Association
Haro Woods - Photo courtesy Cadboro Bay Residents Association

Adding to the fun are 3 public hearings next week on the potential Haro Woods station (schedule of meetings). Officially these meetings are to discuss a sewage plant in Saanich East or North Oak Bay, but given the CRD already owns the Haro Woods lands, this is kind of a cart/horse thing. Of course, if enough people bitch, another site might get considered. This means that North Oak Bay could get a treatment site and have no public hearings, a fact that made more than one councillor quite annoyed. This isn’t the first time that Oak Bay has been ignored, this happened during the last round as well. In fact, the last time the sewage people were in Oak Bay was in April and over the history of the project they have only come to Oak Bay a half dozen times.

Onwards from sewage brings us to variances to construction bylaws, of which only 2218 Central Ave raised major issues. This is a request to reduce the number of parking spots from the required two to just one. Given parking’s generative effect on traffic, this is a good thing. Sadly, Allan Cassidy didn’t see it that way, asking “what is so wrong with the current bylaw that we keep granting exceptions?” In response, both Jensen and  Ney thought that the whole bylaw should be reconsidered, given that we should be reducing car use and encouraging gardens, not asphalt. We can only hope that this happens. In the end, the variance passed 3 to 2, with Herbert and Cassidy opposed.

During the last council meeting while discussing 2218 Central, it was discovered that any councillor can bring back any motion for reconsideration at the next meeting. This time it was the potential tree bylaw amendment which was defeated on a tie. It allows removal of trees that damage significant structures as well as a blanket provision for council to allow removal of a tree if they feel it harms a residents way of life. Herbert thought that council should have a “sober second look”, which led to much back and forth about “opening the floodgates” for reconsidering bylaws and talk about a general review in the fall. In the end, the whole matter was deferred until they have a whole council there. I predict this isn’t the last time that a councillor brings back a motion for reconsideration and thus won’t be the last time we get to hear Cassidy talk about the “slippery slope”.

Which brings us to the last item of the evening, the new boat house saga. The basics are that the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society needs a new boat house for the new, bigger boat that they just got. However, given provincial law and zoning, they need a new water lease to build the bigger boat house. The major sticking point is the ability to dock either Sea Rescue’s older boat or a rescued vessel alongside the new boathouse. OB Marine Group doesn’t like because they claim it will constrain their ability to dock vessels near the boathouse. At the end of the night, after discussing and rejecting a compromise that would just allow construction of the boathouse without the mooring, the whole issue will end up a public hearing on June 22nd. Expect a longer piece from me about the whole issue later this week.

There was actually a Times Colonist reporter in the audience last night, a realitive rarity. Apparently this whole boathouse issue is big enough news to get coverage. Given the rumours of the demise of the Oak Bay News, the future of reporting in Oak Bay looks bleak.

Notes from last night’s council meeting

Last night’s council meeting was an interesting one, not just because of the content but also because there were several split votes, a relative rarity in Oak Bay. There was also a whole variety of things covered, from the Bowker Creek watershed to variances and a shiny red firetruck. See the full agenda (PDF) for the whole list. Nils Jensen was missing tonight and having only 6 did lead to two split votes.

First up was a presentation by Tanis Douglas, Bowker Creek Initative Coordinator, and Jody Watson, chair of the BCI, about the BCI’s activities in 2008 and proposed activities in 2009. Tanis gave the bulk of the presentation then Jody then finished with a few final points and a call for funding for 2010 through 2012. There was a lot of discussion about the BCI, but council ultimately approved in principle funding the BCI going into the future.. I will have a more detailed post later today about the BCI’s presentation to council but for now, you can read BCI’s 2008 Annual Report (PDF) or the minutes from 2007’s council meeting about the 2007 report.

The Fire Chief then presented his after-the-fact request for council to approve a funding request to the Union of BC Municipality’s Age-Friendly Communities Initiative. Part of the larger World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities, this funding is provided by the provincial and federal governments and Oak Bay is asking for $10,000 to map concentrations of vulnerable people and their potential routes to emergency services. I hope they make as much of data available as possible, in the spirit of open government.

The usually boring variance section of the agenda was far from that tonight. One of the most controversial applications was for 2064 Penzance, seen on the map of the right. The new house there had a wall that was over the allowed height and a stop work order had to placed on the building for that and a few other issues. Neighbours of the house were uniformly against it, with several showing up to talk about how the builder had failed to do any community consultation and their fears that the building would be flipped. Apparently the owner or builder was in the audience, but chose not to speak. Ultimately council voted against the variance request 6 to 0.

Interestingly, Tara asked about and was told that due to the way the bylaws are written, the owner can take down the wall and put up a roof 1′ higher than the existing wall, a gaming of the bylaws as with the Panorama Rec. Centre’s new slide.

Also controversial was a parking variance request for 1 space instead of 2. The bylaw (PDF) requires:

Two (2) parking spaces per dwelling unit, one of which shall be within a building.

which is totally crazy. Parking is a generator of traffic and if anything the municipality should be trying to reduce the amount of parking, not expand it. Also, parking spaces are usually impermeable, so adding more paved land isn’t going in the right direction to Ian Graeme of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society’s goal of 10% permeability (average residential is about 40%-50%. I don’t know what the exact % is for Oak Bay).

The whole parking issue also was amusing for us policy geeks, as the motion to table the motion for variance to allow notice to be given was defeated. This is not the motion to approve the variance, merely the motion to let staff give notice to neighbours that the variance request has been filed in case they want to write and/or speak about it at the next council meeting. However, this left the request in limbo, until a consultation of the Community Charter revealed that the Mayor or any Councillor can request a revote on any motion at that meeting or the next one. No, that didn’t have to make sense. Just know that the inner workings of council are very strictly regulated by provincial law, primarily the Local Government Act and the Community Charter.This often ties council into doing this certain ways.

The third contentious issue that has come up a bunch is the Tree Protection Bylaw and how to amend it. The one debated today allowed the council to make a ruling that any tree could be removed if it caused hardship to the owner, something no other tree protection bylaw has. Braithwaite spoke forcefully for following what the Parks & Recreation Commission suggested to take notes over the course of a year or so and then do a single large amendment, rather than piecemeal edit it. Thankfully today’s motion was defeated, but it was an interesting matchup with Herbert, Ney and Causton for and Cassidy, Braithwaite and Copley against. Not your usual “party line” vote.

And in more interesting news, Oak Bay is a getting a shiny hybrid fire engine. It will likely be painted red. Oak Bay was also compared to Rio de Janeiro and New York tonight, in reference to the house on Penzance. This adds to the list of Oak Bay being compared to downtown Vancouver a few months back. Those who wish to attend council in the summer, it has a greatly reduced schedule with Committee of the Whole meetings on July 13th and August 10th and Council meetings on July 20th and August 17th.

On tomorrow night’s Council agenda

Tomorrow night the Council has a fairly busy schedule, with a few things that people might want to comment on:

  • Renewal of funding for Bowker Creek Initiative – Come and speak for this as the BCI is a critical cross-municipality body for the preservation and rehabiliation of Bowker Creek
  • Summer Council & Comm. of the Whole schedule – Come see when Council and Comm. of the Whole is going to meet during the summer. Usually they cut the schedule down due to holidays.
  • A variety of development variances – most of these are likely uncontrovertial, but 2064 Penzance has a bunch of letter associated with it, which often means at least a few people are bothered about it.

Read the full agenda (PDF). Sadly, they don’t assign unique file names, so this will always point to the latest council agenda, not the one specific to May 25th.

As per usual, the Council meets in the Council Chambers of the Oak Bay Municipal Hall (2167 Oak Bay Ave) starting at 7:30pm. The meeting is likely to take at least 2 hours, given its length.

Notes from last night’s forum on urban watersheds and forests

Tree on the bank of Bowker Creek
Tree on the bank of Bowker Creek

Last night the Friends of Bowker Creek Society and the Oak Bay Green Committee co-hosted a well-attended forum on urban watersheds and urban forests. The forum was an outgrowth of an internal effort by the Green Committee to get arborist Jeremy Gye to speak to them but ended up growing into the public forum with both Jeremy and Ian Graeme of the Friends of Bowker Creek speaking.

Jeremy’s talk was an excellent introduction to the values and challenges of trees in the urban context. He recently finished doing work for the City of Victoria looking at their urban forest and the massive challenge they face in the near future due to their mostly uniform age trees. This is also a problem that Oak Bay faces and given most of these trees are reaching the end of their life, both municipalities are going to need to spend a lot of time and money not only replacing those trees but also working with the public to understand the process and get them involved with it.

Ian’s talk on Bowker Creek was shorter and covered the watershed aspects of the evening. Aside from a basic introduction to what a watershed is, he gave us a tour down Bowker Creek by canoe. Given all the culverts, this involved a great deal of portaging down streets like Shelbourne. I would love to see a canoe race down Bowker Creek  as a way to fundraise for the Society and raise awareness of Bowker Creek in general. One of the more serious ideas presented was the idea of a Bowker Creek Greenway (PDF). Ian made the point that the new Baptist Housing lacks easy access to Bowker Creek Park, as the section right by the Rec. Centre is bounded on either side by parking lots, a sad waste of an opportunity if I have ever seen one.

There were also excellent tasty treats and coffee, a must for any public event. Half the time I think that people show up just to get some free food. Speaking of people, I was pleased to see both Councillors Tara Ney and John Herbert come out. I have said this in the past and I will say it again: Tara’s election has been a major boon for Oak Bay and she has made an excellent councillor even in the few short months since she has been elected. I am continuely disappointed at how few community events our elected representatives come out to.

After the two talks and a bit of eating, there was a short discussion period, which raised several excellent points about education, especially to the young. One suggestion made was to have a package of information to new home-owners to tell them about what sorts of native trees and habitat are already on their propety, in the hopes that they preserve it. One commentor also lamented the lack of native flowers at Buchart Gardens, noting that there were only native trees.

With the challenges of getting preserving and increasing the size of the urban forest, Jeremy noted that an excellent source of Garry Oak seedlings are uncut lawns. Lots of yards with mature Oak trees, if left uncut would yield dozens of seedlings. Maybe Oak Bay Tourism could sell these native trees instead of palm trees. I am not holding my breath.

In the next month or so there will be a bunch of events surrounding Bowker Creek. On the 30th of this month there is a cleanup and rubber ducky race. The cleanup starts at 10am behind Oak Bay High and the race at noon near the fire hall. On June 13th there will be a Bowker Creek Celebration Walk starting at 1pm in the upper parking lot of the Oak Bay Recreation Centre.

Overall, it was an excellent event. I am glad that the Oak Bay Green Committee and the Friends of Bowker Creek Society were able to put it on and like several people mentioned, there is sense that maybe change is in the air. Maybe in the next few years, we will get critical mass on getting a greenway built along Bowker Creek, connecting Oak Bay into the Lochside Trail and beyond.

As a final note, this coming Monday, the 25th, Council will be debating their continued support of the multi-municipality Bowker Creek Initiative. It is vital that the funding for this continue, so come out at 7:30pm at the Municipal Hall and tell council to support Bowker Creek and fund the BCI.

A few thoughts on tonight’s town hall meeting

Mayor and council held a poorly-publicized open house tonight at Windsor Pavillion. Despite that fact, the attendance wasn’t too bad, as about 20 people attended the two hour event. As an open forum, the topics wandered, from tree preservation to secondary suites to improving the website. I did note a few things:

  • Oak Bay’s tree preservation bylaw “scares” a lot of arborists, as it is apparently quite strict. Given how endangered the Garry Oak is, this is probably a good thing. However, whether or not the bylaw going to become a major challenge as our urban forest ages and needs replacement in the next 10 to 20 years is an unknown. The science of tree removal is also not well understood, so some education is going to be needed to help people understand why apparently healthy looking trees are being cut down.
  • The secondary suites committee is finally meeting. This can only be a good thing. Notice of the secondary suite committee will be sent out via property tax notices, which misses renters. However, when I pointed this out, both council and I agreed that there is no good method to reach renters, especially those in existing illegal secondary suites.
  • The website was raised a lot. Yes, I still owe Chris Causton a short page or so about how to improve the website.
  • The room’s layout was very much like a council meeting, with the mayor and council at tables at the front and the public sitting in seats facing them. While it helped focus the meeting, it made it hard for various members of the public to sometimes see and hear the other members of the public were speaking. Alan Cassidy should be praised for choosing not to sit behind a table and Tara and Pam for following suit.
  • The covered bike racks that are likely to go in on the Avenue were mentioned, specifically council was praised for driving that initiative. It does illustrate the woeful lack of bike parking in the municipality and the fact that we don’t even really know where all those racks are and what state they are in.

There is probably a great deal I am forgetting, but all in all, it was a good meeting. I have no idea when the next one is going to be or what sort of format it will follow. I hope we can have a more mingling style social event, maybe with a like/dislike wall and some maps of the municipality. Refreshments would have been nice, even if just a few cookies, drinks, etc. But kudos to the mayor and council for taking the step to be out there in a more informal but planned gathering. I look forward to announcement of the next town hall meeting.

Bike parking on the Avenue

At tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the council discussed the addition of covered bicycle parking to the avenue. Apparently instigated by the Mayor, this is long overdue recognition that bike parking on the Avenue is sub-par. Currently there are no covered spots anywhere on the Avenue and even the few racks that do exist are substandard, such as the ancient metal rack at the corner of Fairway Market closest to the Municipal Hall.

The plan presented at tonights meeting initially called for the removal of two parking spots on Wilmot on the eastern side closest to the Avenue. Councillor Herbert mentioned that there is a lack of handicapped parking on the Avenue and these two spots might make a good location for them and the bike parking could be moved to the north end of Wilmot right by Theatre Lane. Thankfully Tara Ney suggested that rather than moving them further away from the Avenue, the lawn of the Municipal Hall might make a better place, between the small information stand and the building itself.

As for what they will look like, there were two examples given, one from in front of the MEC building downtown:
mec bike shelter complete

This is quite a modern design. There is also this much older design seen around UVic:
uvic shelter 101

(Both photos credit John Luton of Capital Bike and Walk and more recently a Victoria City Councillor. He has an excellent set about Best Practices and another, Bike Parking 101.)

Estimated at around $20,000 for purchase and installation, the question of where the money will come from came up. A recent change to the Local Government Act allows municipal governments to take money out of their parking funds and put it into funding alternative forms of travel: walking, biking and transit. As such, Oak Bay is apparently going to be setting up an Alternative Transportation Infrastructure Fund, although no money has yet been moved around.

As the money will likely come out of the parking fund, Council decided that the Business Improvement Area who represent businesses on the Avenue, should be consulted on any spending of the parking fund on things other than parking. I am a little worried we’ll get some classic old-school 20th century thinking from them, but we will see.

Overall, I am hopeful that the bicycling community here in Oak Bay may not have to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of bicycle infrastructure. I was also heartened that during the nearly hour long discussion of the the traffic problem at the corner of Cadboro Bay and Bowker, several residents mentioned that bike lanes in the area is something they would like to see, even at the expense of parking. All in all, 2009 should be a good year for biking here in Oak Bay.

Council meeting Monday, new apartments approved on Haultain

I went to the council meeting on Monday night and was pleased to see that some new apartments are coming to an existing apartment building at 2181 Haultain. The owner is going to divide a 5000 sq ft space into two apartments, renovating up some dead space that apparently had been used as commercial office.

You would think that the current council would have supported this right away, given the extreme need for rental accommodation in this city. Instead, the owner, who wanted to put in five units, almost didn’t succeed. The development needed a variance to do with parking spaces and the subsequent discussion almost killed the proposal.

The irony of allowing two units instead of five is that anybody who is wealthy enough to rent a 2500 sq ft apartment in Oak Bay is likely wealthy enough to own two cars. Or they get rented by students, all of whom might have cars. The net result is that it is unlikely that this will produce less parking problems than the five units, which would have cheaper to rent and thus more likely to attract people without a car.

All of this points to the evil that minimum parking bylaws create. New buildings are built with too much parking, encouraging car ownership and older buildings that are being renovated end up having to get a variance, a process that is fraught with failure and uncertainty.

The new Oak Bay council needs to take a leadership position on the development of new rental accommodation and not wait until owners take the initiative to push this through. I want to see Oak Bay be part of the solution to our housing crisis, not stuck on the sidelines, wondering what to do.