Well Monday night’s decision was not what I was expecting. I knew going in that we have two councillors on either side, with Hazel Braithwaite as the swing vote. What I was not expecting was Hazel to switch from yes to no, causing the project to be defeated. So where did it all go wrong? VIHA and Baptist Housing boxed themselves into a corner.
They arrived at the table with set of requirements that left no room to move. To contrast, I find it instructive to look at Oak Bay High School vs the Lodge. Both are very large projects, both driven by replacement of long-standing community amentities, both with some very specific needs that meant that there was little “wiggle room”. But this is where the path diverges. The High School team arrived with a blank page, a list of things they needed, and a willingness to talk about it. The reality with the high school is that the end result, with the school along Cranmore St, was probably going to be only result that worked, once the need for the regulation-sized soccer and rugby fields, transforming the old gym into the new theatre, and protecting Bowker Creek were all taken into consideration. But critically different, that result came about because the neighbours and the wider community got to hear why the high school plan ended up like it did.
Contrast that with the Lodge, where the developer arrived with a plan for a building on a site and then told the community it had a very short time to decide. So they were already forcing the neighbours to accept something they had no insight or decision-making on, but also they are not being given the time to see why the Lodge ended up as it did. Further, Baptist Housing apparently spent years up in Saanich talking, but only weeks in Oak Bay. The very easy question then came up: Why didn’t we get the same amount of time? Nobody seemed to be willing to answer that clearly. I think that Baptist Housing should have come out and apologized to the neighbours for that even if it wasn’t their fault (I actually think the delay can come down to VIHA, whom I don’t trust).
In the end, the combination of mostly-formed project, with a big building, an apparent disregard for consultation in one community but not another, and a very short time frame doomed this project. I suspect this project is now dead. Baptist Housing’s media statement says this (emphasis mine):
Baptist Housing is extremely disappointed with Oak Bay Council’s decision to vote against our variance application regarding the proposed redevelopment of Oak Bay Lodge. Baptist Housing will be meeting with our partners, Vancouver Island Health Authority and Capital Regional Hospital District, to determine what our options and next steps are. Baptist Housing remains committed to providing resident-centred complex care and licensed dementia housing for the seniors of Greater Victoria.
Not Oak Bay. Hmm. Further, their project website is now offline, which is usually a pretty telling statement.
Well, that was a fun ride while it lasted. Hopefully other developers will take the right lessons away from this “community engagement is critical”, not the wrong ones, “Oak Bay doesn’t want development”.