All candidates for Oak Bay council in the recent election promised openness, transparency and public consultation.
Despite these promises, the variance application by Baptist Housing Society to redevelop the Oak Bay Lodge site is the result of a design process that was not, and is not, open or transparent and for which there has been no meaningful public consultation.
The proposed building would be almost twice the size of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Significant height (six storeys versus the allowed three) and parking variances are requested. Baptist Housing has refused to provide other than very general information about either the use or staffing – both of which affect parking. The Oak Bay bylaws require 320 parking spaces or one per resident – 109 spaces are proposed. That is a variance (shortfall) of 211 spaces. More than 80 other burning questions were raised, but not fully answered at the recent public forums and open houses.
Although the building is being proposed as a seniors care facility, the application states that VIHA may, but is not obliged to, seek additional capacity at the facility at any point in the future and only needs the approval of the operator to do so. In other words, if the variances are approved by council, only VIHA and Baptist Housing will determine how the building is actually used, including the number of residents.
I urge council to turn down the variance requests required for this revised proposal, which is essentially little-changed from the previous version, and ask VIHA to find another partner that will include meaningful public consultation in its design process.
If council approves the requested variances, trust between council and its community will suffer, which would negatively impact many other important issues such as the upcoming Official Community Plan review and related issues including secondary suites and overbuilding.