No fast-track for Oak Bay United development

Committee suggested best way to save money is to show design and listen to community

The Oak Bay United Church came to the committee of the whole meeting this week to ask that once their land use application for their proposed development project is submitted, it be considered for a pilot project to fast-track the process given the intent to provide affordable housing. In advance of the meeting, the district received many letters from concerned residents asking that the committee not fast-track the Oak Bay United development application.

Confusion around the table as to what the church was specifically asking for had committee members asking for clarity from Kim Fowler, planner for Oak Bay United Church’s Affordable Housing Project.

“I didn’t want to bound it. There might be opportunities for front-of-line services. More commonly, there is a concierge provided. That’s a dedicated staff person that can work with the development team to help move the application through the different departments,” said Fowler.

Noting Oak Bay’s small team of staff, Coun. Kevin Murdoch said there is not much chance of a dedicated concierge person. He also felt that creating policy around a pilot project would take more time than it would take for the application to run through the standard process.

Fowler said there would still be value in talking to staff.

“Sometimes there are timing benefits or expertise benefits or simply some of the technical issues, regulatory issues, whether those are parking standards, or tree preservation, or all of the studies that are necessary as part of a development application process that are often overwhelming for non-profit organizations. Those simply I offer as examples of what may come (during a discussion with staff),” said Fowler.

As the project has “elicited a lot of community interest” Coun. Tara Ney said it would be a concern to the community if the amount of time for making decisions and the amount of time for consulting with the community were compromised.

While Fowler assured that those things wouldn’t be compromised, she stressed that the reason for the ask was to streamline the process to help preserve financial viability. She said delays in the process cost a significant amount and that would have to be recouped in density.

A question about the additional costs came from Coun. Tom Croft.

“The church already owns the land. Where is the additional cost? There are fixed costs for architectural fees, there are fixed costs for the team. These are set no matter how long the project takes. Usually with a development it is the carrying cost of the land that drives up the cost,” said Croft who is also a real estate professional.

“In this case there are two costs for consideration. One is the mortgage to use the funds from the church to fund the development application process which is very expensive. The other is the escalation of construction costs, which are 6% per month so that is $170,000 per month carrying cost,” said Fowler.

When asked by Ney what kind of time frame Fowler was looking at to keep within their budget, Fowler responded that she doesn’t have any particular expectation. “That is part of the conversation we want to have with staff. We want permission from the committee to be able to talk to staff about what the issues and opportunities are.”

The committee chose to receive the request but not act on it. The committee instead suggested that the best way to save money is to get to a design that will receive the acceptance of council and the community. This can be aided by listening carefully to the community and getting the design in front of the community and council for feedback to make sure that when the final design comes, it has the best chance at success.

“You say the process in Oak Bay seems to take a long time but I think it sometimes takes a long time to get something correct. That’s what we like to do in Oak Bay,” said Coun. Hazel Braithewaite.

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