At least one Oak Bay councillor says technicalities should be thrown aside in the wake of the vote against the redevelopment of Oak Bay Lodge.
Coun. Tara Ney, who opposed the $80-million redevelopment, said although the project technically only needed variance permits, it should have been treated differently.
“In reality the massing of this project and the impact on the community was significant. So we got caught up in the technicality,” she said.
Variance permits – in this case to increase the facility’s height by two storeys and to reduce the number of parking spots to 107 from 320 – don’t require much extensive consultation with neighbours.
But for projects like this, which would so affect the neighbourhood, council should consider sidestepping the normal process, Ney said.
Mayor Christopher Causton, who voted in favour of the proposal, said this application has taken longer and received more public input than the average variance.
“It’s a good point, though,” he ceded. “This is so much different and there should be a different process for this if you can find one, but remember this has been treated differently. It’s been six months since its been in staff’s hands. We’ve had two open houses and we’ve had at least five meetings.”
John Rankin, who lives adjacent to the Lodge on Hampshire Road, sided with Ney.
“A big misconception is when you say variance. It was a major variance,” Rankin said. “(Council) really needs to measure and consider what impact that variance would have. This was not just going to impact 100 neighbours, it was going to be very contrary to the goals of the (Official) Community Plan.”
He said the developers – the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Baptist Housing – should have consulted with council earlier in the process, such as in spring 2010 when Baptist won the bid for the project.
That way, council could have asked for the developers to get feedback for the project before final designs were submitted. It could have made the redevelopment much easier for neighbours to digest, Rankin said.
Mayor-elect Nils Jensen, who also voted against the application, said although Oak Bay staff had the report on the project as early as this spring, it couldn’t be shared with residents.
“Yes, staff received it, but there was an embargo placed on the information.”
VIHA pushed the project through at a period when the mayor was on holiday (in September) and during a municipal election, Jensen added.
“It had not been an open process from the very beginning and part of that was because VIHA had a confidential bid process which didn’t get completed until the early part of this year. That should have been the time they came to Oak Bay (for consultation). But they came to us in the 11th hour, coming to Oak Bay with what I think is fairly described as a fait accompli.”
Causton said regardless of timing, the project would have faced backlash because of its height.
“I think the lesson from this is perhaps the applicant should have spread more widely the message than they did. I don’t think anything they had done would have overcome the negativity the next-door neighbours felt towards the height of the building.”
With relatively high voter turnout at the Nov. 19 election (42 per cent) and large showings at meetings about the Lodge, this is the time to keep engaging Oak Bay residents, Ney said.
“There’s nothing trivial about this variance permit. People want a legitimate, authentic process. People are saying loud and clear they want to be a part of decision-making. They don’t want these decisions ramroded and pushed ahead until they’ve had their say.”