I ran for election to Oak Bay Council because, at heart, I care about Oak Bay - I love living here and raising my family here.
(Short on time - Get my Brochure with a summary of my Platform)
These are some of my core positions and policies. Please share with me your views. I am always open to new ideas and innovations.
- Oak Bay is the best place to live in greater Victoria. Why? Because of the quality of our single-family dwelling neighbourhoods - they are safe, quiet and unique. Most of our roads are not congested with traffic and lined with parked cars. These are some of the reasons why people want to live, and to continue to live, in Oak Bay.
- I will work hard to ensure our zoning and building bylaws reflect planned development. It is apparent the present ad hoc, spot-zoning approach we currently have has too many "unintended consequences". I will continue to discourage the reconstruction or replacement of existing homes with larger, out of scale structures that not only interfere with the neighbouring properties but also significantly reduce our urban forest.
- I am also concerned with housing affordability. I support the BC Government’s systematic and comprehensive "30 Point Plan for Housing Affordability in British Columbia". I highly recommend all become familiar with it. Regarding the included vacancy tax, I have lobbied government directly that it not be applied to any Canadian citizen - in a similar way to other countries' application of this necessary measure. I will continue to recommend some of the innovative affordable housing ideas I have suggested to Council that respect the character of our community.
- Short-term rentals (STR) are a new phenomenon that all local governments are struggling with. These are displacing long-term rentals and disturbing neighbours. I will press for strong regulation and enforcement. My research has identified several small BC communities that have had good success and are well supported by the courts when enforcement was necessary.
- Our single-family neighbourhoods must be protected and preserved, but it is obvious that this is not the intent of the majority of our previous two councils. The majority of recent councils have made it clear they want to significantly increase the density of our single-family neighbourhoods by wholesale legalization of: secondary suites, lane-way and garden suites, duplexes, etc. This will have serious impacts on our live-ability that need proper analysis and input from the affected neighbourhoods.
- Uncontrolled growth, related to taxes, will put too much pressure on our already under-funded infrastructure, and create more noise, more traffic, and parking problems. Our growth must be planned and gradual so our taxes and services and resources and excellent staff can absorb and handle the impacts. Our high taxes should have been allocated to improvement initiatives and not to supporting development priorities - for this reason I voted against the 2018 budget.
- There is no doubt change is inevitable; but careful planning and excellent public consultation will ensure it will be positive change.
- I will work hard to protect the rights of existing residents and the general public interest. I am concerned the Official Community plan is too vague and has too many loopholes. It is already time for the Provincial recommended five-year review.
- I believe Joni Mitchell got it right with her line "That you don't know what you've got / Till it's gone". If elected I will fight to protect what we’ve got and help to make sure it stays. When change is needed, I prefer a slow and steady approach.
P.S. I support Proportional Representation and will be voting for change - from our current "first past the post" voting system. Please learn what this is about as the mail-in referendum is coming very soon! Here are a few links to get you started:
I encourage you to contact me with your ideas. Let's work on this together.
Eric Wood Zhelka
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Thank you for considering donating to my Re-Election run as Councillor for the District of Oak Bay.
Eric Wood Zhelka, P.Eng
Candidate name: Eric Wood Zhelka
Municipality: Oak Bay
Candidate for: Councillor
1. What is your previous experience with the Arts?:
For an engineer, I have rather extensive experience in the arts!!
I have been a member of several choirs over the years, most recently with the Spirit Rising Community Choir. (I'm a tenor) I play the drum... music is a big part of our family life.
I have performed in plays with VideoCaberet and street performance/parades with Shadowland Theatre. I took part in a multi-year Island to Island Arts Exchange with Peter Minshall in Trinidad where I learned the intricate art of stilt dancing - a skill I taught children and brought to the streets during Carnival and Caribana. I am a founding director of the Swizzlestick Theatre company.
I am an amateur ballroom dancer and have occasionally performed. Most recently, I am expressing myself physically through the defensive martial art of Aikido. I am an assistant with the children's program at Victoria Aikikai.
When I travel, I make time to visit local galleries and museums. (And I love to brag about POV, the conservatory, and the RBCM when I'm in other places.)
2. Will you support increased investment in the Arts? And if so, how?:
Arts and culture, in my opinion, is part of what holds our society together, whether through creative protest or joyful celebration. I will look for ways to support the Arts here as I have elsewhere.
3. What does your campaign propose for the future of the Arts in the CRD?:
The CRD is responsible for implementing the established funding model for the Arts in the region; I'm certainly interested in promoting our support as a participating municipality. The Arts don't thrive and grow without appropriate funding.. especially funding that supports long-term planning.
I will continue to support OakBay’s Arts Laureate position created last year. I'm sensitive to those who may not find arts and culture quite their cup of tea; reasonable time restrictions on sound and light are always needed.
Eric performing in the Victoria Day parade, 2012
Responses from all Oak Bay Candidates can be found here.
The University of Victoria Students Society asked candidates a variety of questions around the needs of students and how the municipality can support them. I have included my responses below.
RUNNING FOR: Councillor, District of Oak Bay
If elected, how do you plan to support students?:
Oak Bay is fortunate to have a world-class university on its doorstep. Students attending UVic need an environment that supports their dedication and growth.
I believe that we support students by making them feel welcome and getting them the services they need. If we have done our job by providing a safe, peaceful, and welcoming environment, those students who are visiting us for the first time will want to stay here for good.
After the high cost of tuition fees, the cost of housing is the biggest burden to students and a barrier for some students to be able to access post-secondary education. If elected, what will you do to ease this burden?:
With half of UVic in Oak Bay, young adults who have grown up here have the option to live at home while attending university. Those who are visiting the region have several options including room and board arrangements or the rental of an unregulated secondary suite. With a new Official Community Plan bylaw in place, there will be a move to legalize and regulate secondary suites. As a member of Oak Bay Council, I will work to ensure that careful regulation creates an acceptance of suites in the areas where there is demand, and I will ensure that regulated suites are safe and comfortable homes away from home.
Taking in boarders is an option that has been very successful for visiting international students. Many Oak Bay families, mine included, take University and other home-stay students into their homes thereby proving a cost-effective alternative to apartment or suites. As a member of Oak Bay Council I would advocate that the municipality works with UVic to explore and expand this under-utilized housing option, possibly through an Oak Bay Housing Registry.
Students rely on public transportation to get us to where we live, work, and study. However, full busses as well as night routes that don’t go late enough make our primary mode of transportation unreliable. If elected, what would you do to address these issues?:
Students who choose to make our community their own can realistically bike, walk, and take public transit. These options will help students who might otherwise pay a multitude of expenses related to car ownership. While physical activities like biking or walking can help manage the stresses of student life, public transportation will always be critical.
As a member of Oak Bay Council I will be an advocate for improved bicycling routes throughout the municipality and to UVic. I will also ensure that the community is well served by a variety of public transit routes so that students can thrive without cars. For those who need cars, I will continue to be a supporter of the Victoria Car Share/Modo co-op.
Most students have to work while studying to help pay for our education, yet options for jobs are extremely limited. Also, students leave our programs saddled with debt and find a bleak job market. If elected, what would you do to bolster student/recent graduate jobs in our municipalities?:
I will work with UVic Career Services to help identify co-op job placement and work experience opportunities in Oak Bay for students.
Unfortunately, with the upcoming closure of the Oak Bay Lodge facility, Oak Bay is losing its second largest employer making it an even more challenging work environment.
I will work to support not only business and institutions who wish to respectfully locate in Oak Bay, but also, I will be an advocate for Open Data initiatives at the municipality providing raw data that might prove valuable to the entrepreneur and small business startups.
Where can students get more information on your platform?:
For more information about me and my vision for Oak Bay, please visit my website at www.ericzhelka.ca
Responses from other candidates are available here.
The North Henderson Residents Association (NHRA) asked candidates their views on the OCP Housing types suitable for North Henderson and how they would engage the community in implementation of the necessary bylaws. I have included my responses below.
Which of the below housing types do you think would be suitable for the North Henderson area and why?
a) Infill development - by placing additional housing units (garden suites, laneway suites etc.) on residential lots,
(b) legalized basement suites,
(c) duplexes and triplexes,
(d) Subdivision of lots.
Answer: Oak Bay is the best place to live in greater Victoria. People want to live here because our single family dwelling neighbourhoods are safe, quiet and lightly populated. Our roads are not overly congested with traffic and parked cars. Our neighbourhoods must be preserved and protected. The changes about which you speak would cause harm to neighbourhoods. The changes would mean more people, more traffic and parking congestion on our streets, less road safety, less yard space, less community cohesiveness, possibly more crime, and more. Those notoriously harmful effects have already occurred in other urban jurisdictions.
The first broad objective of the OCP was to “Consider increases in density while respecting the values that make Oak Bay an attractive and environmentally rich community” . The second broad policy of the OCP was to “Consider infill development as a tool for allowing more density to fit within neighbourhoods while respecting and conserving neighbourhood character. Infill development was defined in the plan as development that is constructed in an already developed area. It can come in different forms, scale and character. It includes secondary suites, additional housing units on a residential lot, and dividing detached homes into multiple units. I have underlined the word ‘Consider” as it is used in the plan for emphasis
Policies and Plans do not govern Council’s future actions, they simply guide them. In addition because the OCP specifically used the word “consider” it is clear that the plan did not intend to mandate increases in density nor infill development in our neighbourhoods. They are simply strategies that council may consider when doing land use planning
I am worried the visionaries who crafted the new OCP policies will not have the capabilities to carefully craft it into appropriate by-laws. If elected I will work hard to prevent the legalization of secondary suites, garden suites and laneway houses in our single family dwelling neighbourhoods, and any facilitation of the unplanned subdivision of lots. As time passes, change is inevitable; but notoriously bad changes must be prevented. Any change should be focused where population increases are the most appropriate. Strong regulations and enforcement will be necessary to minimize impacts for all stakeholders.
If sound evidence demonstrates a pressing need for change, then I will work hard to ensure that the rights of existing residents are fully protected and that any land use changes do not harm the fundamental nature and quality of our neighbourhoods.
The Official Community Plan Community Survey asked for opinions about housing types for Oak Bay "assuming key issues such as tree protection, parking, traffic, noise and neighbourhood character will be addressed.”
What method or methods of community engagement would you support to determine if these key issues (as quoted above)can be successfully addressed for the North Henderson area?
In your reply we are most interested in the concrete actions, venues and terms of reference that you would support and not support to ensure meaningful involvement of the community in Council’s decision making process.
Answer: There were two fundamental flaws with the Community Plan Survey
Firstly, the survey was sent by the Mayor to all households in the District. Those households included not only single family residences, but also rentals and residences in multifamily dwellings. Consequently the survey measured what all residents of Oak Bay thought as a single group, regardless of the kind of residence that was occupied.
The residents that would be most affected by major land use changes in single family dwelling neighbourhoods are the owners of those dwellings. In order to determine what owners of homes in single family dwelling neighbourhoods thought about possible infilling their neighbourhoods, the survey should have measured what the owners of those dwellings thought as a separate group. Unfortunately it did not.
Secondly, the survey asked respondents to make the assumption to which you referred. In my view the assumption that Council requested respondents to make with respect to some of the problems that are caused by infilling were, in fact, promises that those problems would be prevented.
In reality those assumptions will be difficult to prevent, if not incapable of being prevented at all. It would have been more appropriate for the survey to have requested opinions without requesting them to be subject to an assumption that may be incapable of being met. In that way, we would have had a clear understanding of what respondents really thought in context of Oak Bay as we know it today. Unfortunately it did not.
If community engagement is used to determine whether those problems can be prevented, meaningful and in-depth consultation with home owners in each single family dwelling neighbourhood area under consideration must be carried out. As an invited member of the recent Floor Area Ratio review committee, chaired by Kevin Murdoch, I was very pleased to see the outreach to all stakeholders to ensure all points of view were included near the beginning of the process and then considered. The multiple public consultation sessions, offered at differing times to ensure all could attend and provide early input on some early drafts helped greatly to get a sense of the direction the homeowners and others in Oak Bay wanted the committee to go. An excellent process I’d like to see emulated. For larger projects, I have participated in design charrettes, something like a focus group, which have assist planning for special cases and ensure stakeholder participation. I’d like to see these used here more extensively.
Responses from all of the candidates are available here.
At heart, because I care about Oak Bay - I love living here and raising my family here. I prefer a slow and steady approach to change.
(Short on time - Get my Brochure with a summary of my Platform)
Oak Bay still has a lot of big ticket items coming due: bylaws and policies have not yet been aligned with the OCP, sewage and water allocations, Uplands sewer and storm water separation project, roads that need attention. I believe Oak Bay needs to stick to the basics and the reality of what a small municipality can and cannot do.
Until we put our municipal house in order, there should be no new programs that add to our tax load in the near future, unless funding can be found elsewhere.
Natural environment stewardship
A sound urban forest strategy implementation will slow down the rate at which we are losing our urban forest.
Oak Bay needs a tree protection bylaw that actually protects trees from new construction. The current bylaw is a classic unintended incentive for a developer to demolish instead of renovate.
We need to increase & widen our support and collaboration with the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society’s non-lethal and humane program to effectively & efficiently reduce the number of BC’s deer in Oak Bay.
Shoreline protection: the Official Community Plan (OCP) bylaw has made a good start. This should be improved by reducing Council's ability to vary the rules.
Land use stewardship
Oak Bay’s neighbourhoods must be preserved and protected as best as we can.
In recent years, changes to Oak Bay’s building bylaws have permitted over-sized reconstructions to dramatically interfere with neighbouring homes. Council acknowledges there have been a number of "unintended consequences". A 92% approval rate of any zoning variance requested reflects a zoning bylaw in dire need of updating.
The new OCP says we have to plan for an expected population increase of 0.5% net per year (90 people). However, the consistent historical rate of population increase in Oak Bay is 0.3% net per year (50 people) as per Census and the Capital Regional District. It is hard to plan if we cannot trust our numbers.
It is important for us to accommodate an expected (small) population increase within Oak Bay, while at the same time recognizing we are fully built-out.
The new OCP provides little guidance on the broad policy of "develop diverse and inclusive housing options". Instead of applying this to the entire municipality, this should be focused where population increases are the most appropriate. Strong regulations and enforcement will be necessary to minimize the impact on all stakeholders and the environment.
- New policies must be crafted to deal with Short Term Rentals. Tofino and Richmond have good templates for us to consider. You can see my research here and here.
- As per our OCP, Vacant Houses are becoming more of a problem - as Oak Bay was not designed to be a place to park investments and not live in the community. I fully support the Province's comprehensive & systematic attempt to address this problem and related issues in their 30 Point Plan for Housing Affordability.
Because of the new OCP, ALL of our bylaws & policies must be rewritten. I will bring my expertise and professional experience to bear and work hard to craft those bylaws & policies to reflect a balanced, intelligent, cautious approach to changes, always in consultation with Oak Bay residents. I'd much prefer to see Oak Bay not make the same mistakes as other towns and cities (no doubt with the best of intentions).
What are your views on how we can better enhance and protect Oak Bay?
Eric Wood Zhelka, MMSc, P.Eng, CPHIMS-CA, PMP
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I am a professional engineer who lives in Oak Bay with his family. I work full time in the BC Public Service for Emergency Management BC.
I grew up on Toronto Island, in a community constantly under threat of redevelopment. I learned valuable lessons about heritage protection in those years and as a volunteer, worked on the front lines to protect my community.
I earned my engineering degree at the University of Toronto and a Masters in Management Sciences from the University of Waterloo. I worked with a number of companies including: Nortel, Bell Canada, Telus, British Telecom, Royal Bank, and various federal and provincial departments and ministries as a professional engineer and management consultant.
My wife and I purchased our first home in south Oak Bay while expecting our first child. Later, while at home with our second child, I was able to complete two major renovations that included digging below the existing basement. It was then I recalled my renovators complaining about “building rules in Oak Bay being too strict”. I didn't mind. I saw these rules as necessary protections for the overall benefit of the community.
In 2008, my architect told me if I had held off on my renovation a bit longer, I could have added another floor to my house, and put in a double car "man cave" in the backyard. That was my first inkling that something had changed in Oak Bay.
April, 2012, I was walking with my daughter up Monterey. She looked at a building under construction and asked, "Why are they building a hospital?" The building did look ‘commercial’ and very out of place. To my eye, it might have been a service building of some sort. The next day, I got a knock on the door and a flyer from concerned residents inviting me to the next Oak Bay council meeting. Residents wanted to know why such a large building was being built in our neighborhood. That council meeting became the first of many I have since attended to express my concerns.
To organize a constructive response to address the many new "large houses on small lots", I co-founded a community association, Oak Bay Watch. This resulted in an invitation to assist with the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) committee revising the Zoning bylaw. The wide consultation approach for the FAR report, now incorporated into the new Oak Bay Zoning By-law, remove most of the unintended incentives to demolish over preserve.
I was elected to Oak Bay Council in 2014 and worked hard to improve the way our municipality was being governed. Particularly with development transparency, heritage and environmental preservation, finance, taxes and infrastructure/asset management. All of our bylaws & policies must still be rewritten to align with the Official Community Plan, as this was not even started in the last mandate. I will bring my expertise and professional experience to bear and work hard to craft those bylaws & policies to reflect a balanced, intelligent, cautious approach to changes, always in consultation with Oak Bay homeowners.
I ask again for your trust in me for your vote.
I’d like to hear your views on how we can better protect and enhance Oak Bay.
Eric Wood Zhelka, P.Eng
P.S. To contact me, email me or click here.
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