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.
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.