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Residents upset with Oak Bay mayor’s tolerance message

A statement by Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen commenting on a recent protest over new architecture in the municipality has some residents boiling mad.

“He lambasted us and we had no chance to respond because he had the microphone,” said Mary Douglas, who called the mayor’s comments a “tirade.” “I would have said that it’s because we care that this started in the first place.”

Douglas and about 30 other protesters went to council Monday night, only to learn they would have no chance to participate in the council session. Instead, Jensen met with the group in the foyer of municipal hall prior to the meeting where he made his statement.

“I was quite pleased that he listened to us and spoke to us,” said Caroline Mitchell. “I thought he was quite respectful.”

Then some of the group went into council chambers and heard what the mayor had to say about their protest.

“The group gathered at a recently built home in the 1200-block of Monterey,” Jensen said in his statement. “The house is occupied by newcomers to our community, a father and three school-age children. I cannot speak to how this new member of our community felt as he looked out at the protest in front of his home. However, if people had gathered outside of my home to protest the way my home was designed, painted or landscaped, as a new resident I would feel most unwelcome and wonder what was happening.

“Oak Bay is a great community that prides itself on being welcoming to newcomers. We are a community of friendship and neighbourliness. We celebrate diversity.”

Jensen told the audience that he and his family are immigrants to Canada. “We were accepted by a tolerant and welcoming community. That is something that I’ve never forgotten. That is something I want for all newcomers.”

Mitchell had an emotional reaction to the speech. “When he started speaking I went red in the face and for a split second I felt horribly embarrassed,” said Mitchell. “Quickly, I realized that I had no reason to be and I became angry. … The people from the TV asked us to take them to another house that is something we don’t care for. We were standing there talking, not specifically protesting. We didn’t know anyone was inside. If they felt threatened by us I feel horrid about that. It was so far from our intention.”

Jensen stood by his statement on Tuesday. “It was a statement of general principle,” he said. “It reflected certainly what had happened, and the concern I have as members of our community are made to feel unwelcome by those kind of things.” Jensen met with the homeowner last week and said he “really felt for him.”

“I’m sure (the protesters) did not mean to offend. But the fact is they did,” said Jensen.

What Mitchell and the other protesters did want to do is to draw attention to the seeming proliferation of “monster” homes in South Oak Bay. Two weeks ago she found out the property across the street from her home is being torn down and replaced with a larger, flat-roofed structure.

“I made a poster and put it on the telephone poles,” she said. The poster depicted the new home to be built on Monterey Avenue, and  asked: “Is this your vision for South Oak Bay?” in a bid to start a conversation among neighbours, Mitchell said.

“I don’t know what the outcome will be. I feel that a lot of those homes don’t fit into what we have in South Oak Bay. I moved here many years ago because of what it is. Now developers are coming in and building their dream homes and they’re not being respectful.”

“I invited them to participate in the OCP (official community plan) process and write proposals, do analysis on our bylaws – in other words, get involved and stay involved,” said Jensen. “These are complex issues. The FAR took two years. I expect with the OCP it will take a year to a year-and-a-half. There are a lot of issues that over time will need to have debate and conversation in the community.”

The group is now looking into talking to the municipality about altering the zoning bylaws as they pertain to floor area ratio (FAR) in an attempt to curtail the size of new homes. They have also created an Oak Bay Watch website at oakbaywatch.weebly.com and a Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Oak-Bay-Watch. If you are interested in learning more about the group you can also email members at oakbaywatchdog@gmail.com.

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