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‘Tough to do’: Oak Bay facing pressure to kickstart housing options

Infill housing strategy on hold as district embarks on provincial requirements
Oak Bay is among the first 10 communities subject to the province’s Housing Supply Act, tasked with delivering 664 units in the next five years. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Oak Bay faces a shifting landscape with a renewed push to create housing under new provincial legislation.

The district implemented a secondary suites program last year and has been working on infill housing, a project that was expected to finish this year.

“It didn’t make sense for us to keep investing time and energy into that,” said Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

That infill strategy was shelved when the province named Oak Bay as one of the first 10 communities subject to the province’s Housing Supply Act, tasked with delivering 664 units in the next five years – in line with 650 units that were previously estimated in the recent Oak Bay housing needs report.

The previous council and this one had housing as a top priority, Murdoch said. They’re aligned with the province in the intent to “see more housing, new forms of housing and see that roll out reasonably quickly in a way that development is clear and straightforward, the rules are well defined,” he said. “They are doing it quite differently than our approach had been.”

When the province passed bill 44 on Nov. 29, it created a more serious timing crunch.

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The bill increases density across most B.C. municipalities. Starting July 1, 2024, developers will be able to start building a minimum of three and up to six units (near transit) on lots currently zoned for single-family homes and duplexes in municipalities with more than 5,000 people.

That’s a lot of municipalities impacted, creating some competition for a finite amount of consultants, adding to the timeline concerns.

“You want good quality consultants. You need people who understand, ideally, the community they’re working in,” Murdoch said.

Since the start of the housing directives, council has reallocated about $2.5 million to dedicate to this work.

They’ve also delayed the village area plans due to staffing concerns.

Shifts in the housing attack include embarking on a light official community plan review – identifying areas that could end up automatically zoned and flagging areas that might be better suited as commercial with residential, or higher density than the provincial legislation dictates, Murdoch said.

“We want to make sure we’re not losing those opportunities in the short term,” he said.

It means Oak Bay needs to line its zoning up with the provincial legislation and finish by June, which is “tough to do,” he added.

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The indication is things such as setbacks, heights and parking may be included, but haven’t been outlined yet.

“We’re really up against the timeline, six months to change all this is tough,” Murdoch said.

That’s while awaiting clarification on what those bylaws will need to entail.

The province also introduced legislation to update and streamline tools to help fund the cost of infrastructure and amenities affected by increased housing and growth – creating amenity cost charges and updates to development cost charges. The district must create new bylaws accordingly in order to recoup capital costs associated with new development.

“There are positives in the sense that we are forced to look at everything we’re doing and speed up all aspects of how we’re going to tackle housing,” Murdoch said.

– with files from Wolf Depner.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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