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Abstract doubles down on Bowker intersection investment

Proposal bylaw expected before council Monday, Feb. 27
Rendering of Abstract Developments' mixed-use proposal

The bylaw for the proposed mixed-use Bowker building on Cadboro Bay Road is slated to appear before council Monday night after a narrow decision to move the project forward.

In response to earlier council and committee meetings, the proponent, Abstract Developments offered a four-foot setback on the ground level of Bowker Avenue, doubled its contribution toward upgrading the intersection of Cadboro Bay Road and Bowker Avenue to $100,000 (with a request it be included in the 2018 or 2019 budget); and committed to $10,000 earmarked for public art.

“I think in the end nobody really knows how the project is going to live and breath in real life until its built,” said Mike Miller, Abstract president, adding they rely on experience and worked an evolutionary process that started with a blank slate and neighbour input. “In the end I believe we do our very best … all I can do is go on my experience and my opinion and I believe it’s got merit.”

More information at hand, and a doubling of one amenity offered by Abstract, didn’t alter any perspectives during the committee meeting Feb. 20 that ran to nearly midnight.

Councillors Michelle Kirby, Tara Ney, Tom Croft and Mayor Nils Jensen are ready to see the project move forward, while councillors Eric Zhelka, Kevin Murdoch and Hazel Braithwaite are not.

“This building moving ahead will change the face of Oak Bay because we’ve never had anything come forward in Oak Bay of this size,” Braithwaite said. “We need to take it slowly and make sure we have the right building for this site.”

The divided council vote reflected a divided public input in a lengthy conversation between the proponent, council members and the public over the building planned for the corner of Bowker Avenue and Cadboro Bay Road.

“If I didn’t think this building would work and be a great asset to the community I wouldn’t have an application,” Miller said after the meeting.

An area of contention for both council and public is the minor or zero setback. Murdoch said he appreciated the covenant for an eatery and other community conditions, but called the use of right of way tantamount to donation of 20 feet of roadway.

“The fact that it’s right up to the property line on Bowker and taking up the setback space… the public seems to be giving up a fair amount,” agreed Zhelka later.

Greg Damant, of Cascadia Architects, countered that the landscape design and improvements are a benefit to the community.

“There’s lots of things I like about this application; I don’t think it’s ready to move forward,” Murdoch said.

For him, positives include the restaurant, intersection cash injection and good work by Abstract with neighbourhood interaction in the process.

“I don’t feel the small setback on Bowker and increase in contribution addresses the massing,” Murdoch said. “Before we agree to really increasing the density we need to plan the location for that density.”

Murdoch cited the floor area ratio of other Oak Bay buildings such as Carleton House at 1.9, Oak Bay Beach Hotel at 1.75 noting the FAR for the proposed Bowker building is 2.8.

“We’re looking at a 50 per cent increase of anywhere in Oak Bay,” he said, citing a lack of housing strategy as a part of the problem.

“Oak Bay has (only) so many locations where you can choose to densify with meaning, traction,” Damant said. “Cadboro Bay is one of three or four arterial roads in Oak Bay where you have these opportunities.”

Public input shared similar concerns, as those in favour of the building reflected Kirby’s reiteration that the building will rejuvenate the neighbourhood with a walkable area, intersection upgrades and eatery on the corner with a patio.

“The number one issue is improvement of the intersection,” said Kirby. “It’s got to change and if they’re doubling the contribution towards that I feel we have made a massive step towards making the change that’s long overdue.”

The intersection was the problem most vocally identified during the first public meeting about the Bowker building.

A bylaw for the proposal is expected at council Monday night. Visit ahead of the meeting to view the agenda.