For the first time in nearly a decade, Pam Copley’s calendar is free on Monday nights.
The three-term Oak Bay councillor did not put her name on the ballot in November’s municipal election but her interest in her community hasn’t diminished.
Her biggest regret in stepping away from the council table is not seeing the new official community plan go from the drawing board to a guiding force that will be a blueprint for Oak Bay’s future.
“How do we manage change that allows the new official community plan to address the changing needs of the community, but still retain the essential character and the community values? It’s always that sort of tug-of-war we are dealing with in Oak Bay,” said Copley.
Copley was chair of the OCP advisory committee, guiding it through the process that saw the document obtain unanimous approval from council in September.
“There were a few bumps in the road along the way, it wasn’t a smooth process by any means,” said Copley, adding the most important thing now is for the new council to align zoning bylaws to fit the new OCP.
She said housing was the most contentious issue to arise out of the OCP, adding there is a constant tug-of-war between those who believe there should be change and those who want to keep the community as it is.
“For most of its history, Oak Bay has been a single-family oriented community. What we are experiencing now, and it has been happening for some time, is younger families, families on a single income, families who are just starting out – and Oak Bay is a desirable neighbourhood for them – and they are finding it more and more of a struggle to find a place that they can afford in Oak Bay.”
She said having multiple housing options was a significant topic through the OCP review, and there was considerable support for more housing options.
“The general preference is to see those happen along transportation corridors or adjacent to commercial areas. But in some strategic locations I think they would also lend themselves to being situated in single-family neighbourhoods,” said Copley.
She said a survey conducted in conjunction with the OCP showed a demand for modestly priced housing, including rental.
“We have very, very little new rental. In fact, since about the ‘70s there has been no new rental housing created. The one being built right now on Oak Bay Avenue, The Clive, is the first dedicated, sustainable, green rental accommodation that’s been built for a very, very long time in Oak Bay.”
While many of the surrounding communities have begun to open their doors to secondary suites, the subject remains controversial in Oak Bay.
“However, we have at least 800, and probably more, illegal and therefore unregulated secondary suites in Oak Bay. We are losing opportunities to create safe housing. We are losing an opportunity to have extended family or caregivers live with people. It’s not just a money grab,” said Copley, adding that making the homes owner-occupied would be an important condition.
Copley’s advice for the new council is to keep the process moving forward and to remain engaged with the community throughout the implementation of the OCP.
“There’s people who think there’s too much change being proposed in this document and others are celebrating that change. I hope the new council will recognize that there’s been a significant investment of people’s time, energy and municipal funds that went into this project.”