Large homes on small lots worries resident’s group

Oak Bay Watch calls for immediate action

Residents of Oak Bay gathered at municipal hall Monday night to voice their opinions on the issue of large houses being built on small lots.

Members of the recently formed Oak Bay Watch group presented their concerns over what they call “unintended consequences” of changes to the municipality’s zoning bylaws made in 2007.

Their point was not to say that mistakes were made, but to point out “that something unintentional has occurred” in regard to the bylaw changes, said Eric Zhelka, co-chair of Oak Bay Watch.

Zhelka, an engineer, based his presentation to council on information from documents, such as minutes, of the now defunct Floor Area Ratio (FAR) committee.

Members of Oak Bay Watch are concerned that the bylaw changes made in 2007 have done nothing but facilitate “monster” homes being built in Oak Bay, rather than preserve the streetscape of the municipality.

“They were aware that if they’re not careful, they’re going to open up to (the development of) monster homes, or what they referred to as ‘overly large houses,’ that would not fit into (Oak Bay’s) streetscape,” Zhelka said.

“We’re pointing out that nothing’s been done (to prevent that).”

Last August, council voted for staff, along with former councillor now mayor, Nils Jensen, to review the work of the FAR committee relating to houses being built on smaller lots and report back to council, but to date, a report has not yet been tabled.

Oak Bay Watch wants construction in Oak Bay to preserve the architectural scale and green space of the community, as stated in their report to council.

They requested that bylaws be changed so that the floor area limit for small lots would be 40 per cent, as it was before the 2007 change, which means the size of a house built cannot equal more than 40 per cent of the lot size.

They also recommended that bylaws aim to preserve protected trees and require that 30 per cent of the lot consist of green space.

Their aim is to maintain a “sense of continuity in the community’s standards,” Zhelka said.

The group also requested council put a disclaimer on building permits because they say “some aspects” of the current bylaws may be invalid.

“I wanted to put the council on notice that if it is invalid, all building permits from this point forward should be issued with some kind of a disclaimer because, we think, a case can be made that there’s a problem here,” he said.

Council determined, based on advice from municipal staff, that a moratorium on building permits would be unlawful, Jensen said Wednesday.

“Certainly, the presentation raised very important and interesting issues,” Jensen said, adding however, not all of the group’s recommendations can be acted on.

Municipal staff are currently analyzing the effects of the 2007 bylaw change and will take into account what Oak Bay Watch members presented Monday night, he said.

The report is expected in September and will go through, Jensen estimates, a couple of committee of the whole discussions before a decision is reached.

“We’ve taken this seriously and we’re moving forward with it,” he said. “We’re going to do our very best, in as short a time as possible, to resolve these issues.”

However, Jensen added that this is “a very complex issue” because it involves people’s property rights, noting that the 2007 change took almost two years of study before it was made.

“Any time you change and you alter property rights, I think, you have a very important duty to inquire with the property owners throughout the community. So it’s not something that we’re going to rush into,” Jensen said.

“I appreciate that there will definitely be some frustration amongst the people who want to move (forward) immediately and get everything done right away, but because of the importance of how this affects property rights, we have a duty to do it thoughtfully and with due consideration for everyone’s voices.”