As second attempts go, it was a shaky start at best.
A preliminary consultants’ report designed to lead Oak Bay through the consultation and planning phases of a variance application for a new seniors’ care facility to replace Oak Bay Lodge drew plenty of responses Monday, but they all had a common theme: not good enough.
Much of the dissatisfaction centred around the consultation strategies laid out in the Focus Corporation report presented to Oak Bay’s committee of the whole. It outlines a four-step process featuring mail-out cards, an online forum, community information displays and newspaper ads, but there are no plans for any public meetings where residents can ask questions about the plans.
“I don’t think this is nearly adequate enough to address the way to engage our community,” said Coun. Tara Ney. “It’s much too piecemeal, it’s not connected enough with our community, it doesn’t give enough space for conversation.”
Last year’s original application by Baptist Housing for the new 320-bed facility for seniors with dementia included a pair of open houses, but was eventually denied over concerns that process was rushed.
Given a second chance and the luxury of more time to deliberate, it’s imperative that the application process be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible, councillors said.
“Despite the fact that people went to those (open houses) and there was good dialogue, there was still a feeling that the community hadn’t been engaged properly in that process, and I think that we’re in a little bit of danger of being at that same point here,” Coun. Kevin Murdoch said.
Though on the surface this may appear to be a normal variance application, Murdoch added, in reality it is much more than that, and it’s a decision that will affect all Oak Bay residents.
“I agree a lot of this comes down to people understanding that this is a variance permit, and these things aren’t required, but to go beyond that requirement is very important,” he said.
The consultation strategy is based on criteria set out by the municipality in its original request for proposals from consulting firms, said Focus project lead Felice Mazzoni. Though Baptist Housing is footing the bill for Focus’ services, they ultimately answer to the municipality.
“We are certainly open to changing the scope, but it has to be done with the approval of council,” Mazzoni said to council. “We could do all kinds of wonderful things — and trust me, we would like to — but your parameters are very well-defined for us, so we’re sort of marching to your drumbeat here.”
Concerns were also raised about the ambitious timeline set out in the report, which aims to deliver a summary of community input on the proposal by the end of March.
“Even if you didn’t change the strategy of what you’re proposing, I don’t see the timing of this working,” said municipal administrator Mark Brennan.
“From a practical standpoint, I think the time frame is too short.”
Several residents in attendance also took advantage of the less formal committee of the whole format to voice their feelings on Focus’ approach.
“An emphasis on providing information outward to the community, while laudable, is simply not enough,” said Paul Merner, whose Hampshire Road home borders the Oak Bay Lodge property. “We need some kind of process that actively elicits input from the neighbours and from the broader community.”
The committee received the report, and directed Focus to revise the consultation plan and timeline for its completion.
“At the end of the day (the decision on the variance application) comes back to us,” said Murdoch. “If the broader community feels like they’ve been heard … then we’ll have a much happier and very easy decision to make.”