Oak Bay adds ‘lens’ of heritage protection to planning policy

Trio of task force options approved in bid to retain heritage homes

Council is looking at ways to stem the loss of Oak Bay’s older homes.

Council is looking at ways to stem the loss of Oak Bay’s older homes.

Oak Bay approves in principle that retention and preservation of heritage homes is a priority and should be considered during policy and decision making.

Council also plans to investigate both mandatory heritage designations and streamlining regulatory processes at municipal hall.

The ideas sprung from the report by the four-person mayor’s task force appointed in April that included chair Coun. Kevin Murdoch, Coun. Eric Zhelka, Jan Mears of the Heritage Commission and Tim Taddy of the Advisory Planning Commission.

The foursome were tasked with identifying the “extent of the problem,” compiling numbers and seeking tools available to Oak Bay to preserve heritage in the community.

“We’re still behind where Vancouver and Toronto are but we’re headed in that direction,” Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said of the rising costs that seem to spur demolition and removal of older homes.

“If there was a simple solution that would stop the frenzy … Vancouver would have found it. They’re struggling with it.”

As instructed, the working group outlined next steps council could take, but realized early that they didn’t have the expertise to offer costing and detailed recommendations, Murdoch said.

The report did outline options and statistics that piqued interest.

“The one I found most interesting was that in 2015, the 34 houses lost represented less than 0.5 per cent of total housing stock, a replacement rate of 200 years,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, reading from the report to council.

Murdoch responded that the working group knew the numbers would be low in terms of overall percentage, but hold concern “the trend” could continue upwards.

The stats were “enlightening” agreed Coun. Michelle Kirby, who honed in on the number of local buyers, up two per cent from last year’s 70.5 per cent.

“I expected to see an option of how this fits with the infill strategy,” she added.

The task force recognized infill housing as an important part of the official community plan, Murdoch said.

“There are multiple options … things that could be done to retain heritage homes.”

Coun. Tara Ney questioned whether Oak Bay can and should expedite some of the options outlined.

“It’s a useful tool for us to consider some actions moving forward,” said Ney, who pushed for some action items. “The frenetic marked condition has amplified and exposed the limitations of our land use tools. … I’m concerned about the pace and impact.”

Zhelka agreed: “I do worry a bit about momentum.”

After discussion, council agreed to approve in principle, retention and preservation of heritage homes as a priority in Oak Bay and to view through that “lens” – as termed in the report – during policy and decision making.

They’ll also send the report, and question of mandatory versus volunteer heritage designation, to the Heritage Commission for a sense of workload required for the mandatory option and other unforeseen concerns. Technical documentation and assessment required to designate hundreds of homes could be costly, Murdoch said, adding that could be justified. “It’s naive to think it would be no cost,” he said.

Streamlining regulatory processes could include pre-approving some renovation issues, Murdoch said, citing enclosure of 1960s garages as an example. “We really want to free up staff and council for some other work,” he said.

Kirby noted that alleviating that workload could also take the form of bylaw changes, to “remove the requirements that are onerous or no longer reflect the values of the community.”

Council plans to discuss the streamlining during an anticipated council priority planning session this fall.

 

 

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