On the main floor, the proposed Uplands mansion at 3470 Upper Terrace Rd. will have a single great room that is 16 metres long, about 1,100 square feet.
The three-storey, 11,431-sq. ft. palatial home is designed as French Baroque. It boasts offices for him and her, two bar rooms (up and down), a billiards room, a common room, a game room, a play room, two kitchens, five bedrooms, a wine room, a powder room, and a central staircase that runs up the middle of all three floors.
Oak Bay council voted unanimously against the application.
However, the well-designed house was not the problem. The building envelope for the house will remove three Garry oaks. But the sticking point was the 1,100-sq. ft. accessory building, a lap pool at the back of the property, that will remove an additional four Garry oaks and threaten three more, according to the District’s arborist report.
Earlier this year Oak Bay’s advisory design panel actually turned down the application out of concern for the trees. Despite that, and that both Deborah Jensen, manager of planning, and Bruce Anderson, director of building, recommended against approving the application, the owner moved the application forward anyways.
Instead of bringing the architect to Tuesday’s committee of the whole, the owner was represented by lawyer L. John Alexander, a civic specialist who has been successful in challenging local municipalities.
Alexander argued that it’s within the applicant’s rights to remove the Garry oak trees for the house and accessory building and outside the purview of the advisory design panel and council.
“It’s in the tree bylaw,” Alexander noted. “There’s nothing you [council] can do about that. It’s legal. [It’s] an absolute right to remove the trees. And the only complaint through all this process is the trees. What do we do about that? The design iterations have all been done to minimize impact.”
The argument between council and the owner came down to an interpretation over the Uplands Siting and Design guidelines. Mayor Kevin Murdoch expressed his appreciation for the architectural design but also noted that removing Garry oaks is not in the spirit that architect John Olmstead envisioned 113 years ago when he mapped out every Garry oak and subdivided Uplands into a park-like neighbourhood.
“This is a bylaw and design perspective. In this case, I’m of the mind that this pool could be accommodated with a redesign that doesn’t impact the trees,” Murdoch said.
The arborist report also suggested the soil in this area may be very sandy and that the replacement oaks would likely be stunted and unlikely to reach full maturity.
Alexander also said that if refused, council must indicate what has to be done to gain approval.
“You can’t just say no,” he said.
At that point Coun. Andrew Appleton interrupted with a “point of order,” stating “there are several recommendations not just the one.”
Neighbours also disapproved. Bruce Bell said replacement trees along the border of his property will hinder the growth of his own trees, garden and lawn, and that he’ll have to rake the leaves and acorns.
Another neighbour, Nicola Komlodi, said she’s hosted several parties for people on her block.
“We are considered great neighbours,” Komlodi said. “We moved here 13 years ago. Here I stand unfortunately placed in an adversarial position with neighbours I haven’t met. It disappoints me. Perhaps an earlier meeting between me and the Bells would have alleviated this situation.”
As neighbour Jane Danzo said, “We appreciate the proposal that it’s consistent with Oak Bay bylaw but it does not meet with the Uplands Park setting and relationship with the character and massing of the area. It’s difficult to accept this maintains the guidelines of the Uplands Park.”
An applicant can re-submit the same proposal after six months or a redesigned proposal at any time.