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Oak Bay pursues district-owned house as office space

Land would require rezoning for commercial use, meaning a public hearing is in order
Municipal home on Monterey Avenue. (Black Press Media file photo)

An Oak Bay-owned house on Monterey Avenue will likely house municipal staff offices but for how long remains unclear after a robust debate Monday (Jan. 23).

The district needs more office space for staff to fill approved positions for Oak Bay’s infrastructure renewal project and potential future growth.

The need was mentioned late last year, as staff offered options for dealing with the house at 1538 Monterey Ave., which had fallen into disrepair. At that time, council opted to fund immediate remedial work and repairs to a point where it could be liveable.

At Monday’s council meeting, it was again provided as a potential option for office space over the next five to 10 years.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay-owned home in urgent need of $190,000 in repairs

Staff presented three options – the Monterey house, Windsor Park Pavilion or leasing commercial office space.

Monterey and Windsor share many positives; close to municipal hall, room for 10 to 12 staff and available for 10 to 12 years. Both would require rezoning to allow for commercial use and require renovations.

The first consideration of Monterey as the place to put staff didn’t pass muster at the table, failing when Coun. Esther Paterson made the motion. Couns. Lesley Watson, Andrew Appleton, Cairine Green and Carrie Smart opposed the motion.

Most everyone wants to know the potential for the Monterey site in the village core, which has been earmarked since its purchase as a key part of the village area plan. The district bought the double lot with the two-storey home in 2016 for $1.7 million.

“Making the investment in Windsor park has the added benefit of providing an improved asset after the end of the office occupancy as opposed to tying up resources in a very key property in the core of our village,” Watson said.

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite noted something staff pointed out - using the currently empty Monterey building would impact fewer people because recreational programs use Windsor Pavilion.

The option to pursue the pavilion didn’t even get the required seconder to put the motion on the table.

Smart agreed with not wanting to tie up the Monterey land.

READ ALSO: Victoria refugee association ends Welcome House program in Oak Bay

“Leasing in some ways is actually the cheapest option and I think that it gives us the most flexibility,” she said, taking into account the cost of giving up community public space.

She later noted the 20 or so letters sent to council supported maintaining Monterey as residential use.

“That’s sinking $635,000 into renovating a house that is probably going to be demolished because the best use of that site is development.”

The leasing option at least got off the ground, with Appleton seconding the motion to allow for discussion.

Both hoped to see staff pursue a blend of leasing and finding more efficiencies in hybrid work models such as combinations of shared spaces and work from home. Staff said those are efficiencies they already pursue.

With time at a crunch, and those supporting leasing option hoping to see more information from staff, the issue seemed at an impasse before returning to its earlier option – 1538 Monterey.

Council agreed to have staff start renovations and the rezoning process to accommodate offices for municipal staff until sufficient office space is available in other municipal facilities, recognizing that in the longer term other options remain for the property. They also tasked staff with conducting a feasibility study for the Monterey property for long-term highest and best use.

The process to rezone does require a public hearing and the building could, like any district-owned property, be repurposed at any time.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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