Poets’ Corner group supports ‘infill’ proposal

Residents support removal of Masonic hall for three single-family homes

Coun. Tom Croft

Coun. Tom Croft

A bid to create three lots for three new houses on Yale Street has support from its adjacent neighbourhood group.

The development requires an official community plan amendment land use designation from Community Institutional to Established Neighbourhoods. It also requires a rezoning from  Special Institutional Use (P-2) to a site-specific zone.

The site, 1632 Yale St., is currently home to the Masonic hall adjacent to St. Mary Anglican Church (on Elgin Road) that also houses the Oak Bay Parent-owned Pre-school and Canadian College of the Performing Arts.

“I feel this is for Oak Bay an innovative infill project. … This felt like the right place to do that kind of thing,” said proponent Bill Patterson of Citta Developments. “I realize I’m ahead of you creating a model (for infill housing) but maybe you can learn something from me I guess.”

Oak Bay is still developing its infill housing strategy as part of the most recent OCP review.

About a dozen neighbours stayed to hear the proposal discussed at the committee of the whole meeting in Oak Bay June 20. Only one person opposed the development while a representative of Poets’ Corner Neighbourhood Association fully endorsed the project.

The group holds five major reasons for its support, representative Doug Stetar told committee.

The current institutional zoning of the site is not appropriate given the lack of adequate parking; the subdivision into three single-family dwellings is a good compromise between increased density and maintaining the street’s “established neighbourhood” nature; it enhances both the safety and the aesthetics of the existing, well-used pedestrian/bicycle pathway that runs between Byron and Yale; the endeavour to protect the existing stand of Garry oak trees on the site; and support for the playground reflects the needs of the immediate neighbourhood.

The proposal’s community amenities include an upgrade of Byron Street to better service pedestrians and cyclists and a $40,000 cash contribution toward trail development. Citta also committed to rebuild a play area for the preschool behind the proposed three properties.

While the playground promise isn’t considered a public amenity by the district because it’s used by a private organization, but the neighbours in favour of the development view it as a neighbourhood perk.

The site isn’t useful zoned institutional, residents say. A handful of events held at the site last year created chaos with parking in the neighbourhood, Stetar said.

“The fire department would be sorely unhappy if they came at that time,” he said, adding the site would be of little use for other industrial uses. “Parking is extraordinarily difficult to solve.”

The proposed siting of the homes was chosen in an effort to retain, where possible, the existing Garry oak trees.

Many of the Garry oak trees on the property have been impacted by previous use and differing arborist reports suggest five to 13 trees could be removed due to health or redevelopment.

“We will do some extraordinary construction on the lot 1 house,” Patterson said of his bid to keep the tree loss down to five or six.

“I think he’s going above and beyond and really doing everything to reassure people on the street,” said Teresa Slik, who also voiced concern over tree loss.

Kate Glover opposed the proposal, primarily citing the loss of trees. She also questioned whether trucks could use an Elgin Road access to spare Yale Street the traffic.

“Unfortunately construction is somewhat disruptive,” Patterson said, adding he’d investigate options. “It does require trucks … to come and go in the neighbourhood for a while.”

A previous proposal for townhouses on the site, was not well received by neighbours and mentioned during the meeting, primed the community for the potential of development on the site and to seek balance.

“This proposal achieves a meaningful and reasonable increase to density in an area adjacent to Oak Bay Village that respects the exiting nature of the established Yale street neighbourhood, while at the same time enhancing both the safety and aesthetics of an important pedestrian/bicycle community thoroughfare. It protects the existing mature oak tree canopy that is an essential feature of Yale Street and one of the greatest assets of the Oak Bay community. Finally, it will enhance the immediate neighbourhood impacted by the development,” the neighbourhood association wrote in a letter endorsing the project.

Finally, residents said, something must be done soon as the site is becoming derelict and a neighbourhood concern.

“Time is of the essence in dealing with this,” Stetar said. “We believe it’s becoming an unsafe site.”

Coun. Kevin Murdoch voiced agreement with that balance as he made the motion to send the proposal to council.

“It ticks many of the boxes we’d like to see in community development,” said Coun. Tom Croft, who seconded that motion.

Committee recommended the proposal be considered by council, expected during the July council meeting for potential first and second reading as well as setting a date for public hearing.