A pair of public sessions proved positive last week as Oak Bay considers moving away from its fixed floor area model.
After an extensive review of zoning bylaw regulations that govern single-family dwellings on residential lots zoned RS-4 and RS-5, Oak Bay is considering changes to the allowable floor area, massing controls, setbacks and other guidelines that impact how homes may be built or renovated.
The current proposal is to go back to a similar model from before changes were made in 2007 to how floor area is derived. Protecting heritage homes, while allowing for changes within those homes was a major instigator of the bylaw review.
“The old bylaw just didn’t really allow for flexibility to renovate historical homes,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch, who served as chair of the committee struck to address floor area ratio concerns in Oak Bay.
The series of 14 recommendations were presented to the public in a pair of sessions led by Murdoch and staff last week.
“It was walking through the logic, why we came to these different things and how. To explain it you have to tell the story of how we came to it,” Murdoch said. “People had a very positive response, nobody stood up and said ‘this is the wrong direction’.”
One key recommendation is the change from a fixed floor area model to a floor area ratio model, with that ratio set at 0.4 to 1.0, including accessory buildings.
Another change would see “low” decks not included in the floor area but included in lot coverage calculation. Decks higher than 1.2m above natural grade count toward both gross floor area and lot coverage. Patio space of landscaping and decks lower than 0.6 metres do not count toward either.
“Oak Bay is very unique in this. Oak Bay has always counted decks as floor area,” Murdoch said.
Among the recommended modifications to the current practice: set total lot coverage to 30 per cent; include accessory buildings in the lot coverage calculation; and limit accessory buildings to a maximum of seven per cent of the lot.
They would keep building heights, roof height and occupiable heights the same as the current bylaw with some adjustments. Definitions of heights would be updated to clarify regulations, particularly with non-traditional designs; If a single-storey-designated lot is allowed, provide unique building, roof, and occupiable height regulations for those; and a few general improvement of definitions and inclusion of diagrams to offer better clarity in the bylaws.
That was one of the things that came out early on from the professional contingent, Murdoch said. Knowing the clear boundaries and expectations was the first thing sought by those in the development and building business during previous input sessions.
Two sessions provided a base for the suggested changes. One targeted professionals such as planners, developers and architects, while the second was geared for the general public interested in house sizes, allowable floor area, allowable site coverage, streetscapes and other aspects of residential properties. Comments from those sessions were used to help craft a draft report of potential regulation changes.
In similar fashion, this draft report and public discussion will return to council for potential changes to the zoning bylaws.