Protest pops up in Oak Bay

Oak Bay residents hit the street to save heritage

Longtime Oak Bay residents Mary Douglas

Longtime Oak Bay residents Mary Douglas

Residents in Oak Bay are frustrated with developers building boxy, “characterless” homes in their neighbourhood and want to set up a design committee.

A group of almost 20 Oak Bay residents gathered at the Oak Lanes building site in the 1000-block of Monterey Ave. Friday morning, wielding signs that displayed their frustrations.

“Some developers just don’t have invested interest in Oak Bay, they don’t understand the passion for our community,” said Mary Douglas, a resident of Oak Bay for 24 years. We adore our community and they’re destroying it.

The demonstration came after the group was told by council a week ago that there’s “nothing” they can do about the situation, Douglas explained.

“That was really discouraging, and we just don’t think there is nothing we can do,” she said.

During last week’s council meeting, about 50 residents convened to voice their concerns to council and asked that a committee be set up to monitor the types of homes being built in Oak Bay.

The residents’ main concern are the “box structures” being built in their neighbourhoods, with little regard or respect to the neighbouring houses, Douglas said.

These new properties maximize the lots by being built “right to the property line,” she explained, and without attempt to save existing trees.

“New homes are great, but (they should) blend in with the streetscape and keep the continuity of the character of south Oak Bay,” she said.

While Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said he understands the concerns of the residents, council simply does not have the power to regulate the type of houses being built in the community.

“Our Oak Bay bylaws and provincial legislature do not permit council to be arbiters of what is good architecture,” Jensen said. “Once an owner has complied with our building bylaws, they’re free to build what they feel is suitable for their lifestyle and what is pleasing to their eye.”

There is a mix of housing types and styles in south Oak Bay, all from multiple decades, which seem to coexist, Jensen said, adding that these more modern-style homes represent a “new millennium” or “west coast” style that is seen throughout B.C.

“Modern architecture may offend some, but it does appear to be embraced by many other residents,” he said. “I don’t think there’s necessarily a consensus on whether they’re good or bad. Owners are choosing to build this, obviously, because they like these styles.”

One Oak Bay couple has become so annoyed that they say they plan to move out of the municipality.

Cynthia and Rennie Knowlton, who live on Monterey Avenue next door to the development, have lived in Oak Bay for 31 years.

Rennie Knowlton said they don’t see any benefits in staying in the municipality if this “overdevelopment” of what he calls “characterless” homes continues.

“(Developers) are coming in here and they’re making it very uncomfortable for longtime residents to live here,” Knowlton said.

The current bylaws seem to allow developers to do what they wish and doesn’t give any rights to the residents, he added.

“If the neighbourhoods are going to be infilled with these houses that are rampantly being built without consideration of neighbours, then eventually, it’s not going to be the charming, historic, leafy neighbourhood that it was,” Knowlton said.

The latest development on Monterey Avenue, known as Oak Lanes, replaces a century-old heritage home that residents say was decrepit.

While they knew the house was going to be torn down, none were consulted about the new house being built by developer Method Built Homes.

Residents say they received a letter on April 24, a day before demolition of the old heritage house began.

The letter, which was dated March 31, warned that demolition of the house would begin “soon.”

Knowlton recieved his letter late in the evening of April 24, and by 8 a.m. the next day, the house was being taken down, he said. Three large trees (two birch and one Cedar), all about 18 metres tall, were cut down April 26.