Residents group seeking input on planning issues

Oak Bay Watch concerned public's voice not being heard on development concerns

One group of residents plans to make itself heard while Oak Bay develops a planning committee. Citizen group Oak Bay Watch wants to have a voice in developing the terms of reference for the new committee that will work toward implementing the official community plan put in place last year.

“We’d like to be part of those terms of reference,” said Anthony Meers, Oak Bay Watch member.

Oak Bay Watch formed to protest the results of the 2007 bylaw zoning change that deals with house size as well as development proposals they view as inappropriate that were considered by council such as “excessive, unreasonable variances for the Clive” that saw significant opposition in the community, said member Mary Douglas.

It underscores why they want input on terms of reference for the planning committee that Oak Bay is set to implement.

“Our concern is very soon there’s going to be a new planning committee implementing the new community plan,” Meers said.

They plan to take a proactive approach, based on little trust in the process from their experience during developments that faced huge opposition, and take their ideas to council ahead of the matter. The terms are expected to be on the committee agenda Monday night.

“We don’t want that to happen again,” said Meers, adding it took too long to rectify, and even now there’s no guarantee the changes recommended to council will be implemented. If it is implemented, they say, the recent review of the bylaws that restrict floor area and lot coverage is an example of a successful process, and a good model.

“We’re not against development, we’re against inappropriate development,” Meers said.

“We want to change the meaning of consultation,” said fellow member Graham Ross.

The group hopes to introduce a comprehensive, collaborative process that would ensure residents have a stronger say in future zoning bylaw changes.

“Anyone in our community who wishes to have input can certainly do that by writing us or coming to speak to our committee of the whole. We’re more than happy to hear … from any group of individuals,” said Mayor Nils Jensen.

Oak Bay Watch points to a Jan. 27 B.C. Supreme Court decision where Justice Mark McEwan ordered new public hearings on two downtown Vancouver properties in a controversial deal between the City of Vancouver and a developer. A neighbourhood association questioned the city’s fairness to the public and McEwan quashed both the rezoning bylaws.

McEwan chastised the city for not providing enough documentation and information to the residents prior to public hearings.

“I don’t know how this changes the law, it’s another legal principle that has been in place… I’m not sure this is necessarily a decision that takes us in a new direction,” Jensen said. “There’s clearly an obligation on the municipality changing a zoning to present all the documents to anyone who’s interested and to have procedural fairness … We now, with our e-agendas, make all our development variance permit applications available online. So it’s much easier now for a person to get their information.

“We strive to be open and accommodating with respect to information.”

Oak Bay Watch also cites public hearings where a majority voiced opposition on a proposal council did not attempt to modify or call for further review. They see the court ruling as backing that push for councils to more scrupulously consider input from the public without a pre-ordained conclusion.

“A public hearing is not just an occasion for the public to blow off steam: it is a chance for perspectives to be heard that have not been heard as the city’s focus has narrowed during the project negotiations,” McEwan wrote. “Those perspectives, in turn, must be fairly and scrupulously considered and evaluated by council before making its final decision.”

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com

 

 

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